Sunday, April 03, 2022

Preventing a repetition of the Ukraine tragedy

This is an old draft of the letter. Please go here for the latest draft

Letter to QUNO from Meeting for Worship for Ukraine  Draft 1.4

Dear Friends

We are a group of about 100 friends from many nations, who have been meeting daily online over the last month out of our concern for the situation in Ukraine which has impinged on the human rights of so many people.

We recognise that the invasion of Ukraine is the result of a large number of interrelated factors operating on both sides of the divide.

After discussion and consideration, we wish to draw to your attention a simple measure which would provide a continuous and universal incentive for every Government to improve its human rights (HR) performance.

This is that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, (OHCHR) should publish annually the contents of the Universal Human Rights Index in tabular form, providing an accessible listing which would summarise the HR performance in the previous year of all Governments, give their relative position in the range of governmental performance, and give an indication of whether their performance is static, improving or worsening.

This is a modest development of the presentation of the Universal Human Rights Index data already present in the UN website.

The effect of this measure will be to take the HR data out of the recesses of the UN website, known only to students of the UN, simplify it, and bring it forward into the public domain, so that anyone considering travelling to, or doing business with, a particular country, will be able to form a reasonably accurate impression of its HR performance at a glance, with the facility of digging deeper into the data as necessary.

We therefore recommend this measure to QUNO for your consideration. We recognise that you will need to explore and weigh up and test the proposal in detail and we provide a summary of our discussion in the Appendix to this letter.

With grateful recognition of your valuable work


In friendship





The virtual meeting convened by Friends House Moscow has discussed the GloHRI proposal in a number of sessions. This is a summary of the main points raised in these discussions.


Description of the RHRI

The proposal is that the Human Rights (HR) performance of every government should be quantified and presented in ranked order and tabular form by the UN, refreshed annually.

The aim of the RHRI is to provide a gentle, continuous, and universal incentive for all governments to improve their HR performance, to reduce the tendency to form into dictatorships, and therefore to reduce the likelihood of a repetition of the invasion of Ukraine.

This aim will be realised by publicising the relative human rights performance of all regimes. At present this data exists on the UN website in searchable form, the Universal Human Rights Index -  RHRI brings this data forward, making it far more accessible, and makes the relative position of each government clear.

The fact that countries are positioned in ranked order will almost certainly evoke complaints from some governments that they have been placed too low in the table. The UN Human Rights Commission can respond by sending in rapporteurs to review the position. While waiting for the rapporteurs to visit, it is very likely that governments will discharge political prisoners and take other actions to improve their position in the Index.

One accepted principle of effective behaviour management is consistency. At present, unwanted behaviour in the international community is responded to on an ad hoc basis, with peers condemning or defending the behaviour according to subjective criteria such as political positioning and trade relations. The RHRI system introduces a measure of objectivity to the international relations environment.

States who are placed low on the Index ranking can be offered constructive advice, being advised, for instance, that allowing a diversity to media and freedom of journalism does not necessarily provide an existential threat to them. This approach offers an evolutionary pathway away from dictatorship towards democracy, and is an attractive alternative to revolution, coup, or invasion, which are the other ways that a dictatorship may come to an end. Iraq and Libya show that a violent termination of a dictatorship does not necessarily end well.

It is possible that the very lowest functioning states could be subjected to a tariff of sanctions targeted on the ruling circles. The problem here is that if the tariff is too stringent, and/or the number of sanctioned states should be too numerous, the integrity of the international community could be threatened. The UN always has to balance the need to maintain unity with the need to influence behaviour in a positive way.

The relative movement of the score for each country is an important parameter, both with regard to the country’s performance in previous years and in regard to its position in the rankings.

It should be noted that RHRI is a useful adjunct , to the Responsibility to Protect, which otherwise has little power short of war.




Some questions raised in discussion

 Many were supportive, some had questions, and a few found the proposal contentious

How can qualitative descriptions be reduced to a single number?

