David Cingranelli, Binghamton University – The Need for National Human Rights Report Cards

Students get report cards; maybe countries should as well.

David Cingranelli, professor of political science at Binghamton University, explains why.

David Cingranelli is a Professor of Political Science. He has written widely on human rights, democracy, and governance. His 2007 book with Rodwan Abouharb, Human Rights and Structural Adjustment, (Cambridge University Press) demonstrated the negative human rights impacts of World Bank and IMF program lending in developing countries. He is a former President of the Human Rights Section of the American Political Science Association. Until 2012, he served as the co-director of the Cingranelli and Richards (CIRI) Human Rights Data Project, the largest and most widely used human rights data set in the world. Presently, he and Mikhail Filippov are working in collaboration with the United States Political Instability Task Force on a successor to the CIRI project, which will be called the “Rights” data project.

The Need for National Human Rights Report Cards

Social scientists like me care about measuring important ideas such as inequality, democracy, discrimination, and corruption. By attaching numbers to these ideas, we can build and test theories about why there is more of each of these things in some places and less in others, whether the amount is changing, and in what direction. For 40 years now my team and I have been measuring human rights. We think of human rights as tools that citizens can use to protect their dignity against increasingly powerful national governments.  

So how do we measure something as complicated as human rights? In school, we got grades for English, Math, and Science, and, perhaps, an overall grade. Our approach is similar. We give countries grades based on how well they protect worker rights and freedom of speech and prevent torture and discrimination. These are just a few of the 25 rights graded in each nation’s annual report card.

Giving grades to countries helps the United States and the World Bank make decisions that take human rights into account. It helps scholars like me study trends that lead to violations, whether governments find it easier to protect some rights, why, what happens when rights are violated, and whether humanitarian interventions work.

Our 2022 national human rights report card placed Canada and Sweden at the top of the global class with a grade of 96 out of 100. It gave a failing grade of 10 to China, and even worse grades  to North  Korea and Syria, and Iran. If you think of human rights as tools that citizens can use against their governments to maintain their dignity, then the citizens of Canada and Sweden have way more tools than the citizens of Iran.

Teaching people about their human rights probably leads to better protection. Maybe not. But if we don’t measure human rights, we won’t know whether anything makes human rights better or worse.