October 3, 2017

Public Attitudes Toward Human Rights Organizations: The Case of India, Indonesia, Kenya and Mexico

Favorable views predominate; most say helping poor should be top priority

As part of its 2017 Global Attitudes Survey, Pew Research Center examined attitudes toward human rights organizations in four major emerging and developing nations: India, Indonesia, Kenya and Mexico. The study was conducted in collaboration with the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), and it will contribute to CSIS’s International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon).

The survey finds that human rights organizations are well-regarded in all four nations, though there are important differences across countries. Here are four key takeaways from the survey, which was conducted Feb. 21 to May 3, 2017, among 5,581 respondents via face-to-face interviews.

Most see human rights organizations in a positive light. Slightly more than eight-in-ten Kenyans and Indonesians said that such organizations are having a good influence on how things are going in their countries, while roughly two-thirds expressed this view in India and Mexico. Compared with the other major institutions tested, human rights organizations stacked up well. Overall, only the military and media tended to get better ratings, while court systems and police received the most negative reviews.

At 65%, Mexico had the smallest share of the public saying human rights groups are having a positive impact, though Mexicans generally expressed less positive views about national institutions than the other three publics surveyed.

Most think human rights organizations are making a difference. When asked how much influence human rights organizations are having on the way things are going in their countries, solid majorities of Indonesians, Kenyans, Mexicans and Indians said either a great deal or a fair amount. Still, no more than 30% in any of these nations said these groups are having a great deal of influence.

Those who did believe human rights organizations are having a great deal or fair amount of influence were especially likely to see that influence as positive.

Publics say poverty should top the list of priorities for human rights organizations. Respondents were read a list of potential issues for human rights groups to work on, and for each one, were asked how much of a priority it should be. In all four nations, promoting policies that help the poor was at the top of the list.

However, there was also considerable support for many of the other priorities tested, including promoting a clean environment, ensuring free and fair elections, ensuring the right to a fair trial, holding governments accountable on human rights issues, guaranteeing gender equality and protesting police misconduct.

There was somewhat less consistent support for promoting free speech and freedom of the press, though many also said these should be top priorities.

Guaranteeing that gays and lesbians have the same rights as other people was the lowest rated priority in Kenya, Indonesia and India, and it was the second lowest in Mexico.

A 2013 Pew Research Center survey found that large majorities in Indonesia, Kenya and India considered homosexuality morally unacceptable, while Mexicans were divided on this issue.

There were relatively few demographic differences in this year’s survey regarding priorities across these nations, though women were more likely than men to say gender equality should be a top priority in Indonesia, Kenya and Mexico.

In Mexico, most of these issues were more important among people who earn an income above the median. Higher-income Mexicans were particularly likely to say guaranteeing gender equality, protesting police misconduct, promoting a clean environment, ensuring free and fair elections, guaranteeing fair trials and holding the government accountable on human rights issues should be top priorities.

Few see human rights organizations as tools of foreign powers. In recent years, several governments around the world have placed restrictions on foreign support for human rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations, with critics often charging that these groups serve the interests of foreign organizations. However, this is not a view shared by the four publics surveyed.

When asked whether human rights organizations are primarily dedicated to promoting the interests of foreign groups or protecting the rights of people in their country, strong majorities of Kenyans, Indonesians and Mexicans said such groups are dedicated to helping people in their country. In India, a 43% plurality said the same, though roughly three-in-ten did not offer an opinion.