KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Police brutality, migrant abuse and Death Row ensured the United States scored poorly among rich countries in a survey released on Thursday assessing human rights from Mexico to Mozambique.
The Wellington-based Human Rights Measurement Initiative (HRMI) quizzed experts in all of the 19 nations it assessed, including civil society groups, lawyers and journalists, and gauged how each state treats its citizens.
"On safety from the state, the United States is performing significantly below the others," said Anne-Marie Brook, co-founder of HRMI, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
She compared the US performance against that of Australia, New Zealand, Britain and South Korea, all of whom belong to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.
"The United States is the only one that has the death penalty, extrajudicial killings, like police killings that are not justified, and all the things going on at the border with children separated from parents," she said.
Countries surveyed were Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, South Korea, Vietnam, Nepal, Mozambique, Angola, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Britain, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the United States, Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil.
Among areas examined: freedom of expression and association, the right to participate in government, and harm inflicted by the state or its agents, from torture to political arrests.
Countries were scored across multiple categories, making an overall ranking impossible to set.
But the United States scored high on citizens' right to health and food, and low on the right to live free from torture.
Deaths involving police in the United States average nearly three a day, researchers wrote in the American Journal of Public Health last year, with black and Latino men twice as likely as white men to die during interactions with police.
The US treatment of migrants also came under close scrutiny since US President Donald Trump made stemming immigration from Mexico a high priority of his administration.
US border patrol agents have apprehended almost 45,000 unaccompanied children at the southwest border since October.
"For the average person who has bought into the idea of the United States as a world leader, leading democracy, they may find the results surprising," said Brook.
The HRMI now had data for about two years, making it difficult to point to trends, she said, though minority groups were identified as most at risk in the countries surveyed.
In Asia-Pacific, Vietnam performed poorly on empowerment rights - freedoms related to opinion, expression and assembly.
"The groups identified as most at risk are human rights advocates, journalists, people with particular political affiliations or beliefs, people who protest or engage in non-violent political activity," Brook said.
In Latin America, safety from the state was worsening as minority groups encounter police violence, she added.
Britain notched up marked inequalities in quality of life, with disabled Britons especially at risk of rights violations.
Australia received a poor score on the right to freedom from torture, which the survey called "a serious problem". The survey singled out free speech as a "very concerning" issue in Nepal.
Launched in 2016, HRMI is a global and collaborative project run by academics and people working in human rights.
Funded by grants and donations, they track the human rights performance of nations based on their commitments. — Reuters