Oppressive Regimes List part 2




Methodology: Selection of categories and scoring systems


Ten categories were selected to generate a final score for each country:


  • Torture
  • Political imprisonment
  • Disappearance
  • Extra-judicial killing
  • The death penalty
  • Freedom in the World
  • Press Freedom Index
  • Workers' Rights
  • Trade Unionists Targeted
  • Corruption Perceptions Index


Physical harm inflicted by states

Four of these relate to 'physical integrity rights' - that is, the rights of citizens to be free from torture, political imprisonment, disappearance and extra-judicial killing.  This data has been generated by the Cingranelli-Richards (CIRI) Human Rights Dataset (www.humanrights.org), which in turn is sourced from the 2009 United States State Department Country Reports and  Amnesty International Report.

Where specific instances of human rights abuse have been recorded between one and 49 times during 2009, the country gets a half mark; over 50 instances lead to a full mark.  

The fifth category, the death penalty, is closely related to physical integrity rights.  Data on this category has been taken from Amnesty International's 2011 report and the Hands Off Cain website (www.handsoffcain.info), an organisation calling for the abolition of the death penalty.  CIRI data on human rights does not include analysis of capital punishment as it is not illegal under international law.  According to CIRI Director Dr David Richards, “We try to reduce any possible inclusionary-based politics by coding only those rights we see as being clearly recognized in international law.” [3]

Half a mark in this category represents countries which are abolitionist in practice but the death penalty remains in law, or where execution is reserved for exceptional circumstances, such as crimes under military law or wartime crimes.  A full mark indicates that the death penalty is used for ordinary crimes.


Civil Rights

The last five categories relate to civil rights.  The final three of these have been selected because they are specifically relevant to the purposes of this research, thus giving the final score a natural weighting towards issues around corporate activity.

The Freedom in the World rating is from Freedom House, which describes itself as an “independent watchdog organization that supports the expansion of freedom around the world”, based in the USA.  It annually publishes country scores that reflect civil rights and political liberties, derived from a survey completed for each country by analysts and academic advisors.  It measures the wider conditions of freedom in countries and territories, rather than governments or government performance per se.  A full mark in this category represents the assessment of the country as “not free”, a half mark “partly free” and no mark “free”. 
Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontiers) produce an annual Press Freedom Index, which provides a country-by-country ranking of violations of press freedom.  It “reflects the degree of freedom that journalists and news organisations enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by the authorities to respect and ensure respect for this freedom”.  Abuses by pressure groups, armed militia and clandestine organisations are taken into account alongside those attributable to the state.  To compile the score, a questionnaire covering issues such as physical abuse and detention, censorship, self-censorship and financial pressure is distributed to RSF’s partner organisations and network of correspondents.  Ethical Consumer chose to include this index as a measure that comes from grassroots civil society, as opposed to academic, state or organised labour institutions.  In 2010, Eritrea was the worst scoring country under this index, scoring 105.  Ethical Consumer has translated the scoring system as follows, where 0 represents the most free:

PFI score 0 – 19.99 = ECRA score 0
PFI score 20 – 39.99 = ECRA score 0.25
PFI score 40 – 59.99  = ECRA score 0.5
PFI score 60 – 79.99  = ECRA score 0.75
PFI score 80 - 100+ = ECRA score 1

The score provided in the Workers' Rights column is also based on Freedom House data, from a subset of questions in the Freedom House survey relating to workers' rights, published in a separate document, “The Global State of Workers' Rights”. This section of data has therefore been double counted.  Ethical Consumer considered this to be appropriate given how we use the information.  The survey measures trade union and worker freedoms in 165 countries.  It is also claimed that the final score attributed to countries is a measure of how closely labour laws conform to International Labour Organization (ILO) standards.

The following scoring method was used in the workers' rights category to convert Freedom House (FH) rankings into a score for Ethical Consumer’s  (ECRA) oppressive regime list:

FH Free  =  ECRA Score 0
FH Mostly Free =  ECRA Score 0.25
FH Partly Free  =  ECRA Score 0.5
FH Repressive =  ECRA Score 0.75
FH Very Repressive = ECRA Score 1

Data in the column Trade Unionists Targeted has been taken from the International Centre for Trade Union Rights (ICTUR) Freedom of Association: Trade Union Rights Worldwide 2010 map.  A half mark represents instances where trade unionists arrested were imprisoned or prosecuted and a full mark represents instances where they have been killed or assassinated. 

