Human rights

Human rights


Rights monitoring and indicators

If international rights commitments are to have genuine impacts for individuals, action must be taken to ensure that duty bearers fulfil their responsibilities to protect and promote these rights. Rights monitoring of programmes and projects is also essential for assessing the effectiveness of rights-based approaches or ensuring that other development interventions are compatible with the protection and promotion of rights. In order to monitor the human rights situation in a given context, and the effectiveness of donor interventions, there is a need to formulate appropriate indicators which indicate the degree to which human rights are being upheld. Establishing indicators requires the gathering of adequate baseline data from which human rights-related progress can be measured.

The websites of the following NGOs provide information on the human rights records of individual country governments.

  • Amnesty International - Working To Protect Human Rights Worldwide
    Amnesty International (AI) is a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognised human rights.
  • Human Rights Watch - Human Rights Watch (HRW) is a human rights organisation made up of lawyers, journalists, academics, and country experts who investigate and expose human rights violations in order to hold abusers accountable.

Page contents

Monitoring state performance

Despite state commitments in international human rights treaties, violations of human rights are prevalent across the world. This section provides links to information on the various approaches to monitoring the progress of governments in meeting their obligations.

A treaty monitoring body or committee has been created for each of the international human rights treaties. Links to these treaty monitoring bodies can be found on the section on the Human Rights Legal Framework in this topic guide. These treaty monitoring committees work by assessing periodic reports submitted by governments that have ratified the treaty. In addition to the formal state reports, some treaty monitoring bodies allow NGOs to submit shadow reports, providing an alternative perspective. Links to online guidance for producing shadow reports aimed at civil society groups are provided in the additional information resources section on this page.

Human rights indicators

Human rights indicators can be used to assess both state progress and programmes / projects with a human rights focus and/or component. Indicators for assessing progress in promoting rights are still in the early stages of development, and limited progress has been made towards developing commonly accepted systems. There are challenges over the design, weighting, collection and use of data to measure rights. For example, there is a methodological challenge in adequately reflecting the situation for vulnerable groups, while producing aggregate data. Another challenge concerns the design of indicators that are appropriate for a range of cultures and contexts. Alternative indicators may provide evidence where human rights-specific measures are unavailable. Examples include indicators on governance, corruption, electoral fraud, and human development. The use of indicators therefore has strong links to governance interventions, such as electoral reform.

Filmer-Wilson, E., 2005, 'Summary Report of Material Collated Regarding Practical Guidance to Implementing Rights Based Approaches, Human Rights Analyses for Poverty Reduction and Human Rights Benchmarks from Development Actors and Other Relevant Communities', DFID, London
To what extent are human rights being incorporated into development programmes? How can a human rights-based approach best be developed? This report brings together material collated from development organisations in four key areas: practical guidance on rights-based approaches, including case studies and checklists; analytical tools which feature human rights for understanding the causes and characteristics of poverty; human rights impact assessment; and human rights indicators to measure development progress.
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Kalantry, S., Getgen, J. E. and Arrigg Koh, S., 2010, ‘Enhancing Enforcement of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights Using Indicators: A Focus on the Right to Education in the ICESCR’, Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 32, pp.254-310
This article focuses on the right to education in the ICESCR to illustrate how indicators can be used to ascertain treaty compliance and violations.
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Rajeev Malhotra, M. and Fasel, N., 2005, 'Quantitative Human Rights Indicators: A survey of major initiatives', Background paper for the UN Expert Meeting on Human Rights Indicators, Turku
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Human Rights Resource Centre, 2000, 'Circle of Rights - Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Activism: A Training Resource', University of Minnesota, Human Rights Resource Centre
What are economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights? What needs to be done to assert them? This manual aims to encourage an expansion of activism for the promotion and protection of ESC rights. It presents not only information on laws and standards related to these rights, but addresses the strategy and tactics that organisations and individuals need to consider to promote economic, social and cultural rights.
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Landman, T. and Häusermann, J., 2003, 'Map Making and Analysis of the Main International Initiatives on Developing Indicators on Democracy and Good Governance', Report for the Statistical Office of the Commission of the European Communities (EUROSTAT).
Democracy, human rights and good governance can be measured in many different ways, and this is reflected in the wide variety of initiatives that have developed such indicators. This project collates and evaluates existing initiatives. It also makes recommendations for the development of more efficient measurement tools.
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UNDP, 2000, 'Using Indicators for Human Rights Accountability', Chapter 5 of the UN Human Development Report 2000, UNDP, New York
Under Article 55 of the UN Charter, all UN members commit to promote "universal respect for, and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without distinction". But to what extent do they put this into practice? When a country is making progress in development, who is to say whether or not its rate of progress is adequate? In this chapter, statistical indicators are presented as a powerful tool in the struggle for human rights.
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Sector-specific monitoring

Indicators are also being developed on specific areas in order to tailor monitoring activities to particular sectors, such as housing and food rights.

