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Presidential Report Card on Human Rights Policies and Practices

In its third annual report on the human rights practices of US presidential administrations, the Center on Democratic Performance (CDP) at Binghamton University gives President Bush a “D” for his policies and performance on central issues related to human rights .

The 2005 grade is down from 2004 when the CDP gave the Bush Administration a “C” in human rights. The lowering of the grade to a “D” is mostly attributable to an increase in Amnesty International reports on the use of political detention without trial, torture of political detainees, and the use of secret detention of political prisoners, said CDP Director Patrick Regan, a professor of political science at Binghamton University.

“In effect, this is a performance indicator of US policies over time. One might compare, for instance, how likely we would be to hear charges of prisoner abuse and torture if one of the president’s predecessors were in office,” Regan said.

“Our report suggests that the behaviors we observe are a reflection of the policy directives of the Administration. Given the grades received by earlier administrations, our indicators point to a somewhat unique period in US history with regard to its support for broad principles of human rights.”

In general the CDP’s annual report card uses a weighted score based on seven indicators that reflect the policies and preferences of an administration to issues of human rights. Those seven indicators are:

Each indicator is weighted in accordance with its importance to determining the direction of human rights policy and preferences. The report assumes, for instance, that reports of political prisoners and torture bear a greater impact on the record of the Administration than do budget allocations and child welfare provisions.

“While we don’t necessarily use the performance of the Administration on our indicators to reflect a comparison to the performance of other countries,” Regan said, “we do see it as one mechanism to evaluate the policies of the current administration vis-à-vis its predecessors, and the professed goals of the United States.

On most indicators of human rights policy other than those directly related to Amnesty International reports of human rights violations involving detention and torture, the Administration remained relatively static from last year, Regan said.

Data from three previous presidents (Carter, Reagan, Bush I) are used to establish a standard by which a grade for the current administration is determined each year. The standard is predicated on the mean score on each indicator that results from the combined policies of the Carter, Reagan, Bush I, and the current presidential record. The current performance is then based on the extent of the deviation from this mean. In effect, the policies over the past 25 years set a baseline from which current years are evaluated. In this case, each of the past presidents used to establish the baseline would have received better grades than the current Administration.

The Center on Democratic Performance was established in 1999 at Binghamton University as a research center of the Research Foundation of State University of New York. Its mission is to assist the academic and policy communities in understanding the functioning and performance of democratic political institutions. Since 1999 the Center has undertaken a number of research projects, country assessments, and held workshops on topics ranging from satisfaction with democracy to cooperation and conflict. Another key initiative of the Center has been to generate systematic data on democratic elections around the world. The Election Results Archive provides a user-friendly database and provides information needed to evaluate elections in over 130 countries between 1974 and 2004. It is believed to be the largest such database in the world.

For more information on the Center on Democratic Performance at Binghamton University or to review the complete Presidential Human Rights Performance Report Card, go to http://cdp.binghamton.edu [1].

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