Critical debates on quantitative human rights measures: an incomplete reading list

/ April 10, 2017

This post was written by Anita Gohdes, Assistant Professor of International Relations at the  Department of Political Science at the University of Zurich. Since 2009, she has been a consultant for the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG). Find her on Twitter @ARGohdes.

Measuring human rights is hard. In many cases, perpetrators have an incentive to cover up their repressive actions, for example when they want to evade accountability. Comparison across different countries, cultures, regions, and time periods is challenging and brings with all kinds of issues regarding representativeness, completeness, and bias.

There is a lively and ongoing debate in the social sciences surrounding what constitutes a good measure of human rights, what certain measures can and cannot tell us, and how data and methodological innovations can help us achieve a better understanding of human rights standards and practices across the world.

This reading list offers an introduction for those interested in exploring these debates. This reading list is far from comprehensive, and heavily biased towards measuring physical integrity rights violations from a political science perspective – but it’s a start.

I divided the readings up into short blog posts that stuck with me, useful books I’ve consulted across the years, and some useful articles on debates human rights surrounding measures and measures of conflict violence.

I am sure I have left out many important references – so feel free to email research[at] with your additions!

Selected blog posts (on both human rights and conflict statistics)


Discussion of Standards-based Human Rights Data

Conflict Data

Law and Human Rights Measures

Further resources

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