The Corruption Perceptions Index, developed by Transparency International, measures perceived levels of public sector corruption in a country.  To compile this, an evaluation of the extent of corruption is conducted by country experts (residents and non-residents) and business leaders.  Data from 13 sources and 10 independent institutions is used to generate the Index.  Source surveys for the 2010 CPI were conducted between January 2009 and September 2010. 

Scoring method used to translate CPI figures into Ethical Consumer (ECRA) score:

CPI  8 to 10 = very clean = ECRA score 0
CPI  6 to 8 = clean = ECRA score 0.25
CPI  4 to 6 = medium = ECRA score 5
CPI  2 to 4 = corrupted = ECRA score 0.75
CPI  0 to 2 = very corrupted = ECRA score 1


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Limitations of Research


Sources and categories


Human rights  is a complex issue and there are multiple related measures and indexes, but sources of raw, core data on human rights are surprisingly limited.

The United States State Department (USSD) is the only source of country data that is both systematic and global in coverage, with the exception that it does not report on itself.  There are obvious problems with this that relate to impartiality.  Whilst CIRI Co-Director David Richards acknowledges that “fear of bias makes sense”, and that bias was an issue in the early days of the reports, he argues that the growth of independent sources for information in the form of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has made it difficult for obvious bias to be present.  He notes that studies that have coded USSD and Amnesty reports separately “show a great and growing correlation”. CIRI have also put in place their own safeguards against bias in the form of using concordance software which allows it to detect changes in language: “Our scorers create scores based on information, not merely upon changes in the way something is described”.[3]   

To compile its data on the USA, CIRI use multiple non-governmental organisations as sources, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

It should also be noted that the impartiality of Freedom House has also been questioned, and that it has been criticised for its links to, and for receiving funding from, the US Government, not least by Noam Chomsky in his book “Manufacturing Dissent”.  A statement on the organisation’s website makes its political orientation explicit: “Freedom House’s diverse Board of Trustees is united in the view that American leadership in international affairs is essential to the causes of human rights and democracy”.  

A less obvious problem than bias with respect to the USSD country reports is the influence of the value reference system which dictates what type of information is reported.  During the Reagan administration, analysis of economic rights was eliminated.  According to Richards, this has resulted in the continued legacy of scarce systematic information on economic, social, cultural and women's rights compared to that of political and civil rights.[4]  Salil Shetty, in his introduction to Amnesty International's State of the World's Human Rights 2011 Report, describes elevating political and civil rights over economic, social and cultural rights as a false dichotomy.  He highlights the experience of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in protest against police harassment and economic hardship.  Recognition that lack of economic opportunities is caused in part by corrupt governments continues to reverberate across North Africa and the Middle East.

However, for the purposes of this research, too much emphasis on economic rights and factors that are inextricably linked to them, such as child mortality, literacy rates and life expectancy, would generate a list reflecting poverty and living standards rather than the actions of states towards their citizens.  Richards warns against the “classic trap of punishing poor states for being poor” when attempting to measure human rights.[4]  So, whilst economic rights do not feature in the categories we have selected, we have instead used a measurement of government corruption, the Corruption Perceptions Index.


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Analysis of the human rights performance of governments tends to focus solely on the actions of state or state-employed forces towards citizens of that country.  Legally and morally, this can lead to a massive void, whereby non-citizens, be they refugees, asylum seekers, migrant workers or victims of trafficking, are utterly unrecognised .  This is where some of the worst abuses take place, in a place between states, often inhabited by the most vulnerable.  Many countries, including the UK, now forcibly deport to countries where individuals are at genuine risk of torture and ill-treatment, in violation of international legal principles.  In “developed” countries, it is commonplace to detain non-citizens, including children, outside of usual legal processes.  Ill-treatment of such people is also commonplace.

This presents a substantial problem for human rights analysis.  To take the most extreme example discovered during the course of this research, between September 2009 and January 2010, 12,000 Congolese nationals were forcibly deported from Angola amid human rights violations, including torture and sexual violence.   The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that 99 women and 15 men were raped during the expulsions.  Many arrived in the DRC naked and without belongings.

