The Purpose of Module 19

The purpose of this module is to review strategies and tools that can be used to monitor and assess, from different perspectives, the enjoyment of ESC rights by individuals and groups. The module discusses

  • the purpose and difficulties of ESC rights monitoring;
  • fact-finding/investigation and documentation of ESC rights cases;
  • development and use of ESC rights indicators and benchmarks;
  • collection and interpretation of quantitative data and qualitative information;
  • budget analysis; and
  • reports.


Section IV focused on defining the content of specific ESC rights and the corresponding ob­ligations of governments.  The section focuses on deter­mining the extent of the enjoyment of those rights through the process of monitoring and assessing the situation in a country.  The information gathered in this process forms the essential basis for any type of education or advocacy on behalf of ESC rights.

In the context of this manual,  "monitoring” means the process of systematically tracking the actions by institutions, organizations or governmental bodies.  "Assessing” in­volves analyz­ing the information gathered, and comparing it to domestic and international standards re­lated to human rights to determine what the information says about the extent of a govern­ment’s compliance with its obligations.

Purpose of Monitoring

When an organization decides to monitor ESC rights compliance, it is essential that it first be clear about its own purpose, strategies and objectives.  All monitoring and assessing should be undertaken within this framework, and should be designed to further the organiza­tion’s purpose, strategies and objectives. 

Take, for example, a primary school in a rural area where an organization works, in which one third of the students in the first form are girls, but by sixth form only 15 percent are girls.  De­pending upon the organization’s goals and objectives, it may undertake different forms of monitoring and assessing.  If the organization sets as a goal maintaining the level of girls’ enrollment, it may investigate the reasons why a large number of girls do not continue in school through interviews with girls and their par­ents, teachers and administrators, and local educational authorities whose policies may affect enrollment.  On the other hand, if the or­ganization is primarily concerned with improving the quality of rural schooling gener­ally, it will not tackle the discrepancy between boys and girls within a single school, but instead it will learn what it can about national-level policies related to and funding allocated for rural schools as opposed to urban schools.  

Difficulties in Monitoring ESC Rights

Monitoring and assessing governments’ actions to determine the extent of enjoyment of ESC rights can, in some cases, be simple.  More often, however, it will be quite complex, for a number of reasons.

• Human rights work involves monitoring governments’ actions and assessing them against established human rights standards.  As was discussed at some length in Module 8, in many cases the relevant ESC rights standards have not yet been fully developed.  Activ­ists may thus find themselves more involved in a process of defining the content of rights as part of their monitoring and advocacy work than would generally be the case with, for example, civil and political rights.   While investigating a case, they may have to under­take research to arrive at a fuller elaboration and deeper understanding of specific stan­dards in order to argue the application of the standards to the specific case.  These argu­ments, in turn, may serve as the basis for a court to make a decision that lends greater precision to the parameters and dimensions of the specific right.  This back-and-forth process can be complex and drawn out, but it is essential for the development of more pre­cise understanding of ESC rights at the national and international levels and, in turn, for more focused and effective monitoring.  

• The government’s obligations with respect to ESC rights are multifaceted, as has already been described in Module 9. 

A government has an obligation of conduct and an obligation of result.  This means that activists seeking to monitor and assess governments’ actions must look not only at what the government is doing, but also at the results of its actions. 

A govern­ment must also respect, protect, promote and fulfill its ESC rights obligations.  These requirements will involve a four-part assessment of the government’s actions.

Finally, the government has to fulfill its obligations progressively and to the maximum of its available resources.

• "Progressively” implies that activists will need to monitor the government’s actions over time, to ensure that progress is being made with respect to the particular right.  This, in turn, will necessitate a familiarity with the use of indicators and benchmarks (see below).  Activists may also need to look at expenditures of government resources to determine whether the government is devoting the "maximum of its available resources” to meeting its obligations.  This necessitates an understanding of budget analysis (see below).

• A government’s failure to meet its ESC rights obligations affects individuals.  It is indi­viduals who are denied access to education, a safe job or a healthy environment; an indi­vidual may be denied a job, for example, or admission to a school, because of dis­crimi­nation based on race or another factor.  It is important to document such cases care­fully in order to prove a violation of the individual’s right.  This type of documentation will generally involve more traditional types of fact-finding on cases or situations (see below). 

