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Published in International Associations, 1971, 9, pp. 545-552
It is very difficult to measure the degree to which human rights are observed within a given country. Every form of measure is open to objection or to charges of being inapplicable in the country in question. Qualitative measures, or evaluations by "experts", are only useful to those who wish to believe in the experts -- those countries which do not meet the favour of the experts simply question their qualification as experts, or reject or ignore their views.
Much has been said about the importance of the various multilateral international conventions on human rights. The extent to which a given country subscribes to such conventions is some objective measure of its degree of "human rights consciousness". The United Nations Division of Human Rights regularly publishes the official table of the signatures and ratifications by the countries of the world -- as approved by the Commission on Human Rights (see International Associations, November, 1971, 546-9). But to us the table is rather indigestible. It is difficult to get an overall comparative view of how a given country is "performing" on human rights questions. This is rendered particularly difficult because a given country may not be eligible to sign a given convention, or, having signed, may not yet have ratified the convention. As an experiment therefore, we have given each country 2 points for each "ratification", and 1 point for each "signature". The total for each country is then divided by the total number of points which the country could get if it ratified all the human rights conventions for which it is eligible -- the result is then multiplied by 100 to give a percentage figure of human rights "performance". In effect, this is a crude, but very objective "human rights index".
Clearly every country can have a human rights index figure between 0 (no signatures or ratifications) and 100 (ratification of all conventions open to it). This index figure may be displayed as part of the table of convention ratifications, (see International Associations, November, 1971, pp. 546-9). But such a list of index values is not particularly illuminating displayed in this way. The next step was therefore to split the countries up by continent : Africa, Latin America, North America, Asia, Europe, Oceania, and to allocate them to positions in a table according to their human rights index value. The countries within each continent were split into 12 ranges of index values which can be called human rights performance categories. To each of these we have tentatively attached a description of the probable state of the country with regard to human rights. (see table 2, p. 550-1). There are of course many weak points in any such approach, particularly since allocation to a high category only gives a strong probability of human rights consciousness. The missing piece of information is that we do not know anything about the degree of implementation within a given country as the final step in the series signature, ratification, implementation. (If we did we could give 3 points for "implementation" and add an extra dimension of meaning to the index).
The index allows us to compare human rights development with economic development. This is done in the graph on page 553. All the countries are positioned on the graph in terms of their human rights index (vertical axis) from the table on page 550, and GNP per capita (horizontal axis). Different marks are used for countries of each continent. It is very risky to attempt to draw curves on this graph to group the countries in any meaningful way. Some such effort must however be made to stimulate discussion. We have therefore isolated :
1) A curving band of countries with average or "normal" relationships between probable human rights consciousness and development, made up of Zones "A" (developing countries) and "B" (developed).
2) Parallel to this band we have two others :
3) Outside these bands we have isolated three Zones :
We are of course putting a great deal of weight on a country's attitude toward human rights as measured by its attention to international conventions. Cynics would say that those countries in Zone "D" and probably in Zones "C" and "E" sign or ratify as a gesture of international "public relations" and without worrying whether it is possible to adapt their own national legislation to the clauses of the convention, or whether it is possible to implement any such clauses once incorporated. How meaningful are ratifications ? In addition we do not know of the constitutional difficulties for some countries of ratifying or implementing a given convention. But of course the counter-argument here could be that there are therefore certain procedural or technical features of the constitution of the country which obstruct progress on human rights questions (whatever their other advantages) and are therefore "anti-human rights". This may be particularly true in the more developed countries in Zones "F", "G" and "H".
On the following pages we publish a table giving information on the status of international human rights conventions. For each convention, the table shows which countries have signed, ratified or are not eligible.
The information in the table is based on that supplied in the official document of the United Nations Economic and Social Council's Commission on Human Rights (27th session) (Periodic Reports on Human Rights; status of multilateral treaties in the field of human rights concluded under the auspices of the United Nations. E /CN.4 /907 /Rev. 7,23 December 1970. (as revised to 10 October 1971 in personal communication). In addition to the information obtained from that source we have worked out a "Human Rights Index" which is explained on page 545. The Index value for each country appears as the first column after the country's name in the table.
|Table 1a: International Human Rights Conventions|
|International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cul tural Rights (not yet in force)||A||Pacte international relatif aux droits économiques, |
sociaux et culturels (non encore en vigueur).
