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Mark Gibney (UNC-Asheville) Reed Wood (UNC-Chapel Hill) Linda Cornett (UNC-Asheville) ). Measuring Violations of Physical Integrity Rights: The Political Terror Scale (PTS). Inspiration and History of the Political Terror Scale.

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mark gibney unc asheville reed wood unc chapel hill linda cornett unc asheville
Mark Gibney (UNC-Asheville)

Reed Wood (UNC-Chapel Hill)

Linda Cornett (UNC-Asheville)


Measuring Violations of Physical Integrity Rights: The Political Terror Scale (PTS)

inspiration and history of the political terror scale
Inspiration and History of the Political Terror Scale
  • Recognition of need for quantitative measures of states’ adherence to human rights commitments
  • Michael Stohl and a group of scholars at Purdue University responded to this need with the PTS, beginning in 1976
  • Mark Gibney assumed managerial control in 1984 and he has directed the coding for this project since then

The PTS measures state-sanctioned killings, torture, disappearances and political imprisonment t, using a five point coding scheme adopted from a “political terror” scale published by Freedom House in its 1980 yearbook.

  • Level 1 : Countries under a secure rule of law, people are not imprisoned for their views, and torture is rare or exceptional. Political murders are extremely rare.
  • Level 2 : There is a limited amount of imprisonment for nonviolent political activity. However, few persons are affected, torture and beatings are exceptional. Political murder is rare.
  • Level 3 : There is extensive political imprisonment, or a recent history of such imprisonment. Execution or other political murders and brutality may be common. Unlimited detention, with or without a trial, for political views is accepted.
  • Level 4 : Civil and political rights violations have expanded to large numbers of the population. Murders, disappearances, and torture are a common part of life. In spite of its generality, on this level terror affects those who interest themselvesin politics or ideas.
  • Level 5 : Terror has expanded to the whole population. The leaders of these societies place no limits on the means or thoroughness with which they pursue personal or ideological goals.
data for the coding comes from two annual sources
Data for the coding comes from two annual sources:
  • the U.S. Department of State Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and
  • the Amnesty International Annual Report.

In the construction of this index for each year, each report is scaled as if the information in the reports is accurate and complete.

the pts assesses state violence along three dimensions
The PTS assesses state violence along three dimensions:
  • scope -- refers to the type of violence being carried out by the state (imprisonment, torture, killing, etc.)
  • intensity -- refers to the frequency with which the state employs a given type of abuse, more basically, the instances of a given type of abuse that are observed over a given period of time
  • range -- the portion of the population targeted for abuse
instructions to coders
Instructions to coders:
  • Ignore Own Biases
  • Give Countries the Benefit of the Doubt
  • Read What the Report is Saying

Ultimately, must rely heavily on inter-subjective coding to generate a country's score, largely because the contextual factors found in the reports effectively prohibit purely objective coding criteria

some examples
Some examples:


Jordan (State Department 1997): Since the revocation of martial law in 1991, there has been noticeable improvement in the human rights situation, however, problems remain, including: abuse and mistreatment of detainees; arbitrary arrest and detention; lack of accountability within the security services; prolonged detention without charge; lack of due process; infringements on citizens' privacy rights; harassment of opposition political parties; and restrictions on the freedom of speech, press, assembly, and association. Citizens do not have the right to change their form of government, although they can participate in the political system through political parties and municipal and parliamentary elections. New restrictions on the press decreed by the King in May shutdown many smaller publications and led the others to practice increased self-censorship. In reaction to these limitations and to the "one-man, one-vote" change in the election process, the Islamist and other parties boycotted the October parliamentary elections. Abuse of foreign servants is a problem. Restrictions on women's rights, violence against women, and abuse of children are also problems. The Government imposes some limits on freedom of religion, and there is official discrimination against adherents of the Baha'i faith.


Bahrain (Amnesty 2001):  Significant steps were taken in 2001 to promote and protect human rights.  All political prisoners and detainees were released and the State Security Court and state security legislation were abolished.  Bahraini nationals who had been forcibly exiled or prevented from entering the country were allowed to return without conditions.  An Ethiopian woman remained under sentence of death.  In December, two people . . . were said to have been subjected to beatings by police officers. . . .  They were detained for two days before they were released on bail.



Chad (State Department 1999): The Government's human rights record remained poor, and there continued to be serious problems in many areas. The Government limited citizens' right to change the government. State security forces continue to commit extrajudicial killings, and they torture, beat, abuse, and rape persons. Prison conditions remain harsh and life threatening. Security forces continued to use arbitrary arrest and detention. Although the Government detains and imprisons members of the security forces implicated or accused of criminal acts, it rarely prosecutes or sanctions members of the security forces who committed human rights abuses.

Cambodia (State Department 2001): The Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens in a few areas; however, its record was poor in many other areas, and serious problems remained. The military forces and police were responsible for both political and nonpolitical killings, and the Government rarely prosecuted anyone in such cases. There were other apparently politically motivated killings by nonsecurity force persons as well. The Government arrested suspects in some of these cases and convicted suspects in two such cases. Police acquiesced in or failed to stop lethal violence by citizens against criminal suspects; the Government rarely investigated such killings, and impunity remained a problem. There were credible reports that members of the security forces tortured, beat, and otherwise abused persons in custody, often to extract confessions. Prison conditions remained harsh, and the Government continued to use arbitrary arrest and prolonged pretrial detention. Impunity for many who commit human rights abuses remained a serious problem.