In the majority of situations, activists will be working with groups of people, rather than simply individuals, because large numbers of people are normally affected by a govern­ment’s policies or plans in the ESC area.  As a result, monitoring and assessing the im­pact of a government’s policies and plans may necessi­tate a review and analysis of com­plex data, such as statistics related to mortality or morbidity, levels of education, or num­bers of unemployed, whether produced by the government or by independent institutions and organizations.  This, in turn, will require skills in the area of collection and analysis of primary and secondary data (see below).  

Necessary Conditions for Effective Monitoring

Monitoring government performance is very difficult if conditions are not conducive to undertaking such activities. A dictatorship, for example, is not open to monitoring of any kind. The following conditions are necessary to enable fully effective monitoring to occur:

• Transparency and accountability: Government data and statistics are important to determining the level of a government's performance in a given area, such as health. When such monitoring is restricted, NGOs should undertake their own independent study and clearly state the government's unwillingness to cooperate.
• Knowledge and skills: A government agency or employee may simply be incompetent or lack the necessary skills to do its job properly.
• Democracy and popular dynamism: The best source of accurate data is a community whose people are closely involved in the planning, implementation and evaluation of government programs/projects. They are the ones most directly affected by the programs, and, in the end, they will be the beneficiaries of effectively designed and implemented projects.
• Freedom: Simply put, a person with a gun to his head will readily admit to anything. For truthful accounts, it is best if people can express themselves freely on the implementation of a project/program.

Fact-finding/Investigation and Documentation of ESC Rights Cases

When communities or individuals approach an organization with a complaint about a case or situation that they believe amounts to a violation of their rights, it may be necessary for the organization to gather "on-the-ground” facts.  If, for example, people in a community have been forcibly displaced from their homes, the organization may want to secure its own de­termination as to what happened, how many people were affected, who was responsible, and so on.  In such a case, an organization will be involved in fact-finding or investigation.

The principles that apply to fact-finding on civil and political issues such as torture, arbitrary killings or arbitrary detention also apply to fact-finding on ESC rights issues. 

Placing the people and the community in the center

Organizations should bear the interests of the people in mind when they do fact-find­ing work.

They should remember that the work they do constitutes a substantial intrusion into the lives of the people who provide them with information.  In many instances, people risk their lives and their well-being to provide information.

As much as possible, an organization should consult with the people affected about any plans that it may have.  It should inform them of the ways in which the informa­tion given will be used, and it should explain the possible consequences of their co­operation.

Confidentiality as well as prior consent for future use of the information should be established early on.

The need to establish credibility and reliability of human rights information

Frequently, the data organizations gather, the analyses they undertake and the conclu­sions they arrive at are challenged by those who disagree with their work.  This is par­ticularly true because NGOs take their issues to the media and the public at large.  It is thus essential that the information and reports that organizations generate and disseminate be reliable and credible.

Establishing the credibility and reliability of information requires a certain amount of rigor and objectivity in collecting information and making reports.

Once gathered, facts need to be stored in a way that ensures consistency in record-keeping and facilitates easy retrieval of information.  This requires the development of a manageable and efficient documentation system.

The basic tools used to ensure accuracy and consistency in investigating and documenting violations of civil and political rights cases will need to be systematically adapted by activists to the differing specifics-types of acts, actors and victims-of ESC rights cases.  A few re­sources currently in use with respect to civil and political rights are listed at the end of this module and provide a useful framework for thinking through the elements of investigation and documentation of ESC rights cases.

When the ESC issue impacts a large number of people or a whole community, what may be needed is not so much the documenting of a large number of individual cases as the devel­opment of indicators that make it possible to evaluate the observance of a particular ESC right.

Monitoring Violations of the Right to Housing-Olympic Style

In 1989, the city of Atlanta, Georgia, won the prestigious bid to hold the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. Unfortunately, the mainstream media did not report on how the human rights of the poor were violated in the process of preparing for the games. Project South, an NGO based in Atlanta, monitored these abuses, in particular those related to the right to housing.

