China has been ranked as the worst country in the world for safety from the state and the right to assembly, in a human rights report that tracks social, economic and political freedoms.
The Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI), a New Zealand-based project, has been monitoring various countries’ human rights performance since 2017.
In 2022, HRMI started tracking freedom of religion and belief for the first time. China also scored worst on this indicator, although the pilot study only covered nine countries.
HRMI concluded that on several measures China was the country in the world with the worst human rights record. On freedom from arbitrary arrest, only Kazakhstan scored worse.
However, on certain economic indicators, such as the right to food, health and housing, China scored relatively highly, coming near the top of more than 100 surveyed countries. For the economic indicators HRMI uses publicly available statistics published by national and international institutions, rather than surveys.
The index does point out that people in certain groups in China, such as critics of the government and ethnic minorities, often miss out on basic economic rights.
The index tracks civil and political rights via a survey that is distributed to human rights experts such as journalists, NGO workers and lawyers in various countries. These areas are tightly controlled in China, making accurate data collection extremely difficult.
Thalia Kehoe Rowden, a spokesperson for HRMI, said: “We take survey respondents’ safety and security extremely seriously, and have been operating in countries where human rights defenders are in danger for several years now.
“One of the keys to our security is that the survey is taken anonymously in an encrypted online form, so no one can find out exactly who has participated or what they have said.”
Hong Kong has dropped down HRMI’s index in recent years. Although it does not score as badly as China, it has seen a rapid decrease in many rights since the crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in 2019 and 2020. Between those years its ranking on the freedom of assembly index declined by nearly 40%, and on the freedom of expression index by 33%, according to HRMI.
HRMI also concluded Hong Kong’s score on the freedom from arbitrary arrest index had improved, increasing by 85%. But this was because the index was based on instances of actual rights violations, said Kehoe Rowden. “In this repressive context, the rise in scores for freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention is not good news. It just means that the repression is working.
“Hong Kong’s scores for democratic rights and freedoms plummeted over 2019-21 and have remained appallingly low.”
Between 2019 and 2020, the last year for which HRMI has data on health indicators, most countries’ health score declined, reflecting the high numbers of deaths from Covid-19. However, the score for China, which experienced a relatively low number of deaths before the zero-Covid policy was abandoned in 2022, remained steady.