Colombia (Amnesty International 2001): Colombia's internal conflict continued to escalate. Systematic and gross abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law persisted. Paramilitary groups acting with the active or tacit support of the security forces were responsible for the vast majority of extrajudicial executions and ''disappearances''; many of their victims were tortured before being killed. Armed opposition groups were responsible for violations of international humanitarian law, including arbitrary or deliberate killings. More than 300 people ''disappeared'' and more than 4,000 civilians were killed outside of combat for political motives by the armed groups. Over 1,700 people were kidnapped by armed opposition groups and paramilitary forces. All parties to the conflict were responsible for the forced displacement of large numbers of civilians. The security situation of those living in conflict zones, particularly human rights defenders, trade unionists, judicial officials, journalists, members of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities and peasant farmers, continued to worsen. Evidence emerged of the strong links between the security forces and the paramilitaries. Judicial and disciplinary investigations advanced in several high-profile cases, implicating high-ranking officials in human rights violations, but impunity remained widespread.

advantages of the pts
Advantages of the PTS
  • Responds to need for quantitative measures of states’ adherence to human rights commitments.
  • Consistent measure over time and cross-nationally
  • Based on stable sources (Amnesty International and US State Dept)
  • Holistic approach
pts and ciri compare and contrast
PTS and CIRI: compare and contrast



CIRI explicitly disaggregates physical integrity violations

CIRI attempts to establish more precise threshold values for each category of intensity

the datasets differ in their underlying logic

PTS relies on the three conceptual components discussed above and presents a standards-based ranking of government abuses

the CIRI explicitly assesses the frequency and types of government abuse practices.

  • Both measure state-sponsored violations of the subset of human rights known as physical integrity rights
  • Both focus on the same types of violence
  • Both code from the same descriptive data
  • correlate reasonably highly, suggesting a high degree of similarities between the datasets

Imagine that in country A, security officials storm a labor rally and kill 100 labor union members. In the country B, however, 100 labor union members are arrested, then tortured, and then killed.

  • According to the approach of the PTS, the level of political violence in these two countries would essentially be the same because the level of abuse adopted by the regime is similar. 
  • The same number of persons was targeted for violence and the maximum level of violence inflicted on that population was equivalent.
  • According to our understanding of the CIRI index, the human rights situation in the second state would be considerably worse than the first state (or, more accurately, its score would make it appear to be much worse). The reason is that each violation would be coded separately.25
  • Thus, while the first state would have 100 “incidents” of extrajudicial killings, the second country would be experiencing 300 human rights violations: 100 cases of imprisonment + 100 cases of torture + 100 cases of extrajudicial killing. What should also be pointed out is that this same number would result if it involved 300 people, where 100 people were imprisoned, another 100 people were tortured and yet another group of 100 were simply killed.
limitations of pts
Limitations of PTS
  • Only addresses overt threats to physical integrity (excluding other methods of oppression and other dimensions of human rights)
  • Only addresses state-sponsored threats (excluding other serious threats to physical security like domestic violence; mob or clan violence; violence ascribed to the actions of insurgent groups, criminal syndicates, gangs, etc)
  • Issues of reliability
    • Sources themselves may be biased or incomplete
    • Inter-subjective nature of coding
    • No mechanism to assure that the criteria are consistent across years and over the decades – danger of creeping expectation
    • Danger of better reporting leading to worsening picture
future developments
Future developments:
  • PTS has been used in studies of foreign aid, refugee protection, democracy, and so on.
  • Reed’s work combining PTS/CIRI approach for civil conflict
  • Measuring Human Rights Extraterritorial Obligations
worst offenders median scores of 4 5 over last 5 years
Worst Offenders (median scores of 4-5 over last 5 years)

Amnesty International


Afghanistan 5

Democratic Republic of the Congo 5

Iraq 5

Nepal 5

Sri Lanka 5

Sudan 5

Algeria 4

Angola 4

Bangladesh 4

Brazil 4

Burundi 4

Cameroon 4

Central African Republic 4

Chad 4

China 4

Colombia 4

Eritrea 4

Ethiopia 4

India 4

Iran 4

Israel and Occupied Territories** 4

Ivory Coast 4

Kenya 4

Myanmar 4

Nigeria 4

North Korea 4

Pakistan 4

Philippines 4

Russia 4

Somalia 4

Thailand 4

Turkey 4

Uganda 4

Venezuela 4

Yemen 4

Zimbabwe 4

  • Afghanistan 5
  • Colombia 5
  • Dem. Republic of the Congo 5 Iraq 5
  • Myanmar 5
  • Sri Lanka 5
  • Sudan 5
  • Algeria 4
  • Bangladesh 4
  • Brazil 4
  • Burundi 4
  • Central African Republic 4
  • Chad 4
  • China 4
  • Egypt 4
  • Eritrea 4
  • Ethiopia 4
  • Haiti 4
  • ran 4
  • Israel and Occupied Territories** 4
  • Ivory Coast 4
  • Nepal 4
  • igeria 4
  • North Korea 4
  • Pakistan 4
  • Philippines 4
  • Russia 4
  • Somalia 4
  • Thailand 4
  • Uganda 4
  • Yemen 4
  • Zimbabwe 4