How Do You Perform Human Rights? Measurement, Audit and Power Through Global Indicators

  • Giovanna GilleriEmail author
Part of the Ius Gentium: Comparative Perspectives on Law and Justice book series (IUSGENT, volume 77)


Over the last few decades, several international actors have actively engaged in developing indicators for measuring states’ and other actors’ commitment to international human rights (HRs) norms. Indicators constitute the evidence of the state of events, activities or outcomes relating to HRs standards. According to mainstream views, HRs indicators strengthen monitoreds’ accountability by translating complex phenomena into easily intelligible data. Common classifications understand such technologies of gauging through standard taxonomies, such as ‘structural’, ‘process’, ‘outcome’, ‘qualitative’ and ‘quantitative’ indicators. Against this framework, this chapter suggests an alternative, tripartite account of the assumptions and consequences underlying the use of HRs metrics. Mauro Bussani’s teachings and perspectives on the interactions between national and supranational legal orders guide the investigation through a comparative and cross-cutting analysis of the intricacies of HRs measurement. First, as instruments of (1) knowledge, the reliability of indicators depends on their responsiveness to the scrutinised context. Secondly, as tools of (2) control, there is little doubt that indicators can be an effective system of auditing. Yet the overemphasis on the supposedly ‘neutral’ and ‘objective’ language of quantification entails many risks, including the empowerment of the epistemic communities designing them. But indicators may also be tools of (3) power: many indicators become influential in the public debate, affect how people think and behave, as well as shape the agendas of domestic and global institutions. The conclusion enshrines a forward-looking approach as to how to overcome existing obstacles by improving stake-holders’ participation within and transparency of the preparation of indicators.


Global indicators Human rights Audit Governance 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.European University InstituteFlorenceItaly

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