ALGERIA is the ‘winner’ of an alternative world cup – for the worst abuser of human rights

The Observer Human Rights Index

This is the World Cup that no country wants to win

Torture, tyranny, assassination and persecution are the qualifying crimes but, 50 years after the Declaration of Human Rights, all too many nations – even our own – are committing them. (In 196th place is the world’s only country above reproach: a dot in the Pacific called Tuvalu)

Our global roll of dishonour

By John Sweeny, Peter Beaumont and Leonard Doyle, The Observer, 28 June 1998

ALGERIA is the ‘winner’ of an alternative world cup – for the worst abuser of human rights. The garland of dishonour emerges from findings in The Observer’s Human Rights Index, launched today to mark the 50th anniversary of t he Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

With the backing of a panel made up of internationally recognised human rights campaigners and Nobel laureates, following extensive research, we have drawn up the first comprehensive league table of countries according to their respect for human rights.

The Observer Human Rights Index aims to name and shame the world’s worst human rights abusers and map out the relationship between economic development and oppression.

Human Rights organisations tend to avoid ranking countries according to their record on human rights. But Pierre Sane , Secretary -general of Amnesty International, said yesterday that he was ‘heartened’ by The Observers latest campaign against the violation of human rights around the world.

The worst abusers, according to our research, are countries with huge natural resources – usually oil – and corrupt élites who deal with the West’s businessmen. British oil and arms companies are well represented among the commercial operations still trading with abusers.

‘The exploitation of natural resources in certain countries has very often paved the way towards gross injustices,’ Sane said. ‘It is time the international business community recognised it responsibility for protecting human rights around the world.’

Algeria’s place at the head of the abusers’ list was earned through its record for torture and extrajudicial killings – numbering 80,000 since the military junta cancelled democratic elections in 1992.

Behind Algeria, on a score of 110.55, come North Korea, Burma, Indonesia, Libya, Colombia, Syria, Iraq, Yugoslavia and China. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Afghanistan and Nigeria follow closely. The United Kingdom comes 141st; a good score on a global basis but not so admirable when compared with other rich, industrialised countries – we are seventh out of 23.

The ‘loser’ – the country where recorded abuse of human rights scores 0.78 – is Tuvalu.

So small that researchers had to look it up on the map, it turns out to be a Rorschachtest of seemingly idyllic islands in the South Pacific.

They sell postage stamps to make a living, and do not do anyone any harm. But nowhere is perfect, even islands. In the traditional culture of Tuvalu, women occupy a sub ordinate role.

The index is a snapshot. Under diplomatic and economic pressure, countries move to placate their critics.

Indonesia has removed its dictator, Suharto; hopes are rising for a better deal in East Timor, but the treatment of the Chinese minority in the recent riots was regressive.

Since the death this month of military dictator Sani Abacha, Nigeria has moved to end its pariah status.The Observer has a long involvement in campaigning for human rights – Amnesty International was founded following an article in this newspaper in 1961.

The index has been constructed by careful deliberation, multiplying abuses of human rights over 13 categories: the use of torture; scale of disappearances (these critical indicators marked out of 30); use of the death penalty; denial of free speech; political rights; abuse of political prisoners denial of free movement, child rights; religious freedom; fair trial; minority rights; and women’s rights (these marked out of 10).

The total for each country was then multiplied by its score on the Human Development Index (HDI), as defined by the United Nations.

The logic is simple: the richer the country the more one would expect the freedom to exercise human rights. It would be unfair to compare the impoverished Rwanda with oil-rich Algeria without placing the human rights records of both countries in their economic context.

Taken together, we believe our categories provide a fair summary of a state’s human rights record, Iraq, for example, scores only two points out of 10 on denial of women’s rights because of its secular attitude towards women.

It scores 10 out of 10 on denial of majority rights because of gassing the Kurds.

A country with a wretched record of human rights abuse could score a maximum total of 190. Saddam Hussein’s Iraq proves the winner of the unmodified list – which measures human rights abuses outside of their economic context – with an unadjusted score of 155.

International sanctions and the legacy of Saddam’s two wars against Iraq and the United Nations over Kuwait, which have crippled Iraq, give it a low rating on the UN’s human development index. Iraq’s new-found impoverishment catapults it down the list, leaving Algeria in poll position.

The UN’s human development index is a means if simplifying a complex reality. It captures as many aspects of human development as possible in one composite index to produce a ranking of countries according to their level of development.

Marrying human rights abuses to economic ranking allows us to judge all countries on an equal basis.

Of course, our index is not free of flaws. The judgement which places the UK between Moldova and Dominica at 141st in the world’s ranking rather than 140th or 142nd, is a fine one. But the top 10 abusers are unquestionably dreadful measured by any yardstick.

The unique aspect of The Observer index is that it is not politically driven.

For example the European Union, dependent on Algeria’s oil and gas, has consistently declined to identify its ruling junta as a major abuser of human rights.

We do not have to show any fear or favour. In the years to come, our index will be refined and modified but the basic thrust will remain a simple one: if a country abuses its own people then it will be damned in the eyes of the world. They have been warned.


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