Human rights in numbers: do global quantitative human rights indicators change the international human rights discourse?

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Hoffmann, Arne
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After 60 years of formal existence, the current human rights regime faces one of its major transformations. Following a longer constituting process with the device of international legal instruments, now, the focus shifts to the actual measurement of human rights implementation. Spilling over from democracy, governance and development measurement, quantitative indicators are more and more perceived to be messianic contributors towards fast and transparent human rights measurement. While the greater part of the literature elaborates on feasibility and data reliability challenges, this thesis explores basic conceptual changes inherent to the turn towards quantitative measurement. The three trends of universalisation, technologisation and paternalisation of the human rights discourse are detected as consequences of the quantification process. These trends entail decisions over each of five traditional and long debated conflicts (universalism vs. cultural relativism, teleological vs. deontological reasoning of human rights, the definition problem, rights hierarchy and the continuous struggle for participation of different stakeholders), eradicating an open discourse, and thus alter, unnoticed by scholars and practitioners, the human rights discourse in its fundaments. Proving this, the thesis contributes to self-reflection so that the human rights world is aware of the trade-off it agrees in by relying on quantitative indicators as measurement tools for human rights.
Second semester University: University of Southern Denmark, Copenhagen
developing countries, human rights, information, NGOs, ethics