Impunity is the exercise of power without accountability, which becomes, in its starkest form, the commission of crimes without punishment. In a phrase, impunity is the idea that “the law is for suckers,” a notion that human rights leaders fear is on the rise in political institutions around the world. From behavior in conflict to economic exploitation, from environmental degradation to democratic backsliding, the battle between impunity and accountability is a critical lens for understanding what is happening in the world.
The Atlas of Impunity
is a quantitative assessment of this holistic definition of impunity, measured by independent indicators across five sites in society. These dimensions include unaccountable governance, human rights abuse, conflict and violence, economic exploitation, and environmental degradation. The Atlas scores and ranks the level of impunity in 163 countries and provides partial, indicative scoring for another 34.
Above all, the Atlas is intended to provide a practical and accessible tool to draw attention to abuses of power and press policymakers for change. The report and accompanying data aim to shine a light on the norms and practices that perpetuate impunity and hinder accountability around the world.
The map above shows the overall and dimension impunity scores and rankings for the 163 countries with full data. Each country is scored on the five dimensions of impunity – unaccountable governance, abuse of human rights, economic exploitation, conflict and violence, and environmental degradation – and then each country is given an overall impunity score based on the average of its scores across the five dimensions.
Countries are scored on a scale of 0 to 5, with the countries exhibiting the greatest level of impunity scoring closer to 5, and the countries with the lowest level of impunity scoring closer to 0.
- 0 to 0.99
- 1.00 to 1.99
- 2.00 to 2.99
- 3.00 to 3.99
- 4.00 to 5.00
|Central African Republic
*Overall ranks and scores shown.
The legacy of colonialism and the slave trade is correlated with higher impunity scores
. Nearly all the 20 countries with the highest levels of impunity are former colonies or countries affected by colonialism. Similarly, about one-third of the 30 worst-ranked countries were affected by the slave trade. However, while impunity scores are informed by circumstance, they can be molded by policy choices: some countries that have suffered from the historical legacy of slavery and colonization such as Ghana and Senegal, score well on the Atlas.
The US is closer to the median than top performers
and ranks higher on impunity than both Hungary and Singapore. Indeed, most of the world's great regional powers—including China, Russia, Brazil, India, or Iran—perform relatively poorly compared to economic and geographic peers.
Environmental degradation is where impunity continues to thrive
, even among otherwise accountable societies. Canada, which is one of the best performing countries on the Atlas and traditionally scores well on similar indices, is only moderately better than the mean in terms of environmental degradation. India, China, Russia, and the US—all among the largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters globally—place 20th, 70th, 78th, and 101st, respectively.
Violence against women and gender-based discrimination is a global problem
. This type of impunity negatively affects the human rights and conflict and violence scores of theocracies such as Afghanistan. But it also affects some liberal democracies, states in conflict such as Syria, and peaceful countries including South Korea.
Human rights are being abused and accountability is falling within democracies
. Certain democratic countries that perform well on the unaccountable governance dimension perform substantially worse on the abuse of human rights. In fact, Singapore, which is not a full-fledged liberal democracy, ranks better on unaccountable governance than certain democracies. Weaker democracies such as Mexico, Kenya, and Ukraine are scored on par with non-democratic countries including Jordan and the UAE.
The Atlas of Impunity is a joint effort by David Miliband and his staff and the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, with analytical support from Eurasia Group's Geostrategy team. It was made possible by generous financial support from the Open Society Foundations and the MacArthur Foundation.