Frequently Asked Questions


Q: Is not an index too crude a measure of the infinitely complex situations in which states find themselves?

A: The Index will be just that - an indicator. Each and every human situation is the result of an innumerable set of factors, resulting in each unique situation. Hence the difficulty of arguing each case of human rights abuse on an ad hoc basis, and hence also the advantage of applying a unitary measuring rule to all states. Performance measurement is rightly applied to schools, hospitals and many other institutions. Is there any reason that measurements may not be applied to governments themselves, especially in their core duty of protecting the security of the vulnerable?

Q: Governments which have no regard for human rights will object and water down the proposals.

A: This is to be expected, but it is the job of democratic nations patiently to negotiate to persuade them that this is in everybody's best interests. It will take many years of diplomatic work, but the alternatives are simply not acceptable. In particular, now that Responsibility to Protect has been taken on board at the UN, the Index is the logical next step.

Q: The world is far too complicated for this kind of suggestion. It would take a global consensus to ease the ills of oppression and inhumanity, tyrants and exploitation.

A: The journey of 10,000 [miles] starts with a single step. (Lao Tzu). Global consensus is easier around simple ideas than around complex ones. As Bob Geldorf said, "Nothing is simpler than death, Mrs Thatcher".

Q: We will eventually need some kind of non-biased world court where people can be heard, their complaints examined, the culprits contained and punished in order to stop the oppression of various peoples and its resultant terrorism.

A: Agreed. The Index of Governance can supplement this.

Q: Such an index would be biased towards the rich and powerful countries because they'd have the means to complain the loudest about not being as near the top as they'd like to be.

A: The same could be said of any measure taken in the UN; it also applies to the International Criminal Court. Nothing is perfect.

Q: But several factors beyond politicians' control impact here, such as stage of economic, cultural and political development. So you'd have to introduce some method of allowances for these factors, or otherwise it would be terribly unfair to some.

A: The Observer Index addresses this cultural/development factor by adding a weighting derived from the Human Development index. Many of us feel that torture is torture and is not acceptable in any circumstances. The capacity to inflict torture comes from our primate genes, is universal, not cultural, and the law must oppose it. Period. No excuses. But despite our absolutist leanings in this regard, we are realist enough to accept some kind of weighting in order to get something rather than nothing. Politics is the art of the possible.

Q: A problem with sanctions is that a big country may be able to laugh them off.

A: Yes, sanctions are not going to bring about regime change in a matter of weeks. But the proposals here will be an irritant, a constant reminder to (say) Bush that if he closes Camp Delta his State Department officials will be able to get a visa to visit Europe, or that his ambassador to the UN will have one whole vote instead of a paltry 0.7 of a vote.

Q: Even tiny Cuba seems to be getting along quite tolerably in the face of sanctions, with much better standards of health, education etc.

A: Sanctions have increased self reliance and the localised economy in the case of Cuba, because I believe that although they have some political prisoners (the Cubans say for good reason, but I really do not know enough about the case), Cuba is not really a failing state AFAIK. Real failing states tend to want the items on the sanctions list.

Q: This is a very worthy line of thinking, but needs a lot of working out and may not be a sufficient answer on its own.

A: Agreed

Q: What's wrong with George Monbiot's suggestion of giving each country a "democratisation" ranking? Democratic Audit or another similar organisation (provided that it could be kept independent) would develop the means to assess different systems of government and assign a ranking based on how transparent and democratic they were.

A: Yes, that is a possibility. The reasonthat we go for Human Rights is that torture and political imprisonment are far easier to measure than an ill-defined concept like democracy. So ill-defined is it that countries like the UK and USA are pleased to call themselves democracies when they are in fact nothing but monetocracies with dodgy elections every few years. See

Q; Wily governments will find ways around the Index

A: This is a recipe for doing nothing at all, ever. However, the beauty of the Index' focus on human rights is that a substantial part of the data will come from relatives of prisoners.

Q: There is no point in this as the USA (or China, or the WTO) will stamp on it

A; This again is a recipe for doing nothing at all, ever. However, if we take a long view, the obstructive governments will give way to more reasonable governments, while events may convince politicians everywhere that the world would be a better place without dictators.

Q: Most of us have probably dreamt of imposing sanctions against the Washington regime among others, but how?

A: We could start by having a really effective boycott of a top US company, starting with the StopEsso campaign world wide, and while we are pushing them off their perch, we select another top American company and tell them "You're next when we have finished with Esso". But I digress. And I said it was a dream.

© 2001 R. Lawson This page was last updated on 2.10.2005