In 2005, the UNA - UK Conference asked the Board
of UNA to examine the Index idea.
Initally, they turned it down. Below is the response
from the then President, Sir Richard Jolly, together with my answer.
I put the matter before the Youth wing of the
UNA (UNYSA) in May 2006, but there was not response.
Happily, in April 2007 UNA-UK Conference accepted
the following as policy:
UNA-UK supports the further development of
major indices of human development and security such as UNDP's
Human Development Index and the Human Security Centre's Human
Security Report, and welcomes the use of these indices by the
UN system, especially in ascertaining the ability of states to
enhance the welfare of their citizens and to assess their progress
towards good governance. UNA-UK promotes greater use of these
indices, in parallel with the UN human rights treaty bodies and
associated mechanisms as early warning mechanisms, especially
in the context of the implementation for the responsibility to
The clumsy phrasing is the result of compositing.
The great thing was that I had nothing to do with this motion;
it was put forward by UNA branches who have grasped the idea and
adopted it. The UNA Board were at pains to blunt any radical wording,
but the sense survived. Next year we will try to make the Index
From Sir Richard Jolly, email, 16.3.06
I read with interest, great interest, your piece
about the UN developing an index to name and shame governments
that are oppressive. Interesting as I find it, I do also, to be
frank, have many doubts and disagreements not with the
aim but with the technical and political realism of your approach
As regards technicalities, the choice of indicators,
their weighting and scoring may seem to be objective
but in fact they are inevitably and extremely value-laden. This
has always been recognised, for example, with the HDI - though
we have mostly got away with its subjective components because
broadly it is not extremely controversial. Occasionally, some
countries did criticise their ranking and made representations
to UNDP, but this was rare.
If an index was used to name and shame, however,
you can be certain that there will be many more objections, some
of which will focus on the more subjective elements involved in
any index and there will be no shortage of people who will argue
strongly for or against mostly on political grounds.
So let me come to the issue of political realism.
As has emerged in recent debates over the Secretary-Generals
[i.e. of the UN] proposal for changing the composition of the
Human Rights Commission, the UN inevitably is hostage to governments
in how it monitors and reports on human rights implementation.
The HR Commission has, in recent years, been captured by some
of the more reactionary countries, losing legitimacy and credibility
and leading to the latest proposals for reform. Even with strong
developed-country support, it is not yet clear how far such reform
will be allowed to go. But your article gives too little attention
to these clashes between countries over the UN politics of human
rights. Since governments ultimately rule in the UN, no proposal
can succeed unless it has considerable support from governments.
To be frank, your proposal needs to give much more attention to
these political dimensions, if it is to be carried forward and
if it is to obtain serious support even from NGOs.
As regards your latest note, R2P and the Index
of Human Rights, I have much the same concerns. This time, your
focus is on the US and UK in particular. Sympathetic as I am to
bringing to public attention their failures over Iraq, I feel
equally certain that for the UN to publish an index of human rights
would simply lead to the US opposing the action and probably ensuring
that it got no funds.
So am I totally pessimistic? No. I feel that the
way forward must be for the UN to promote declarations and conventions
of human rights and, as far as possible, to oversee a process
of monitoring and reporting. However, in my view the publicity
about failures will mostly come from professional NGOs.
Human Rights Watch is to my mind a good example
and there are many others, some of whom do indeed produce indices
of human rights performance and lead the media in praise or condemnation.
This is realistic and considerably effective, in my view. I just
think that we cannot at this stage expect much more from governments,
at least when broad UN consensus is required.
Reply to Sir Richard Jolly from Richard Lawson
Your first query relates to the technical difficulties
of getting an accurate measurement. Any rating is the result of
a series of abstractions from a given, which in this case is the
real human rights situation in any country, as it occurs, infinite
in its complexity, the resultant of an unknowable number of factors,
psychological, social, historical, genetic, and environmental.
This full reality is beyond our ken.
To attempt to grasp and record this reality, we
have first the perception of the reality of those human rights
events in the experience of those who live in, or travel through,
the country. This is affected by factors like psychological viewpoint
and personal and ethnic history. This is the first layer of evidence.
The second layer is in the recording of this evidence.
It depends on who comes forward to give evidence, on their motivation,
and on how safe they feel in giving evidence. Their character
as witnesses matters, and their ability to express themselves
The third layer is in the quality of reports that
are assembled. This depends on the viewpoints of the rapporteurs,
their brief, and the expectations and wishes of those who have
commissioned the reports. For example, UN reports on Darfur are
stopping short of using the term ethnic cleansing
when reason would suggest that this is clearly taking place.
