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Measuring the Progressive Realization of Human Rights Obligations: An Index of Economic and Social Rights Fulfillment


  • Sakiko Fukuda-Parr

    (The New School)

  • Terra Lawson-Remer

    (New York University)

  • Susan Randolph

    (University of Connecticut)


In response to an increasing demand for rigorous monitoring of state accountability in meeting their human rights obligations, a growing literature on human rights measurement has emerged. Yet there are no widely used indicators or indices of human rights obligations fulfillment. This paper proposes a methodology for an index of economic and social rights fulfillment that: uses available survey-based objective, rather than subjective data; focuses on state obligations rather than solely on individual enjoyment of rights; and captures progressive realization of human rights subject to maximum available resources. Two calculation methods are proposed: the ratio approach and the achievement possibilities frontier approach. The paper identifies key conceptual and data constraints. Recognizing the complex methodological challenges, the aim of this paper is not to resolve all the difficulties, but rather to contribute to the process of building rigorous approaches to human rights measurement. The proposed index thus has recognized limitations, yet is an important first step based on available data. Our goal here is to contribute to the longer term development of a methodology for measuring economic and social rights fulfillment. The paper concludes that the proposed index provides important new information compared with other measures of economic and social rights fulfillment, but still does not capture some desired features such as the right to non-discrimination and equality, and the right to social security. The paper also outlines an agenda for longer term research and data collection that would make more complete measurement possible.

Suggested Citation

  • Sakiko Fukuda-Parr & Terra Lawson-Remer & Susan Randolph, 2008. "Measuring the Progressive Realization of Human Rights Obligations: An Index of Economic and Social Rights Fulfillment," Economic Rights Working Papers 8, University of Connecticut, Human Rights Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:uct:ecriwp:8
    Note: The authors are grateful to many people who have provided useful advice and comments in the course of developing this index. Thanks are particularly due to Claes Johansson, David Stewart, and John Stewart, and to all those too numerous to name individually but the participants in brainstorming meetings and presentations held at the New School (through 2006/07), UNDP New York (May 2008), UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (June 2008), the New School workshop New York (June 2008), as well as others who were consulted individually. We also thank those who helped organize these meetings, especially the Canadian International Development Agency whose support made possible the June 2008 workshop in New York. All errors and omission however are the responsibility of the author.

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    Cited by:

    1. London, Leslie & Schneider, Helen, 2012. "Globalisation and health inequalities: Can a human rights paradigm create space for civil society action?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 74(1), pages 6-13.

    More about this item


    Human rights; Measurement; Progressive realization; Inequality; Human Development; Global;

    JEL classification:

    • I31 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General Welfare, Well-Being
    • Z0 - Other Special Topics - - General

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