The Human Rights Index (HRI) is the newly crafted tool for evaluating the level of respect for human rights in Europe from a liberal perspective. It was drafted in 2018 by the Freedom Barometer project team of the Fridrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, and it covers 45 countries in total, from 2010 to 2017.


What does the HRI measure?

The HRI is a composite index, which means it uses several different measures of distinct key areas of human rights, organized in several pillars. These are:

  • Personal Safety
  • Access to Education
  • Tolerance and InclusionPersonal Rights.

The HRI uses data from other reputable sources, such as the UNDP Human Development Report, Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum; Trafficking in Persons Report by the US State Department; Fragile State Index of the Fund for Peace; and Freedom in the World of the Freedomhouse.

In an ideal situation, the HRI would show that a society in which human rights are most protected are those in which individuals are free from violence, can access education which would boost their personal capacities, and in which members of different societal groups (ethnic, religious or sexual minorities) are allowed to take part in the wider society, and where civil liberties such as freedom of speech, though or conscience is guaranteed.


What are the obvious trends?

The first thing that is clearly visible is that advanced European countries have a higher score in the HRI than countries in transition. Scandinavian countries hit the top, as in many other international benchmarks, followed by Western European countries. Democracy and economic prosperity are highly correlated with the score in the HRI – economic abundance and democratic institutions go hand in hand with the respect of human rights. But the large difference between countries on a similar level of economic development shows that countries do not need to reach a certain level of affluence before respecting human rights.

Although the connection may go the other way around – countries with the functioning democracy and high level of GDP could have a high degree of respect for human rights because they have strong institutions that advance both human rights respect, democratic order, and economic development.  


What can we learn from the HRI data?

When the correlation between the HRI and other institutional benchmarks are taken into account, we see a pattern where the HRI is highly correlated with indices that measure the presence of rule of law.



Pearson Correlation Coefficient

Rule of Law Index, World Justice Project


Administration Effectiveness, World Governance Indicators


Corruption Perception Index, Tranparency International



The thing we can learn from these data is that the precondition for the respect of human rights is not the level of economic development, but the level of rule of law. If a country has an unbiased and independent judiciary, effective and professional civil service and low level of corruption, which all guarantee that laws would be implemented in the same manner towards all citizens, it creates an environment that is conducive to the respect of human rights. However, if these preconditions are not met, there are no clear guarantees that human rights would be respected.

In the case of countries with the low level of rule of law no simple legislative change can easily increase the level of respect of human rights since it is most likely that its actual implementation would be weak or partial. If we want higher respect of human rights, we need to focus on the basics first: the state of the rule of law.


The full Human Rights Index can be downloaded from this link: