UN Human Rights’ World Statistics Day call to action: human rights approach key to restoring public confidence in official data


by Francesca Marotta,
Chief of the Methodology Education and Training, UN Human Rights

20 October 2020

World Statistics Day on 20 October happens when public trust in data and statistics is being weakened by the speed and reach of misinformation and disinformation. Restoring trust in data and statistics, whether produced by national statistical offices or by other actors, should be an utmost priority not just for statisticians or data scientists but also for human rights advocates. Human rights standards and principles, grounded in law, can guide implementation of needed improvements in data collection and disaggregation that can also help improve the quality, relevance, and use of data and statistics. 

The work of UN Human Rights on human rights indicators seeks to make available relevant, robust, and internationally comparable indicators on progress in advancement (as well as lags) in human rights enjoyment by all. The UN’s guidance note on Human Rights-Based Approach to Data (HRBAD) demonstrates how data can be produced following international human rights and statistical standards while putting people at the center. This work draws attention to human rights and their practical and normative contributions to ensuring meaningful participation, especially by vulnerable and at-risk groups, in all stages of the data life cycle. The approach also improves visibility around groups left behind and reinforces equality and non-discrimination. HRBAD highlights the nexus between human rights standards and data-specific ethical and professional principles, particularly the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics. It espouses six key principles: participation, self-identification, data disaggregation, privacy, transparency, and accountability that national statistical systems need to operationalize. And through HRBAD, the statistical community can provide access to meaningful statistics, which is a public good and essential to meet people’s right to information.

In Kenya, for example, society’s ambition to leave no one behind found its way to the National Population and Housing Census 2019. For the first time, intersex persons, persons with albinism, indigenous peoples, and stateless population were counted in the Census. Some members of these groups have said that by being counted, they also start count for society. With support from development partners such as the European Union, UN Human Rights provides technical assistance and promotes exchanges on good practices such as this, which concretely operationalizes HRBAD as an instrument for increasing trust in data.  Responding to the 2030 Agenda’s call to “leave no one behind,” UN Human Rights has supported such efforts in Albania, Kenya, Kosovo, Liberia, Mexico, Palestine, Philippines, Uganda, and underway in other countries.

On World Statistics Day 2020, UN Human Rights reaffirms its commitment to strengthening institutional linkages and collaboration between National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs), National Statistical Offices (NSOs), and national statistical systems, to make human rights count for everyone.