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Mark Gibney

Mark Gibney meets with History major Carrie Miller '11 in his office.

Professor and human rights advocate Mark Gibney keeps score

By Steve Plever

On a scale of one to five, how would you rate Cuba's human rights practices? What score would you give the United States?

Mark Gibney, UNC Asheville's Belk Distinguished Professor in the Humanities, has been keeping tabs on human rights practices around the world for more than 25 years. He posts new ratings each fall on the Web site politicalterrorscale.org.

Working with Political Science Chair Linda Cornett, alumnus Reed Wood '10 and students, Gibney analyzes information from the U.S. State Department and Amnesty International—killings, torture, political imprisonment and disappearances carried out or permitted by governments. Gibney and his team then produce ratings on a one-to-five scale that are widely used in the political science field.

The online scorecard is just one component of Gibney's work in human rights. An accomplished author, he has two new books coming out this fall, The Politics of Human Rights: The Quest for Dignity (Cambridge University Press) and Global Refugee Crisis: A Reference Handbook (ABC-CLIO).

A career of teaching, writing and advocating for human rights is in some ways an odd fit. Gibney says he had been "studiously apolitical" until he was required to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X as a teenager. The book gave Gibney his first "aha! moment" about human rights.

"Malcolm made me realize that blacks in America were being denied universal human rights that needed immediate recognition."

"Many people at that time thought that blacks in America needed civil rights that could be granted gradually," says Gibney. "Malcolm made me realize that blacks in America were being denied universal human rights that needed immediate recognition."

Gibney, who holds a doctorate from the University of Michigan and a law degree from Villanova, can't help but take a lawyerly approach to human rights. "I get criticized for being too much of an American by my colleagues abroad," he said. "And it's true. I want justice, legal remedies and punishment for abusers."

Gibney wishes his ratings demonstrated greater progress on human rights. "It can be depressing to think about how normal oppression is," he said. Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iraq perennially earn the worst rating of "five." Cuba rates a "three" because of extensive political imprisonment. And the United States, which has drawn fire from human rights groups because of capital punishment and treatment of detainees at Guantanamo, also rates a "three." But

Gibney feels the U.S. probably merits many different ratings—one for citizens, another for undocumented immigrants and still more ratings for lands abroad controlled by our military forces.
"Human rights should not just apply at home or for citizens," he said. "They are universal and it is time for every nation to begin respecting them for each of us, everywhere."

I get criticized for being too much of an American by my colleagues abroad. And it's true. I want justice, legal remedies and punishment for abusers."

 

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