If the treatment of refugees and other non-citizens is to be incorporated into a comparative analysis of human rights globally, it needs to be done so systematically.  But sources of such information are not available. 

The data also does not reflect the behaviour of states in armed conflict beyond their borders – the actions of one government towards citizens of another country.


Occupied and Disputed Territories


Occupied territories presented further problems during this research.  Different data sources treated different territories differently and therefore aggregating the data without making allowances for this would lead to skewed results. This is pertinent to two regions: the Moroccan occupied Western Sahara; and the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel. Furthermore, how they are treated represents a particular political position; neutrality is impossible, and even after a position has been adopted, representing this statistically is extremely difficult.  We don’t claim to have ‘solved’ these problems, but are committed to being transparent in how we have dealt with them.

There are multiple disputed territories, with varying degrees of recognition internationally.  Abkhazia, which is generally considered to be part of Georgia, is recognised by five UN member states, one partially recognised state (South Ossetia) and one unrecognised state (Transnistria).  Each disputed or occupied territory, or independence struggle – however it is presented - deserves separate analysis far beyond the scope of this research. 

The availability of data obviously restricts to what extent it is possible to analyse territories separately.  No separate data is available on Tibet, for example.

If one accepts that an occupied or disputed territory has legitimate claims to sovereignty, an inherent paradox exists when dealing with the data.  If the region is treated as a separate entity, the result is to exonerate the occupying forces of responsibility for the condition of human rights there and any human rights abuses they may be responsible for.  Conversely, to include the data for human rights abuses in occupied territories with those of the occupier effectively involves including that geographical area, thus could be seen to legitimise the occupiers claim to the land.

The CIRI data incorporates human rights abuses committed by Israeli forces in the Palestinian occupied territories into its Israel dataset.  We have not adjusted these scores.  CIRI does not, however, include Palestine, the West Bank or Gaza as separate entities, consequently no data is provided relating to the human rights conduct of the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. 

In contrast, no data on the Western Sahara is included in any of the CIRI statistics – either for Morocco or as a separate entity.  Richards explains that the database relates to state-citizen relations, as this is the predominant relationship in international human rights law.  Since the Western Sahara's legal status remains undetermined, and there is no recognised state government, it is not covered at all.[5]    

The Freedom House data scores the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Western Sahara as separate entities.  The scores of these regions are worse than Israel and Morocco respectively.  In both cases, the occupied regions score worse: Israel is considered to be ‘free’ in the Freedom House categorisation, Morocco ‘partly free’ and the Gaza Strip, West Bank and Western Sahara ‘not free’.  We have changed Israel and Morocco's status to ‘not free’ for the purposes of incorporating FH rating into our own and to reflect conditions in the territories in which they occupy. In the case of Israel, this is line with the position taken by  the UN, which does not accept Israel’s territorial claims in the Palestinian occupied territories, but states that "the [Israeli] State's obligations under the Covenant [on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights] apply to all territories and populations under its effective control”.[6]

The Press Freedom Index was the only source to score ‘Israel (Israeli territory)’ and ‘Israel (extra-territorial)’ separately, thus allowing it to account for the arrest of journalists in international waters on the flotilla heading to Gaza in May 2010, and the targeting of journalists by Israeli forces in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  We have used the ‘extra-territorial’ score.  The difference in these scores is significant: Israel ranked 86 out of 172 countries; its extra-territorial ranking was 132.  The Press Freedom Index did not release separate information on the Western Sahara.

In the case of the Freedom House Workers' Rights score, this approach was not possible as the organisation did not release separate data on the Western Sahara and Palestinian territories.  The Moroccan workers' rights score has consequently not been adjusted.

However, in the case of Israel, we decided to attempt to incorporate working conditions in the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, illegal under international law, and also the conditions of Palestinian workers with West Bank residency permits working in Israel.  This is partly due to the dire working conditions they experience and also because companies that source from Israel run the very real risk of sourcing from settlements.  Many agricultural and industrial products and their components exported from Israel are produced in the settlements, some of which are industrial zones.  Although the Israeli state has signed an agreement with European countries that it will label products with their place of origin, companies often conceal the source of products.[7]  In February 2010 the European Union ruled that importing states should not be bound by the proof of origin submitted if it did not contain sufficient information to be verified, a ruling which Press TV interpreted as a declaration that the certificates of origin were not trustworthy.[8]  In France a year later, a court official charged with investigating imports by Israeli agricultural company Carmel Agrexco at the port at Sete found evidence of fraud due to incorrect labelling of settlement produce.[9]  It is also worth noting that in May 2011 Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated that Israel does not recognise the internationally recognised 1967 border.

