Measuring Human Rights: Reflections on the Practice of Human Rights Impact Assessment and Lessons for the Future

29 Pages Posted: 12 Nov 2010 Last revised: 2 Jul 2011

See all articles by James Harrison

James Harrison

University of Warwick - School of Law

Date Written: November 10, 2010


This paper critically evaluates the current practice and future potential of human rights impact assessment (HRIA) as a tool for measuring human rights. It comprehensively maps out existing practice regarding HRIAs in a wide variety of different fields including, health, business, trade, child rights and development. It emphasizes the potential of HRIAs for engaging in policy fields in which human rights have traditionally had significant barriers to meaningful engagement. But it also highlights some fundamental methodological issues which are undermining current practice. The paper argues that the increasing number of business and governmental actors undertaking assessments also creates the need for increased shared understanding of what constitutes a valid HRIA process.

The paper therefore sets out eight core elements that should be included in an HRIA in any field and argues that adoption of these elements in all HRIAs would significantly enhance existing practice. But it is also argued that further research on key methodological issues, ongoing monitoring of practice, and effective differentiation between good and bad assessments is required. Only then will HRIAs become meaningful policy instruments for measuring human rights and enhancing their protection.

Keywords: Human Rights Impact Assessment, Measure Human Rights, Business and Human Rights, Social Impact Assessment, Child Rights Impact Assessment, Equality Impact Assessment, Health Impact Assessment, Multinational corporations, Public Authorities

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Harrison, James, Measuring Human Rights: Reflections on the Practice of Human Rights Impact Assessment and Lessons for the Future (November 10, 2010). Warwick School of Law Research Paper No. 2010/26, Available at SSRN: or

James Harrison (Contact Author)

University of Warwick - School of Law ( email )

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