This week’s stats shot comes from the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index 2015 and its measure of equal protection and discrimination. For this variable, the World Justice Project measures popular perceptions of the effective enforcement of laws to ensure equal treatment and the absence of discrimination and then provides countries with a score between 0 and 1. This score is one part of their evaluation of fundamental human rights. The report explains that “laws can be fair only if they do not make arbitrary or irrational distinctions based on economic or social status – the latter defined to include race, color, ethnic or social origin, caste, nationality, alienage, religion, language, political opinion or affiliation, gender, marital status, sexual orientation or gender identity, age and disability.”
The results do not follow the typical pattern of many of these indices in which more developed countries score higher. At the top of the rankings for the region with a score of 0.74 is Uruguay, a country that perennially does well when it comes to equality, inclusion and development. After that, however, countries do not line up in an easily explainable pattern. Canada is in second place with a score of 0.65, but Venezuela and Jamaica, countries that do not typically do well in either development or human rights rankings, are close behind with a score of 0.64.
Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, the United States does not do so well in this ranking, with a score of 0.55. Given the national debates and racial tension in the U.S. raging over the shooting or deaths of unarmed African American men in Jefferson, Baltimore and Chicago—among others—recognition of discrimination and inequality are on the rise. And in the World Justice Project’s popular perception index the U.S. ties with poor and violent El Salvador.
Racial and ethnic disparities may account for some of the variation in the hemisphere. Guatemala, Honduras, Bolivia and Mexico, the four lowest ranked at 0.40 or lower, all have significant indigenous and Afro-descendant communities that have been largely marginalized and ignored by both the government and society. Other countries, such as in Uruguay and Argentina, have far smaller indigenous and Afro-descendant populations, and these populations may often be far removed from the urban centers that were the sources for these surveys.
What this graph clearly does show is that equality and lack of discrimination do not magically appear as part of development. Countries must actively pursue policies of equal protection and to eradicate discrimination, not only as part of their international legal obligations, but as a moral obligation to their own people.