We took the questions asked by Freedom House which it uses to determine the status of workers’ rights in a country and attempted to 'answer' them with regard to Palestinian workers working in areas controlled by Israel.  We found that the specific questions asked only related to ILO Conventions 87, the Freedom of Association and the Protection of Right to Organise and 98, the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining.  Whilst these two conventions are generally considered to be critical in terms of workers being able to challenge and improve working conditions, it was somewhat surprising that information was not systematically sought regarding other issues, such as child labour, forced labour, working hours, working conditions and remuneration.  Such issues were reported in the written country reports, however, the methodology employed to obtain the information was unclear.

We found that, due to the extra-ordinary conditions experienced by many Palestinian workers, attempting to answer the questions was a fairly futile exercise.  We put them to the Israeli workers' rights organisation Kav LaOved, and received the following response from Roy Wagner:

“Workers in Israel, including Palestinians working in Israel or in Israeli West Bank settlements have all the formal freedoms of forming unions, with the exception of access of Palestinian union activists to places where they are not themselves employed, as they are not likely to have permits. Moreover, since a few years ago Palestinian workers in Israel and the settlements have almost the same rights and benefits as Israeli workers.


“However, the Israeli permit regime renders these freedoms strictly formal. In order to work in Israel or in an Israeli settlement, a Palestinian worker needs a security clearance and a work permit. The process of obtaining a work permit often includes a summons to a meeting with an Israeli security agent, who may require the worker to provide information to Israeli authorities in exchange for the right to work - a choice that may place the worker and his or her family at risk. Furthermore, the permit does not belong to the worker, but to the employer. Workers who fall out of grace with their employer for any reason whatsoever (or those whose employer failed to pay the authorities their work permit fee) lose not only their job, but also their work permit and possibly even their security clearance.


“Last but not least, Israeli enforcement of worker rights, including health and safety, although formally applicable, is non-existent. Palestinian workers often end up with less than half the minimum wage, denied all social benefits, and in dangerous work environments. Workers are able to obtain their rights only through a court process, after they are fired or resign (and even then there are many formal and informal obstacles) or through external pressure, in cases where the employer has to maintain a good international reputation. Unions do organize Palestinians in Israel and Israeli settlements, but their ability to make a difference is very limited.”


Wagner concluded: “The formal rights of workers are meaningless where there are mechanisms (such as motion restrictions, limitations on access to justice, limitations on the right to work) that make it impossible for workers to effectively unionize. Freedom House should phrase questions that try to reach beyond the existence of formal rights and into the actual possibility of implementing them effectively.”[10]


Who Profits, an Israeli organisation that monitors industrial activity in West Bank settlements, further elaborates in their 2011 report on the SodaStream factory in Mishor Edomim industrial zone in a settlement in the West Bank: “Exploitation is an inevitable part of commercial production in an occupied area. Palestinians employed in these industrial parks work under severe restrictions of movement and organization... employment under occupation is always exploitative, resulting in routine violations of labor rights.”[11]

We have therefore re-scored Israel in the workers' rights category as being “very repressive” under Freedom House’s rating.  It is perhaps worth noting that this element of Israel's score is not in itself sufficient to push Israel onto this list of oppressive regimes.


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This research has been a complicated process that has thrown up numerous moral and logical difficulties.  We don't claim to have come up with perfect solutions, but are committed to being transparent in our methodology and open to suggestions of how to improve the process the next time the research to compile the Oppressive Regime list is undertaken.  We'd particularly like to hear about potential alternatives to Freedom House as a source!  

We hope that one day the fundamental problem – the availability of global, systematic data on human rights in the world – is solved by crowd sourcing.  Grassroots civil society across the world has a crucial role to play in reporting human rights abuses.  How such information could be aggregated is a question for another day.



