MENA and Africa account for the majority of the 70% increase – Maplecroft

Human rights violations have increased by 70% across the world according to Maplecroft’s 7th annual Human Rights Risk Atlas (HHRA).

The number of countries now classified as ‘extreme risk’ has jumped from 20 to 34 – an unprecedented rise of 14 countries in just five to six years, representing an overall increase of 70% globally since 2008.

MENA and Africa account for the majority of the 70% increase

Regionally, MENA and Africa account for the majority of the 70% increase. Of the 14 countries that have recently entered the HHRA as extreme risk, five were in the MENA region.

Countries dropping into the extreme risk category that have shown the worst deterioration in human rights since 2008 include:

  • Syria (ranked 1)
  • Egypt (16)
  • Libya (19)
  • Mali (22)
  • Guinea-Bissau (74)

HRRA risk map

SOURCE: Maplecroft


Other extreme risk countries in the region include Iraq (7), Yemen (9), Iran (11) and Saudi Arabia (31).

Repressive governance, societal uprisings and deteriorating human security largely characterise the risk in each of these countries, Maplecroft explained.

Speaking to StrategicRISK, the firm’s human rights analyst Jen Higgins explained: While Iraq and Iran have maintained an extreme risk rating throughout this period, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Saudi Arabia all present greater risks now than in previous years.

“In the 2011 Arab uprisings, a number of factors combined to create the environment where popular dissatisfaction erupted into large-scale public protest, civil conflict and, in the case of Syria, civil war.

“Across the Arab region, high levels of unemployment, increasing food prices and subsequent decreases in standards of living created public dissatisfaction, particularly among the youth and rural population. Meanwhile, a rising middle class had emerged in countries such as Egypt, Libya and Syria, where growing populations had achieved higher levels of literacy, access to education, and access to information and communications technologies.

“The social gains experienced by the middle class resulted in a more educated population with greater expectations regarding issues such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion and political choice.

“It was the continued repression of these freedoms through increased levels of state security and the impact on citizens’ lives that led to these uprisings.”

Human rights violations have also worsened in sub-Saharan Africa owing to ongoing ethnic and sectarian conflict. The regional risk score dropped from 4.56/10 in 2008 to 3.34/10 in 2014. Sudan (2), DR Congo (3) and Somalia (5) remain among the five most extreme risk countries in the world, with DR Congo having one of the worst records for violations of women’s and girls’ rights, particularly sexual violence, Maplecroft said.

Human risks violation worsens in Asia

In Asia, the increase in risk is also evident, with a regional risk score of 3.49/10 in 2014 compared with 4.04 in 2008.

The countries rated at most risk in the region include Pakistan (4), Afghanistan (6) and Myanmar (8).

Poor labour conditions

Poor and often dangerous labour conditions are some of the factors that account for the high risk rating particularly in Bangladesh (17) and India (18). In those countries, poor legal and regulatory frameworks contribute to a lack of access to remedy and pervasive labour rights violations.

A lack of awareness among unskilled workers, weak governance and high levels of corruption also undermine the protection of human rights, Maplecroft said.

This was evidenced in Bangladesh (17) in April 2013, where the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory resulted in the deaths of more than 1,100 garment workers.

Similar incidents have occurred in countries such as Pakistan (4) and Cambodia (50), both of which reveal a major deterioration in working conditions and complicity risks for business.

Higgins added: “Factory fires also claimed lives in Pakistan (4), China (15), and India (18), as well as Bangladesh (17), during the reporting period. In this region, both informal and formal sectors of the economy lack sufficient oversight of working conditions.

“Many factories operate in the informal sector, while weak labour inspections systems result in the inconsistent enforcement of labour rights in the formal sector. In order to mitigate supply chain risks, companies may be required to compensate for the regulatory gaps in countries from which they source.

“Furthermore, partnering with state-owned enterprises and local businesses can also present complicity risks in growth markets. For example, risks are inherent in business partnerships with those governments that reportedly profit from forced labour, such as in drug rehabilitation centres in Vietnam (46) and ‘Re-education Through Labour’ camps for political prisoners in China – which the Chinese government recently announced would be abolished.”

The Atlas also identified worsening working conditions in low-cost sourcing countries including the Philippines (27), Indonesia (30). 


The Atlas also reveals a trend of deteriorating societal freedoms in several countries.

In fact, some of the countries showing the most positive trajectories in terms of growth also reveal the most significant restrictions on freedom of expression.

For example, despite an ongoing agenda of reform in China (15), the state’s control of communications technologies, media and social networks is a central strategy of the regime to suppress dissident activities.

This was evidenced by the arrest of ‘micro-bloggers’ during the instalment of the new leadership in November 2012.

Beyond the risk of complicity, repression of information can also create significant operational challenges for ICT and media companies in China.

In Vietnam (46), the government now prohibits bloggers and users of social networking sites from discussing current affairs. Legislation requires internet companies with blog platforms to report to the government every six months and relinquish personal data on their users if requested by authorities.

Consequently, Vietnam has descended from 42nd position in Maplecroft’s Freedom of Opinion and Expression Index 2012 to 23rd in 2014, while China has descended from 10th to 6th in the Index over the same period.

Higgins added: “A decline in freedom of expression is also evident in the Philippines, Malaysia and South Korea, all of which are increasingly using overly broad legal provisions to stymie the free flow of information via the internet.”

The Human Rights Atlas ranks 197 countries. Full details of the Atlas is available here.