One focus of monitoring was Techwood, the oldest housing development in the United States. Built in the 1930s, by 1990 Techwood was home to 530 households, most in need of subsidized housing. According to surveys and interviews conducted by Project South staff in coordination with the Georgia Citizens Coalition on Hunger, half of those households had incomes below $3,200, and just over 65 percent received Aid for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Women headed 90 percent of the households.

Techwood was on property sharing a border with the Coca-Cola headquarters and the campus of Georgia Tech, and over the years prior to 1996, there had been several efforts to move its residents off this valuable land. The need to prepare for the upcoming Olympic Games quickened the process of eradicating low income housing, including Techwood, in Atlanta. City government officials declared Techwood "blighted," and several thousand people were forcibly displaced; most had lived in Techwood for several years. Shortly afterwards, the entire Techwood housing development was demolished to make space for the "Olympic Centennial Park." The poor were not the only ones affected by preparations for the Olympics; many working- and middle-class people in the Atlanta environs faced a maximum of a 600 percent increase in their rent during the summer of 1996.

According to information gathered by Project South in collaboration with other organizations and labor unions, promises-including quality alternative housing and full-time work at livable wages-that city government officials and corporations made to the displaced tenants of Techwood (mainly people of color) remain unfulfilled.

As a result, Project South has formed two working groups and developed an "Olympic Initiative Project" with several other grassroots organizations to coordinate popular education and research efforts about the urban poor's struggle for survival.1

Empirical Inquiries and Social Progress in Western Europe

Many of the data-gathering and analysis tools mentioned in this module were developed in the past 300 years to address the vast economic and social changes wrought by the industrial revolution in Europe. The following are some highlights of those developments, which originated in England:

In the late 1600s, William Petty applied methods used to analyze population data to undertake quantitative investigation of other social phenomena. He called these methods "political arithmetics." This term was used for the next hundred years until it was displaced by the term "statistics," a concept developed in Germany by a group of scholars. "The work of the Political Arithmeticians of the age of Enlightenment paved the way for the numerous empirical investigation techniques which were developed during the last two centuries. These new approaches included such important analytical tools as households' budget surveys, the measurement of income distribution and income growth and the assessment and monitoring of poverty levels."

"The first detailed investigations of workingmen's conditions were made in England at the end of the eighteenth century. They were carried out by two very different investigators [Davies and Eden] who were stimulated to this task by the profound distress of the working classes at the time . . . In all groups observed income was less than the average expenditures, and approximately 20 per cent of families' expenses had to be met by private or public transfers of resources. In practically all cases more than 75 per cent of households' budgets had to be allocated to food-much more than in the poorest of today's developed countries. Indeed, very little could be spent on other than the most elementary basic needs, which probably, in the case of clothing, amounted to little more than rags. At a time when the prevailing view was that idleness, drunkenness and improvidence were at the root of these social evils, Davies and Eden, in their own way, provided the factual materials needed for a more sober assessment of the reality."

In France in the mid-1800s, Louis-René Villermé "began his great inquiry into the conditions of the cotton, wool and silk industry workers . . . To prepare his report, Villermé used both statistical data and his own qualitative observations . . . Furthermore, both when he used statistics and when he made qualitative observations, Villermé made use of indicators, without designating them as such. Thus, he took a high number of illegitimate births to be a reliable index of the disruption of customs, and he interpreted 'qualitative' indices such as being paid monthly (rather than by the day or week) as signs of stability and indices of a relative affluence."

"France is next to England the country where the more numerous estimates of national income were made during the nineteenth century . . . During the second half of the century . . . the attention shifted to the income-distribution side of national accounts . . . The gradual shift towards the income-distributed approach was undoubtedly facilitated by the continuous progress made in the collection of economic, financial and social data from the end of the eighteenth century . . . This considerable improvement . . . occurred at a time when, under the impact of growing social conflicts (exacerbated by the depressed environment of the late 1870's and early 1880's), economists and statisticians became more concerned with income distribution issues than with the production side of the economy."

