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Oslo seminar: How can human rights be measured?

Posted date: 
Sun, 05/30/2010
The idea that it would be possible to literally measure human rights fulfillment through some Index similar to the Human Development Index (HDI) has stimulated quite a bit of debate worldwide.
 
The idea that it would be possible to literally measure human rights fulfillment through some Index similar to the Human Development Index (HDI) has stimulated quite a bit of debate worldwide. We joined a seminar hosted by the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights to discuss recent innovations on human rights measurement.        
The idea that it would be possible to literally measure human rights fulfillment through some Index similar to the Human Development Index (HDI) has stimulated quite a bit of debate worldwide.
 
On 25 and 26 May 2010, the Oslo Governance Centre joined representatives of other UN agencies such as UNICEF, OHCHR or ILO, the European Union, academic institutions from both the “North” and the “South” such as the New School, the University of Connecticut, New York University, the University of East Anglia, the Inter-American Institute or the Third World Institute, and specialized human rights-related entities such as the Danish Institute for Human Rights or the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights of the University of Oslo which was hosting the seminar, to discuss recent innovations on the question of human rights measurement.        
 
Participants presented different approaches and experiences on measuring human rights, including a new proposal for an Economic and Social Rights Fulfillment (ESRF) Index which would come to fill in a gap present both in traditional human rights measurement and in existing development indices. Indeed, most human rights assessment initiatives focus on civil and political rights, practically ignoring socio-economic rights as such, while development indices use indicators that do not take into account the rights-based dimension of socio-economic factors. The ESRF Index proposes to combine socio-economic information with the obligation dimension of human rights, to shed new light on economic and social rights realities worldwide.
 
In contrast with the search for an Index, OGC shared its country-led assessment approach, which recommends that any measuring of human rights takes place in-country, in a way that is led and owned at the national level, with country-specific indicators based on inclusive and participatory research, and within an institutionalized framework that can serve as an accountability mechanism in a given society. While a new global index can be useful to counterweight other global indices by “playing in the same court” – like, for example, the HDI once came to counterweight GDP as an indicator of development –, it also bears a high risk of over-simplifying reality to privilege the need of ranking countries over the actual need for change inside those countries.
 
The debate is still open!
 
The seminar’s programme and all background papers are available on this page of the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights website.