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights |
(not yet in force)
|B||Pacte international relatif aux droits civils et poli tiques (non encore en vigueur).||1966|
|Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on |
Civil and Political Rights (not yet in force).
|C||Protocole facultatif se rapportant au Pacte interna tional relatif aux droits civils et politiques (non en core en vigueur).||1966|
|Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the
Crime of Genocide (in force since 12 Jan. 1951).
|D||Convention pour la prévention et la répression du
crime de génocide (en vigueur depuis le 12.1.1951).
|International Convention on the Elimination of All
Forms of Racial Discrimination (in force since 4 Jan.
|E||Convention internationale sur l'élimination de toutes
les formes de discrimination raciale (en viqueur de puis le 4 janvier 1969).
|Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (in
force since 22 Apr. 1954)
|F||Convention relative au statut des réfugiés (en vi gueur depuis le 22.4.1954)||1951|
|Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (in force
since 4 Oct. 1967).
|G||Protocole relatif au statut des réfugiés (en vigueur
depuis le 4.10.1967).
|Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Per sons (in force since 6 June 1960).||H||Convention relative au statut des apatrides (en vi gueur depuis le 6.6.1960.||1954|
|Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (not
yet in force).
|I||Convention sur la réduction des cas d'apatridie (non
encore en vigueur).
|Convention on Political Rights of Women (in force
since 7 July 1954)
|J||Convention sur les droits politiques de la femme (en
vigueur depuis le 7.7.1954).
|Convention on the Nationality of Married Women (in
force since 11 Aug. 1958).
|K||Convention sur la nationalité de la femme mariée (en
vigueur depuis le 11.8.1958)
|Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age
for Marriage and Registration of Marriages (in force
since 24 Aug. 1962).
|L||Convention sur le consentement au mariage, l'âge
minimum du mariage et l'enregistrement des maria ges (en vigueur depuis le 9.1 2.1 964).
|Convention on the International Right of Correction
(in force since 24 Aug. 1962).
|M||Convention relative au droit international de rectifi cation (en vigueur depuis le 24.8.1962).||1953|
|Protocol amending the Slavery Convention signed at
Geneva on 25 September 1926 (in force since 7 Dec
|N||Protocole amendant la Convention relative à l'escla vage signée à Genève le 25 septembre 1926 (en vi gueur depuis le 7.12.1953).||1926|
|Slavery Convention of 25 September 1926 as amen ded (in force since 7 July 1955).||O||Convention relative à l'esclavage du 25 septembre
1926, telle qu'elle a été amendée (en vigueur depuis
|Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of
Slavery, the Slave Trade, Institutions and Practices
similar to Slavery (in force since 30 Apr. 1957).
|P||Convention supplémentaire relative à l'abolition de
l'esclavage, de la traite des esclaves et des institu tions et pratiques analogues à l'esclavage (en vi gueur depuis le 30.4.1957).
|Convention on the Suppression of Traffic in Persons
and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others
(in force since 25 July 1951).
|Q||Convention pour la répression de la traite des êtres
humains et de l'exploitation de la prostitution d'au trui (en vigueur depuis le 25.7.1951).
|Convention of the Non-applicability of Statutory
Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Hu manity (not yet in force).
|R||Convention sur l'imprescriptibilité des crimes de
guerre et des crimes contre l'humanité (non encore en vigueur).
|Table 1b: International Human Rights Conventions|
|Symbols / Légende||.|
X -- States having deposited instruments of ratifi cation, accession or acceptance, or notifica tion of succession or having signed without
S -- Signature not yet followed by ratification.
O -- States not eligible to become Parties.
When the Human Rights Index value (see explanation on
X -- Etats ayant déposé un instrument de ratifica tion, d'adhésion ou d'acceptation, ou une no tification de succession, ou ayant signé sans
S -- Signature non encore suivie de ratification.
O -- Etats ne pouvant pas devenir Parties.
Les chiffres entre parenthèses indiquent qu'un change-
|Table 2: Categories of Human Rights Performance|
|Graph showing the extent of ratification of international human rights convention by a country and its degree of economic development
(Valid to 23 December 1970 and based on Table2. Table 1 is updated to 10 October 1971)
|Zones in graph||.||Zones du graphique|
|Countries which are underdeveloped both econo-
and probably with respect to human rights -- but
which have a "normal "relationship between
the measures of these two conditions.
