How are these Pictures Different? A Quantitative Comparison of the U.S. State Department and Amnesty International Human Rights Reports, 1976-1995

Steven C. Poe, Sabine C. Carey & Tanya Vazquez. 2001. Human Rights Quarterly 23(3): 650-677.


IntroductionHow are these Pictures Different? (wrong volume)

The US State Department’s annual publication, the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, has been a continuing source of controversy since it was first issued in the mid-1970s. These reports, which assess the degree to which human rights standards are respected in countries around the world, have been examined carefully by policymakers and academics alike. Particularly in the 1980s, critics frequently charged the State Department with biased reporting. The State Department has been accused of unfairly painting with the tar of repression countries ideologically opposed to the United States, while unjustly favoring countries where the US has had a compelling interest.

Commentary on the Country Reports has not all been negative, however. Interviews conducted by Innes and the results of careful, critical examinations over the years (e.g., Lawyers Committee for Human Rights Reports for 1982, 1984, 1987, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1996), tend to agree that the annual State Department Reports are an invaluable resource that accurately reports on the conditions of most of the countries most of the time. Though critical of reports on particular countries, they also have suggested that the reports have substantially improved over the years.

In this study we present the results of our systematic, quantitative examination of the State Department Reports (1977-1996), comparing them with the reports issued by Amnesty International (1977-1996) , to find if existing evidence is consistent with allegations of bias. In conducting this examination we will fill a lacuna in the fast-developing quantitative research on human rights for in spite of the great public and scholarly scrutiny of these allegations, no statistical investigation of them has ever been conducted. We will also examine the historical record to find if evidence does indeed indicate that the reports have improved over time.