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, "Germany . . . is the country where the progress made in the development of national accounting systems was the most spectacular. Two factors are usually held responsible for this change. The first was the emergence of a strong labour movement . . . The second factor was the introduction in Prussia and some of the other states such as Saxony of proportional and progressive taxes which provided an easily accessible data base for the analysis of income distribution."

In the late nineteenth century, Charles Booth undertook a massive investigation into living conditions in London. He divided London's inhabitants into eight social classes on the basis of income. "The major source of information for this large-scale inquiry . . . was provided by an extensive cross-examination of school-board visitors, who performed house-to-house visitations in the normal course of their duties . . . The classification of social classes was complemented by an attempt to measure the 'immediate causes of poverty.' He did this by asking a number of school-board visitors to fill in a questionnaire for a sample of 4,000 families. He thus demonstrated that poverty was not the result of individual failings such as drunkenness, but was due to questions of employment . . . Despite Booth's desire to remain as 'detached' and objective as possible . . . his findings often disturbed his deep moral sense . . . [H]e became particularly concerned over the plight of the aged poor for whom . . . he drew up and advocated a programme of non-contributory state pensions. Some of his proposals were incorporated in an act of Parliament which was enacted . . ." A later investigator, Arthur Bowley, introduced sampling techniques into social surveys.

In conclusion, "[t]he momentous changes brought about by the industrial revolution in Europe generated a vast amount of empirical investigations which progressively laid the foundations of to-day's economic and social information systems . . ."2

Development and Use of Indicators

Generally speaking, an indicator is a tool that shows the direction of something or serves as a sign or symptom.  Indicators are very useful for analysis, even without a consensus definition of their content.  The precise and systematic use of indicators can contribute in several ways to the realization of ESC rights.  Indicators

  • evaluate advances made in the progressive application of rights,
  • reveal difficulties encountered, and
  • help develop basic content and establish a "minimum starting point.”

However, there is a lot of confusion in the discussion about human rights indicators. It is not a term that is commonly used in civil and political rights work, although for those who come to ESC rights work from such fields as public policy, sociology or health research, the term will not be new.

There are many indicators already used by various intergovernmental agencies, such as the World Health Organization and the United Nations Development Programme, to measure the status of economic and social conditions within countries.  These indicators, however, are not exhaustive, nor are they necessarily linked to human rights concepts.  The existing indicators for socioeconomic development must therefore be evaluated and redesigned from a human rights perspective.

Similarly, human rights indicators should not be limited to compilations of statistical data.  In addition to numerical data, "it is equally important to develop criteria, principles, and es­ti­mates of the realization of the ESC rights”3  that can be convertible into indicators.

The following distinction between "outcome” or "results” indicators and "process” indicators provides for two substantial ways to develop human rights indicators.  On way focuses on the content of the right, the other looks at implementation by the state:

Results indicators: Results indicators refer to the core content of the right and make it possible to gauge the status of the right. For example, with respect to the right to health, the proportion of children who have suffered mortality or morbidity from childhood dis­eases preventable by immunization is a results indicator.

Process indicators: Process indicators are constructed based on the respective state’s ob­ligations.  They make it possible to measure the degree to which the state is complying with its general obligations.  For example, the extent to which universal coverage of basic immunizations has been accomplished, measured as the proportion of children com­pletely immunized against childhood diseases, is a process indicator.

In other words, while process indicators help assess and monitor a government’s fulfillment of its obligation of conduct, results indicators help assess fulfillment of its obligation of result with respect to ESC rights.  (See chart in Module 8, p. 153.)

At the same time, the indicators should facilitate a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the performance of the general obligations of the state (legislative recognition, adoption of measures to the maximum of available resources) as well as of the specific obligations at­tach­ing to each right.  

Provea's Experience in Developing ESC Rights Indicators

During its work of defining the content of the right to health (see Module 8), Provea needed to study and develop adequate indicators. The organization undertook a survey of possible human rights indicators, in accordance with the following methodological framework:

• careful examination of the characteristics and principles of the right, and of the obligations that stem from the state's commitments (starting with the ICESCR, but also including other related instruments, where relevant);
• determination of what data are already available (in government reports, academic research, NGO reports, etc.);
• examining the problems posed by socioeconomic indicators with a view to overcoming the obstacles that tend to limit their reliability;4
• evaluating whether the resulting indicators measure the identified characteristics; and
• comparing the resulting indicators with the indicators used by the CESCR for the submission of national reports.