                Academic institutions have been practicing this method successfully for many years. There are a variety of indices for measuring human development, freedom and corruption. The Ibrahim Index of African Governance has been functioning for many years.

Would abusive countries not just ignore their ranking?

                Esteem is very important to humans, possibly more so for some personality types who get themselves in positions of leadership. It remains to be seen how each will respond.


What should be measured in the Index?

The present proposal is that the characteristics measured in the present UN Universal Index of Human rights should be used. This would require summarisation and quantification.


What is the relationship between HR observance and democracy?

It may be supposed that democracies generally have better HR  performance than autocracies, but this is a matter that deserves further study. It is expedient to keep HR performance and democratic performance under separate consideration in order to avoid reducing acceptance of the Index. “Democracy” is often spoken of in public as a binary thing, but the reality is that democracies exist on a spectrum from strong to weak, good to imperfect.

Is there a model of this proposal in action?

A model of this approach can be seen in the Ibrahim Index of African Governance It is wider in scope than the ranked Index of Human Rights, but is using the principle of quantification and presentation in tabular form.

There are a number of other approaches to measuring Governments’ HR performance, notably the Political Terror Scale which classifies states into 5 categories.


Discussion continues






frankem51 said...

Dear Richard

I'm with you in the breakout room on political perspectives from the International Meeting for Worship. What I don't understand is how your proposal would add value to the graphic produced by Our World in Data:

The idea of extending the Ibrahim Index beyond Africa is an interesting one meriting further discussion, I suggest

In friendship

DocRichard said...

Dear Frank

The Our World in Data is one of a number of excellent examples of this kind of work. It would be up to the UN to decide on the exact design of its approach.

Ramsey has a point about focusing on HR. I tend to see good HR and good democracy as being fairly well linked. HR could be a proxy for democracy, and for peaceableness (is that a word? It should be). For instance, Putin, by going to war, has ridden roughshod over the rights o many people, not least the right to life.

frankem51 said...

Dear Richard

I wonder whether you might want to try to measure peaceableness direct. What factors might you use, do you think?

In friendship


DocRichard said...

I would go to SIPRI for that, or ask Paul Rodgers. We could start by measuring size and budget of armed forces.

DocRichard said...

This is interesting Dictators face worse outcomes if they lose office, “ The less the outcome of international interaction affects a leader’s tenure and the less punitive are the consequences of losing office, the more a leader is willing to make concessions to strike a peaceful bargain. ”

frankem51 said...

Thanks for drawing my attention to SIPRI. In case you're not already aware, here's a link to a presentation by Paul Rogers on Ukraine:

I wonder whether you agree with me that the invasion of Ukraine is a watershed moment for Quakers, as it has been for the German government, according to SIPRI For example, I would ask whether we ought to take a more nuanced approach to armaments and the arms trade, distinguishing between the regulated trade in smart weapons and the illegal proliferation of WMDs.

I'd be interested in your views.

In friendship

Quaker Nana said...

Hi Richard. Thank you for working on this letter.
Two items:
1.) The reason I will not be signing is due to this sentence: "We recognise that the invasion of Ukraine is the result of a large number of interrelated factors operating on both sides of the divide."
2.) Regardless, others may feel differently. So I would like your letter to get as much exposure as possible to the larger noon session. Could you ask the Julie to really focus on this in her daily email. And before breakout rooms are posted, give you a few minutes to address the entire gathering.

I have learned much in the political breakout room. Thank you for your insight. See everyone next week. Deirdre aka Quaker Nana USA

DocRichard said...

Quaker Nana, Please take a look at the final version of the letter, here :

The offending paragraph has been removed. If you are minded to sign it, this is now done by emailing me, and my email address can be found in Julie's newsletter.

In friendship

DocRichard said...

frankem51 Please take a look at the final version of the letter, here :

If you are minded to sign it, this is now done by emailing me, and my email address can be found in Julie's newsletter.

In friendship