Appendix: Category Definitions


The categories that relate to physical integrity rights as defined in the Cingranelli-Richards (CIRI) Human Rights Data Project Coding Manual are reproduced below with kind permission by Dr. David Richards and Dr. David Cingranelli.


Column 1: Disappearances

Disappearances are cases in which people have disappeared, agents of the state are likely responsible, political motivation may be likely, and the victims (the disappeared) have not been found. In most instances, disappearances occur because of a victim's political involvement or knowledge of information sensitive to authorities. Often, victims are referred to by governments as "terrorists," and labelled a threat to national security.  Knowledge of the whereabouts of the disappeared is, by definition, not public knowledge. However, while there is typically no way of knowing where victims are, it is typically known by whom they were taken and under what circumstances. Cases where people disappear for a period of time and then later re-appear are also to be counted.
In many instances, victims are taken under false pretence, such as having been taken away for questioning due to suspicion of some political action that is in opposition of the government. There are some cases of persons that are held under the circumstance of “clandestine detention.”  These are prisoners that are known to be in custody but their whereabouts are not known. Since the whereabouts of clandestine detainees are not known, they should be counted among the disappeared.


Column 2:  Political and Other Extra-judicial Killings/ Arbitrary or Unlawful Depravation of Life

Extrajudicial killings are killings by government officials without due process of law.  They include murders by private groups if instigated by government. These killings may result from the deliberate, illegal, and excessive use of lethal force by the police, security forces, or other agents of the state whether against criminal suspects, detainees, prisoners, or others. Deaths resulting from torture should be counted, as these deaths occurred while the prisoners were in the custody of government or its
agents. Deaths from military hazing also count.
In most cases, the US State Department [USSD] and Amnesty International [AI] reports indicate cases of political killings by explicitly referring to these killings as "political."  A victim of politically-motivated killing is someone who was killed by a government or its agents as a result of his or her involvement in political activities or for supporting (implicitly or explicitly) the political actions of opposition movements against the existing government. 
While they may be the result of different motives, both extrajudicial killings and political killings are to be treated identically for the purposes of coding.


Column 3: Political prisoners

Political imprisonment refers to the incarceration of people by government officials because of: their speech; their non-violent opposition to government policies or leaders; their religious beliefs; their non-violent religious practices including proselytizing; or their membership in a group, including an ethnic or racial group. Amnesty International (AI) often refers to "prisoners of conscience."  A "prisoner of conscience" is someone who was imprisoned because of his or her beliefs. A political prisoner is a prisoner of conscience. Prisoners of conscience also include prisoners that are imprisoned as a result of their religious beliefs, or practices. AI sometimes makes distinctions between political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, but for our purposes they are the same. Be aware that in many instances political prisoners are classified as terrorists and threats to national security. Many governments routinely apply the label "terrorist" to all opposition movements.


Column 4:  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

Torture refers to the purposeful inflicting of extreme pain, whether mental or physical, by government officials or by private individuals at the instigation of government officials. This includes the use of physical and other force by police and prison guards that is cruel, inhuman, or degrading, and deaths in custody due to tangible negligence by government officials. For purposes of coding this variable, torture DOES NOT include general prison conditions, including whether these conditions meet minimum
international standards. Torture can be anything from simple beatings, to other practices such as water-boarding, rape, or administering shock or electrocution as a means of getting information, or a forced confession. Torture also takes into account intentional mental abuse of those in custody. Military hazing also counts as torture.




This research was made possible by the generous funding of the Scurrah Wainwright Charity.


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1 http://www.globalwitness.org/library/hsbc-and-goldman-sachs-held-335m-libyan-state-oil-money
2 Atlas of Human Rights, Andrew Fagan, Earthscan 2010
3 By email, received 18th June 2011
4 Memo on Human Rights Measurement, David L. Richards
5  By email, received 6th July 2011
6 Conclusions and recommendations of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Israel (1998), viewed www.kavlaoved.org.il/about_n_eng.asp
7 http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/archive/1309277483
8 http://www.presstv.ir/detail/159319.html, viewed 22/07/11
9 http://www.bdsmovement.net/2011/french-momentu-5762
10 By email, received 15/06/11
11 “Soda Stream: A Case Study in Corporate Activity in Israeli Settlements www.whoprofits.org viewed 06/06/11



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