It is important to stress that to evaluate the realization of ESC rights, it is not sufficient to show a trend through numerical indicators, or to list the steps implemented for its progressive accomplishment. The available data should be analyzed from an overall perspective of implementing some aspect of the right, so as to be able to contrast the existing reality with the goals proposed and their implementation (process indicators and results indicators). For example, while it is true that an increase in morbidity due to a preventable disease may be justified by any number of reasons, if it is analyzed with the information available on the resources earmarked for prevention campaigns, with the priorities established in light of needs, or with regard to efficiency in the use of resources, then it may be that the justification given is not sufficient. In that case, the policy adopted to carry out a specific obligation would need a critical review, and may even constitute a violation by the state of its obligations.

Quantitative indicators are made up of numerical data.  Qualitative indicators allow for an evaluation of the quality of enjoyment of the right.  This includes assessing the performance by the state both in adopting measures and in terms of its programmatic positions, as well as analyzing nonquantifiable aspects of public policies (e.g., forms of participation or receptiv­ity of the judiciary to proposals for the realization of ESC rights).


Once process and results indicators have been developed with respect to an ESC right, the next step is the development of benchmarks.  Benchmarks as used in human rights parlance are, in essence, targets established by governments, on the basis of appropriately consultative processes, in relation to each of the ESC rights obligations that apply in the state concerned.  Those targets will be partly quantitative and partly qualitative.  They will be linked to spe­cific time frames, and they will provide a basis upon which "progressive reali­zation,” as mandated in the ICESCR, can be measured.  Benchmarks will initially differ signifi­cantly from one country to another, reflecting both the "available resources” and the priority con­cerns in each country.  Over time, however, one would expect a gradual coming together of the approaches.

Benchmarks: Will They Tell the Whole Story?

"Human rights benchmarks have a significant role to play in the promotion and protection of economic, social and cultural rights. Nonetheless, it is important to keep their role in perspective. Even if we were to perfect the use of human rights benchmarks, they would only provide us with part of the story. They might be able to tell us what is happening, but they cannot usually tell us why it is happening. If a State's human rights record is a feature film, benchmarks are an inadequate snapshot of human rights at a specific moment. Successive frames, frozen at regular intervals, can tell us something about the film, but not the whole story. So it is with human rights benchmarks: they can tell us part of the story but not all of it." 5

Benchmarking is a very useful approach to overcoming a lack of action at the national level in relation to ESC rights.  Establishing benchmarks for the realization of ESC rights serves to emphasize some aspects of the interrelationship that exists between these rights and civil and political rights.  A program, to begin moving towards the realization of the right to food, the right to education or the right to housing, cannot be envisioned solely in terms of tech­nical, bureaucratic or even economic solutions.  The civil and political dimensions are vital.  Indi­viduals must be empowered to participate in decisions on the steps to be taken towards meeting those rights and must be given the opportunity to contribute to the monitoring and evaluation processes.  In this sense, civil and political rights can be seen not only as ends in themselves, but also as a vital means by which to facilitate the realization of ESC rights.

While governments might be reluctant to involve individuals and groups in the broader po­litical process relating to ESC rights, it is clear that there are significant advantages, particu­larly in situations in which resources are scarce and difficult decisions must be made as to priorities.  Community involvement carries with it the potential to make such decisions more palatable, more equitable and more sustainable.

Benchmarks and ESC Rights
Experience from South Africa

The efficacy of human rights monitoring and enforcement depends to a large extent on clearly defining the scope and content of particular rights.

South Africa was faced with the challenge of translating the ESC rights provisions in its constitution into national plans designed to further those rights. One of the areas addressed has been water; the right of access to sufficient water is enshrined in section 27 of the Constitution.

The Department of Water Affairs estimated that as a result of apartheid policies and laws, 12-14 million people in South Africa do not have adequate supplies of potable water, and 20 million are without adequate sanitation. Rural people, particularly rural women and children, are in an especially disadvantaged situation. It is estimated that rural women spend more than four hours a day collecting water and wood.