UN-HABITAT, 2003, 'Monitoring Housing Rights: Developing a Set of Indicators to Monitor the Full and Progressive Realisation of the Human Right to Adequate Housing', United Nations Housing Rights Programme, UN-HABITAT, Nairobi
How can housing rights for all be realised? This report suggests ways to develop a set of indicators to monitor and evaluate the full and progressive realisation of the human right to adequate housing. It concludes that, despite the complex challenges, the creation of a set of housing rights indicators will prove a valuable tool in the world-wide struggle for housing rights.
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FAO, 2004, 'Voluntary Guidelines to Support the Progressive Realisation of the Right to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food Security', FAO, Rome
What steps are necessary to realise the goal of adequate food for all? The Intergovernmental Working Group (IGWG) of the Council of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has drawn up the following voluntary guidelines to support Member Nations’ efforts to achieve the realisation of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security. They define the right to food security and offer recommendations on creating an enabling environment, accountability and the rule of law.
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Monitoring and evaluating RBA interventions

In line with growing concerns about how to monitor, evaluate and learn from development interventions, human rights programming is also subject to this type of scrutiny. As with other areas of human rights monitoring, approaches are at early stages. A key concern is assessing the intentional and unintentional effects (positive or negative) of a human rights programme. This has been developed further by approaches which use impact assessments to monitor and evaluate the impact of human rights interventions and/or the human rights components of interventions. Thinking about impact is also thought to contribute to awareness about human rights concerns, and therefore facilitate the integration of rights-based principles into the overall policy process.

Department for International Development, 2009, ‘How to Note: A Practical Guide to Assessing and Monitoring Human Rights in Country Programmes’, DFID, London
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Harrison, J., 2010, 'Measuring Human Rights: Reflections on the Practice of Human Rights Impact Assessment and Lessons for the Future', Warwick School of Law Research Paper No. 2010/26, University of Warwick
This study examines the practice of Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA). It argues that, while a uniform HRIA process in all fields will not be appropriate, eight core elements represent the 'minimum core' of a valid process: screening, scoping, evidence gathering, consultation, analysis, producing policy-oriented recommendations, publication, and monitoring and review. Overall, better performance monitoring is crucial, and the people undertaking HRIAs need a deep understanding of human rights. More reflection is also required on the connection between HRIAs and the people affected by the policies and practices that HRIAs seek to influence.
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NORAD, 2001, 'Handbook in Human Rights Assessment. State Obligations, Awareness and Empowerment', Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, Oslo
How do you enhance the human rights profile of development programmes? How do you identify the need for human rights impact analysis? This handbook assists the user in addressing human rights concerns by recording the potential, planned or likely positive or negative effects of the programme under review. It is not a manual on how to conduct a full-scale human rights impact analysis but a guide to identifying the need for such analysis.
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UNHCHR, 2003, 'Human Rights-Based Reviews of UNDP Programmes. Working Guidelines'. Draft document, UNDP, Geneva
The UN operates a Common Understanding of the human rights-based approach to development (HRBA). This paper sets out working guidelines for a human rights-based review of UNDP country offices and projects based on the Common Understanding. The guidelines aim to support reviews at each phase of programming, strengthen existing activities and assist in the design of new programmes from a human rights perspective.
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Additional information resources

NGO country human rights reports

NGO shadow reporting

The following online resources are aimed at civil society groups, and provide guidance on how to produce a shadow report for a UN treaty monitoring body.

  • UNIFEM Stop Violence Against Women - STOPVAW: This website hosts a note on producing shadow reports.
  • Centre for Reproductive Rights: This web page links to shadow reports on reproductive rights in a range of countries.
  • Human Rights Internet (HRI): This website offers resources for advocacy on economic, social and cultural rights within the international human rights system. It also provides a comprehensive list of human rights organisations.  This site is aimed particularly at Canadian NGOs, but is relevant internationally.

Treaty monitoring