Pays sous-deveioppés à la fois du point de vue
|Developed countries which show a normal rela-
tionship between the state of development and
their probable consciousness of human rights
|Zone "B"||Pays développés qui one un équilibre "normal *
entre leur état de développement et leur attitude
probable en ce qui concerne les droits de l'hom-
|Underdeveloped countries which demonstrate
the probability of an above "normal" awareness
of human rights problems in view of their state of
|Zone "C"||Pays sous-developpés qui ont probablement une
attitude au-dessus de la "normal" en ce qui
concerne les droits de l'homme, étant donné leur
stade de développement.
|Countries which show the probability of an ex-
ceptional awareness of human rights questions
|Zone "D "
(Table 2 : * *)
|Pays qui ont probablement une attitude excep-
tionelle en ce qui concerne les droits de l'homme
|Developed countries which demonstrate the pro-
bability of an above normal awareness of human
|Zone "E "
(Table 2 : *)
|Pays développés qui ont probablement une atti-
tude au-dessus de la "normale" en ce qui con-
cerne les droits de l'homme.
|Countries which show the probability of a sub-
normal awareness and casualness on human
rights questions, in many cases despite their
state of development.
(Table 2 : }
|Pays qui ont probablement une attitude en-des-
sous de la "normale" en ce qui concerne les
droits de l'homme, dans certains cas en dépit de
leur stade de développement.
|Countries which show the probability of an irres-
ponsible attitude toward human rights questions,
in view of their state of development
(Table 2 : *)
|Pays qui ont probablement une attitude irrespon-
sable en ce qui concerne les droits de l'homme
en dépit d'un state de développement avancé.
|Countries which show the probability of an ex-
ceptionally irresponsible attitude toward human
rights questions in view of their state of develop-
(Table 2 : *)
|Pays qui ont probablement une attitude très ir-
responsable en ce qui concerne les droits de
l'homme, étant donné leur stade de développe-
|Graph showing the extent of ratification of international human rights
convention by a country and its degree of economic development
|Increasing degree of development (GNP/capita in $)|
Clearly the positioning and shape of these curves are rather arbitrary -- particularly because they ignore the developed countries in Zone "H". It may well be that the social and legal structure of such countries are so complex that it is impossible to expect much adaptation to the Clauses of international conventions -- the structures have become too unwieldy and inflexible and have too many safeguards built into them to protect the society from rapid change. Perhaps, therefore, it would be more appropriate to curve the "normal" band down near to the current positions of the countries in question (in Zone "H") -- this is done with the dotted band. Should this be the case, however, much of the meaning and hope that is stressed in connection with international conventions becomes somewhat without foundation. It means that the more developed and complex a country becomes the less able we can expect it to become in adapting to new conceptions of human rights as they are formulated internationally -- the degree of "structurai violence" builds up. Nevertheless the index as it stands vividly highlights the probable backwardness of certain countries. It is worth speculating on the advantages of creating an "unwritten" U.N. rule that countries in Categories 0-1 should refrain from voting on human rights issues and that those in Categories 0-4 should refrain from proposing or cosponsoring international human rights resolutions or conventions -- until they can prove their own ability to judge such matters by ratifying more of the range of existing conventions. Alternatively, proposed human rights resolutions should be judged by the average index value of the sponsoring countries.
The index only gives an indication of the probable human rights situation in a given country. It is vital to emphasize that the human rights index as it stands is only meaningful to the extent that the ratification of an international convention is considered to be meaningful and of itself a significant step towards achieving the ends to which the convention addresses itself. René Maheu in speaking of the foundation of human rights conventions, namely the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (see page 540 of this issue), notes however, that the same words do not designate either the same realities or the same values in the many countries of the world. More often than not the words are used for purposes of protest or polemic or as offensive or defensive weapons, rather than in the true spirit of human rights. It is in this light that the interpretation of human rights conventions within a given country must be seen. Finally, we must also remember that the concept of human rights is a concept of Western origin which has a totally different significance within many other cultures, to the point of being totally devalued there in Western eyes -- just as many concepts held dear by such cultures and applied in the West may appear totally devalued from a non-Western cultural perspective.
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