The fourth layer lies in the classification of
the reports into numerical order, the reduction of anecdotal data
to a code. Some of the data is numerical, for instance, the number
of disappearances reported by relatives, and some may be supplied
by the governments concerned, for instance, the number of executions
carried out, but many of the allocations of qualitative data to
a quantitative category must be based on a judgement.
Clearly, in these four layers there is scope for
subjectivity and error, in either direction, either in favour
of or against the responsible authorities, but this technical
imperfection does not invalidate the process, for two excellent
First, all governments will be going through the
same process, so all will be subject to the same errors, although
more powerful governments will be likely to treated more gently.
However, the HDI will be factored in to offset this favouring
What is of importance is not that the accuracy
of the final assessment should be absolutely perfect, but that
it will show the position of the regime in question relative to
its neighbours (that is in terms of the HDI, their comparators).
The final position is relative, not absolute. Also, the position
is relative, not just to their comparator regimes, but also to
their own position in previous years. The Foreign and Commonwealth
Office has indicated in correspondence that they are interested
in this aspect.
Second, if authorities are determined to appeal
against their rating, they can do so. This will involve sitting
down with an adjudicator, and going over the report for their
country in detail. This process will be therapeutic for the regime.
They will have to account for their treatment of political prisoners,
for the conditions in their jails, and for all the other parameters
which go to make up the final Index. They will learn of the feelings
and experiences of their victims, and the relatives of their victims.
Most importantly, it is highly probable that prior to a prison
inspection arising out of the appeals process, the regime will
improve conditions and even release a few prisoners in order to
improve on their ratings. In this way, the very existence of the
Index will be of immediate and practical humanitarian value.
It may prove that after the reassessments they
may move up (or even down) the scale a little.
Some 13 parameters were used in the Observer Index
of Human Rights. It might be considered advantageous to broaden
this yet further, taking in other governance parameters, as I
have set out [elsewhere] on the website. I decided to focus onto
human rights in the name of simplicity. It would be of academic
interest to see what degree of concordance there is between the
many (I counted over 40) indices of governance.
In short, despite the difficulty with perfect
objectivity, an Index can stand as a reasonable proxy for the
existent situation. There is a saying If you cannot measure
it, you cannot manage it. We have no alternative but to
measure abuse if we really want to improve the situation globally,
otherwise we are left with a piecemeal, case by case approach.
The second doubt raised is that of the anticipated
political difficulties. New Zealands permanent representative,
although supportive of the idea of an Index, voiced the same concern.
You mentioned the anticipated American attitude, but this is the
least our worries. George Bush will be gone in a couple of years,
and his successor is likely to be at pains to mend US-UN relationships,
so will be open to communitarian ideas like the Index of Human
Rights. Looking further forward, the end of American hegemony
may follow a fall in the power of the dollar, which could happen
only too easily. This may result in America falling back into
a position of being one country among a community of others, or
it may result in China assuming the position of world superpower.
Given the present leadership and attitudes in China, that would
be no better, and probably worse, for human rights than the present
American supremacy. On the other hand, the Chinese junta have
held back, but not defeated the rising tide of democracy, and
it is possible that by the time America falls away, China could
be on the way to being a liberal democracy.
The only predictable thing about the future of
politics is that unpredictable things will happen. The only certain
thing about action in politics is that, as Fritz Schumacher said,
we must do the right thing and not worry about whether we will
be successful, because otherwise we will do the wrong thing, and
then we will be part of the problem, not part of the solution.
For some of us here in civil society, it seems
right that governments performance in human rights should
be not just reported and recorded, but also made public. This
suggestion will not be welcomed by governments who are going to
be shown in a poor light, but as the idea becomes current, it
will be adopted by liberal and democratic governments. For the
idea to become current requires the debate that is occurring here.
Several small NGOs have already readily adopted the Index of Human
Rights in the UN proposal. When the UNA and Amnesty have adopted
the idea, we will be able to open up a meaningful dialogue with
leading countries like the Nordic nations, New Zealand and the
Community of Democratic Countries.
At an international level, I envisage a facility
that allows supporter nations to nail their colours to the
mast, by declaring their support for the core proposal.
Numbers will slowly grow, and support could be levered as part
of the multiplicity of negotiations that
take place all the time. Simultaneous Policy (Simpol) can be used
here, as with many other issues that require nations to move in
At the same time, an Index of Human Rights could
be run on an informal basis Mark Gibney http://www.unca.edu/politicalscience/faculty-staff/Gibney%20Doc/Political%20Terror%20Scale%201980-2004.xls
already has a current model. If the community of supporting nations
supported Mark, the Index could develop.
I fully understand that the UNA has to move cautiously
in policy matters of this magnitude, and I do not anticipate an
endorsement this year. At this stage, I just hope for an ongoing
exploration of the idea, and for this, I do thank you for your
Again, many thanks for your interest