The Department of Water Affairs introduced legislation that recognizes and provides a more detailed definition of the constitutional right to water. (See Module 21, p. 410 for more discussion of this legislation.) In the context of the right to water, the department quantified the minimum level of water supply at 25 liters per person per day. This is currently considered the minimum required for direct consumption, for the preparation of food and personal hygiene. It is expressly regarded as inadequate for "a full, healthy and productive life, which is why it is considered as a minimum." In addition, the water must be available within 200 meters of the dwelling, the flow rate from the outlet should not be less than 10 liters per minute and the water supply should provide water security for the community. This means that "raw water" should be available for 98 percent of the time and the operation and maintenance of the system should be effective. Finally, a guide has been developed in conjunction with the Department of Health containing minimum health-related standards for the assessment of the quality of water supplies.

The Department of Water Affairs in South Africa has set itself a medium-term target of supplying 50-60 liters of water per person per day (based on WHO guidelines), and a long-term target of full services and house connections for all. In addition, the new water legislation provides a framework for the equitable and sustainable use, management and conservation of water resources.

By establishing concrete benchmarks such as these, the government of South Africa facilitates the monitoring of the implementation of the right to water by bodies charged with monitoring the same, such as the South African Human Rights Commission.

The Collection and Interpretation of Quantitative Data and Qualitative Information

In order to use indicators and benchmarks for moni­toring, activists need quantitative data and/or qualita­tive information pertaining to the indicator under con­sid­eration.  In the South African example above, the in­dicator used is the "number of people who do not have adequate supplies of potable water,” while the benchmark or the target set is "supplying 50-60 liters of water per person per day for all.”  The data per­taining to the indicator is 12-14 million people (who do not have adequate access to potable water).

--Cecil Rajendra

it was a rich island
income per capita
one million
per annum

it was a shock to hear
half the population
had been carried off
by starvation
it was a rich island

A UN Delegation
(hurriedly dispatched)
discovered however
a smallish island
with a total population
Both inhabitants
not each a millionaire
as we'd presumed
But one the island owner
Income per annum:
Two million
The other
his cook/chauffeur
shoeshine boy/butler
field nigger, etc., etc.

The very same
recently remaindered
by malnutrition

it was a rich island
income per capita
one million
per annum

Primary and secondary data sources

There are two broad categories of sources for obtain­ing data or information pertaining to the indicators developed for monitoring a specific ESC right. 

• Primary: Primary data or information is collected firsthand by a research team.

• Secondary:  Secondary data or information is that which has already been gathered by others, for the same or another purpose.  Secondary sources may be published or unpublished, and include both quantitative and qualitative information.

Let us consider the example of collecting data for the indicator "proportion of population completing pri­mary education,” corresponding to the state’s obliga­tion to provide education for all its population.  This is a results indicator.  Examples of process indicators corresponding to the same right include "proportion of children in the age group 6-11 years enrolled in pri­mary school,” or "the number of primary schools per 1,000 population.”

Collection of primary data on these indicators would usually involve carrying out a community survey of households. The survey could provide data on the proportion of population who have completed primary schooling, the proportion of children who are cur­rently enrolled in primary school, and the number and distribution (in terms of distance from the households where children live) of primary schools in the community being studied.

A "Human Rights Report Card"
A Tool for Monitoring and Educating

The Organization for Black Struggle, a youth-led movement in St. Louis, Missouri, in the US, works to provide leadership development for poor and low-income African-American young people. Working in partnership with the city's public school system, in 1998 they organized the St. Louis Coalition for Human Rights, which issued a Human Rights Report Card on the city. The purpose of the project was to evaluate governmental and nongovernmental compliance with the standards and norms of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The project conducted a survey of elected officials, created committees to evaluate the city's compliance with civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, established a tribunal of "experts" to assess the data they collected, and issued a report card to grade progress (or lack thereof) in realizing human rights in the city.

The Human Rights Report Card proved to be an effective mechanism for educating the public about human rights violations in the city. It also helped call attention to the neglect by elected public officials in protecting and advancing human rights. The project was a successful way to get publicity for the coalition, since low scores embarrassed city leaders and encouraged many diverse organizations to join the coalition.

