Human Rights Indicators


Of course, one important
debate has been about how to measure the progress made by states
in the realization of human rights. Which are the indicators that should be
used in order to measure such progress? And, in time, a consensus has been
gradually developed around the idea that indicators in human rights
should fall in three categories, and that we needed three types
of measures to measure progress. First, we have what is
called structural indicators. Structural indicators try
to measure essentially the goodwill of the state, what the
state has shown in terms of willingness to make progress, for example, by
the adoption of certain legislations, by the ratification of certain
international instruments, by accepting some procedures
of individual communications before human rights bodies, or by
the adoption of a particular action plan that defines the
intentions of the state to move to towards the
fulfillment of human rights. These structural indicators
really measure the good intentions of the state by examining the
legal, institutional framework that the State has put in
place in order to make progress in the realization of human rights. But of course, intentions, though
important, are not sufficient. And a second type of indicators
are process indicators that serve to measure the importance
of the efforts made by the state in moving towards the
realization of human rights. Process indicators will examine, for
example, the budgetary commitments of the state to fulfill the right
to food, the right to housing, the right to health or to education. Process indicators will
examine the percentage of the budget going to policies
that focus on social priorities. The number of complaints that
are filed by individuals, that is a way to measure whether
the information they have about their rights is adequate,
or process indicators may concern the nature of the
policies that are in place and the importance of
the investment made. That, however, still is not sufficient,
because it is all fine and well for states to have the right
institutional framework and legislative framework, to
have the right policies in place, and to put money into the
financing of these policies, but if the results do not follow,
it means that the policies are not well designed, and maybe they
have to be rethought and improved. So a third set of indicators are
outcome indicators, outcome indicators that look very much like
classic development indicators, such as those that are used by the
United Nations Development Program, for example, in the annual human
development reports that it presents. Outcome indicators measure the results. They measure, for example, the
percentage of girls and boys that have access to secondary education. They measure the number of people or
the proportion of the population that is vaccinated against certain diseases. Measures, for example, the level
of undernourishment or malnutrition rates in the country. And by having these outcome
indicators, together with the process and
structural indicators, we can see the realization
of human rights as a permanent learning process in
which misguided policies, policies that are not successful in achieving
results, shall be reexamined, revised, improved by this permanent feedback
that the indicators provide as to the success of policies
that are implemented. So these indicators serve essentially
not just to learn and to improve, but also to distinguish what
the state is responsible for and what are the external constraints
that the state is unable to overcome. If the process indicators, for
example, and the structural indicators are very positive, but the
outcomes are very poor, then maybe it is because,
despite all the efforts that the state puts
into certain policies, into the realization
of human rights, there are constraints that the state faces
that make it difficult for the state to achieve certain results. Maybe the state should
be better supported by the international community. Maybe there is a need to improve
the international environment in which the state operates. Or maybe the policies are
misguided, in which case, we shall have to demand
that the state change its policies to achieve better results. So these indicators are complementary. Neither structural, nor
process, nor outcome indicators are sufficient per se. It is their combination that
is interesting and allows us to screen the unwillingness from the
state to make progress, or distinguish the unwillingness from the state
to make progress from its inability to do so because of the lack
of capacity and the constraints that the state faces.

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