Statistic by Statistic, a Decade of Documenting Human Rights Abuses

TIR staff

Last month, as it does three times a year, a new Human Rights Index appeared on the TIR Online section of our web site. But this Index—on the theme of gender inequality in the U.S.—has the distinction of being the 30th Human Rights Index published by The Iowa Review, and thus marks ten years of a partnership between TIR and the University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR).

Burns Weston, Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Iowa Law School, first wrote a Human Rights Index in 2001 at the suggestion of then–TIR editor David Hamilton. “The original idea was to acknowledge the context within which we find room for art,” says Hamilton. “Of course the Harper’s Index was something of a model.”

The first fact in the very first Human Rights Index: “14: Number of children executed under capital punishment in the United States since 1990.” Since then, there have been Indexes on topics as varied as genocide, hunger and malnutrition, the right to water, climate change, human trafficking, and freedom of religion. For years, the Index was published in the pages of each print issue; now it is has become part of the expanded content offerings of the TIR web site.

Weston explains that he and his law student assistants—who do, he claims, “all the heavy lifting” of finding just the right combination of words and numbers to strikingly illuminate a human rights topic—have never had to repeat a theme: “There’s so much ugliness and brutality in the world that, alas, there’s a lot to pick from. Besides, ‘human rights’ is a concept that covers a lot of ground. It’s about quality of life; it’s about human suffering; it’s about the entire human condition.”

A complete archive of Human Rights Indexes can be found on the UICHR’s web site.