The survey could also provide causal explanations.  For example, if the proportion of chil­dren enrolled in a given village is much lower than that in another, is this because of the dis­tance from the primary school?  Because of the poverty of the households, with the result that children leave school and become wage earners? Or is it be­cause of the poor quality of education provided in one school as against an­other?

Differentials in educational attainment within the community-for example, between boys and girls, may also be de­tected by such a community survey.

Community surveys are complex tools, and groups that do not have experience with surveys will need to consult with other organizations-such as women’s health groups, development organiza­tions, etc.-which more typically use survey techniques.  They can also edu­cate themselves through calling on the exper­tise of social scientists and others in their community who might have ex­perience with surveys.  Finally, they can refer to written resources on surveys. (See Resources, pp. 580-81.)

Community surveys typically provide quantitative information.  The collection of qualitative information from commu­nities and individuals may be equally or more important from the activists’ point of view.  It can help in identifying barri­ers to educational attain­ment and strate­gies for overcoming these, and in mak­ing appropriate policy recommendations to governments.

Collection of qualitative information in the above example may include in-depth interviews with illiterate persons and dropouts to find out the reasons for not entering school or for drop­ping out.  It may also include a series of focus-group discus­sions with different sectors of the commu­nity-men and women, young and older members, across socioeconomic groups-to deter­mine the value placed by the community on educa­tion, their perceptions as to why children drop out from school, and how this could be pre­vented. 

When information is needed on a national or subnational population group, secondary data must be used.  This is because undertaking a large national sample survey for the col­lection of primary data would be beyond the means of most institutions

Governments, for example, often produce annual statistical reports on such spheres as work, health and education.  In addition, some NGOs produce statistical reports on ESC is­sues, as do academic institutions and international organizations like the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme.  While statistics produced by these in­stitutions will usu­ally not have been generated within a rights framework, they may nonethe­less be helpful in filling in specific human rights-related indicators.  They may also be useful in providing ac­tivists with an overall picture of particular sectors and in enabling them to cross-check gov­ernment information.  

In order to make the best use of existing information, organizations must be able to under­stand what the data mean, and they must develop a way of assessing their accuracy, reliabil­ity and limitations.  Some of the problems in using existing data are the lack of reliable data and the use of different methods to collect data.  As a re­sult, divergences occur between the real situation and what the data suggest. 

Many organizations working on civil and political rights have generated data on violations (e.g., the number of arbitrary killings each month in a country) and have analyzed data and in­formation gen­erated by others.  They can bring this experience to bear on their ESC rights work.  Data Analysis for Moni­tor­ing Human Rights, a clear and acces­sible publica­tion on sta­tisti­cal analysis for hu­man rights work, is a useful reference for those who feel they do not have adequate knowl­edge and ex­peri­ence in data analysis.6

Some guidelines on gathering and using secondary data and in­formation are presented in the following section.

continued on next page



 1. This summary is based on Jerome Scott, Paul Terranova, and Svati Shah, "Economic Develop­ment-Olympic Style,” As the South Goes: Project South 3, no. 1 (Winter 1996): 8-9, and discus­sions with Jerome Scott.

 2. Jean-Michel Collette, "Empirical Inquiries, National Income Measurement and the Assessment of Social Progress in Western Europe: A Historical Perspective” (paper presented to the Copenha­gen Seminar for Social Progress, September 1999), excerpts.

 3. United Nations, Seminar on appropriate indicators for measuring progress made in the progres­sive realization of ESC rights, preliminary version (mimeographed), para. 20.

 4. Progress Report of the Special Rapporteur of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimina­tion and Protection of Minorities, Danilo Türk, Realization of economic, social and cultural rights, UN ESCOR, Commission on Human Rights, Forty-second Sess., Agenda Item 7, UN Doc. E/CN.4/Sub.2/1990/19 (1990), paras. 1-105.

 5.  Paul Hunt, "State obligations, indicators, benchmarks and the right to education,” Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, E/C.12/1998/11.

6.  Herbert F. Spirer and Louise Spirer, Data Analysis for Monitoring Human Rights (Washington, D.C.: American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993).

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