Evidence-Based Human Rights Policymaking


Over the past 30 years, governments, NGOs, and international organizations have increasingly promoted human rights policies of various kinds. More often than not, these policies have not benefited from strong empirical support, although that tendency is beginning to change.


What empirical impact do these human rights policies have? How can we measure them?


Funding for this work came from various Canadian government ministries, including foreign affairs and development, as well as from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the Canada Chairs Research Program.


The methodology analysts use matters; often, statistical work provides less grounds for optimism than qualitative studies. Other findings suggest that:

  • much of the policymaking on transitional justice, such as truth commissions and trials, is yet to be based on strong empirical evidence;
  • top human rights NGOs must be more rigorous and transparent about their research methods;
  • the evidence for links between violent conflict onset and abuses of physical integrity rights is strong, but the link between violent conflict and violations of social and economic rights is less clear;
  • The empirical jury is still out on whether rights-based approaches to development will have positive impacts.



KINDORNAY, S., J. RON & C. CARPENTER. 2012. “The Rights-Based Approach to Development: Implications for NGOs.” Human Rights Quarterly 34/2: 472-506.


THOMS, O.N.T, J. RON & R. PARIS. 2010. State-Level Transitional Justice Impacts: What do we Know? International Journal of Transitional Justice. 4/3: 329-354.


HAFNER-BURTON, E. & J. RON. 2009. Seeing Double: Human Rights through Qualitative & Quantitative Eyes. World Politics 61/2: 360-401.


RON, J. & O.N.T. THOMS. 2008. Jury Still Out on International Justice, Ottawa Citizen, July 26.


THOMS, O.N.T. & J. RON. 2007. Public Health, Conflict, & Human Rights: An Agenda for Collaborative Research. Conflict & Health 11/1: 1-38.

HAFNER-BURTON, E. & J. RON. 2007. Human Rights Institutions: Rhetoric & Efficacy, Journal of Peace Research, 44/4: 379-383.

THOMS, O.N.T. & J. RON. 2007. Do Human Rights Violations Cause Internal Conflict? Human Rights Quarterly, 29/3: 674-705.