Documentation: Coding Rules

Meas­ur­ing Levels of State Per­pet­rated Hu­man Rights Vi­ol­a­tion

The PTS meas­ures levels of polit­ic­al vi­ol­ence and ter­ror that a coun­try ex­per­i­ences in a par­tic­u­lar year based on a 5-level “ter­ror scale” ori­gin­ally de­veloped by Free­dom House. The data used in com­pil­ing this in­dex comes from three dif­fer­ent sources: the yearly coun­try re­ports of Am­nesty In­ter­na­tion­al, the U.S. State De­part­ment Coun­try Re­ports on Hu­man Rights Prac­tices, and Human Rights Watch’s World Re­ports.

These reports can be found here:


In the con­struc­tion of an in­dex for each year for each re­port, coun­tries are scaled as if the re­ports are ac­cur­ate and com­plete. The five PTS-levels are lis­ted in the Table below. For coding examples navigate here: Coding Examples. For a more thorough treatment of the coding process and a detailed discussion of what is measured please consult:

Wood, Reed M. and Mark Gibney. 2010. “The Political Terror Scale (PTS): A Re-introduction and a Comparison to CIRI.” Human Rights Quarterly 32(2): 367—400. (pdf)

In de­term­in­ing the levels coders are provided with the fol­low­ing in­struc­tions:

Ig­nore Own Bi­ases.

Coders should make every at­tempt to keep their own bi­ases out of their work. Thus, coders are in­struc­ted to ig­nore their per­cep­tions of a coun­try, and to lim­it their cod­ing to the in­form­a­tion provided in the coun­try re­port.

Give Coun­tries the Be­ne­fit of the Doubt.

Coders also are in­struc­ted to give the be­ne­fit of the doubt in fa­vor of the coun­tries they are cod­ing. Thus, if a coder thinks that a coun­try could be scored as either a level 2 or a level 3, the coun­try is to re­ceive the lower score. Some­times coders will not feel com­fort­able mak­ing a choice between two levels. In those in­stances, coders will of­ten­times score a coun­try us­ing both num­bers, such as 2/3. If the coder has either of these num­bers, we use the level where there is agree­ment.

Read What the Re­port is Say­ing.

Fi­nally, coders are in­struc­ted to read what the re­port is try­ing to say. One of the keys is to look at the ad­ject­ives used in these re­ports. For ex­ample, “re­ports” of tor­ture is dif­fer­ent in kind (and less ser­i­ous) than “wide­spread” tor­ture, which also is dif­fer­ent (and less ser­i­ous) than “sys­tem­at­ic” tor­ture.

One of the more dif­fi­cult prob­lems is how to deal with the situ­ation where a coun­try’s hu­man rights situ­ation changes dra­mat­ic­ally dur­ing the course of the year. It is not out of the or­din­ary for a nearly in­stalled re­gime to pur­sue policies that are dia­met­ric­ally op­posed to that which pre­ceded it. In these in­stances, we in­struct the coders to con­sider when the re­gime change oc­curred. For ex­ample, if a re­press­ive re­gime was ous­ted late in the cal­en­dar year, the score prob­ably should re­flect the hu­man rights situ­ation that ex­is­ted for most of the year. On the oth­er hand, if the change oc­curred any­where near the middle of the year or be­fore then, the score should re­flect this change.


Political Terror Scale Levels
Level Interpretation
W3Schools Coun­tries un­der a se­cure rule of law, people are not im­prisoned for their views, and tor­ture is rare or ex­cep­tion­al. Polit­ic­al murders are ex­tremely rare.
W3Schools There is a lim­ited amount of im­pris­on­ment for non­vi­ol­ent polit­ic­al activ­ity. However, few per­sons are af­fected, tor­ture and beat­ings are ex­cep­tion­al. Polit­ic­al murder is rare.
W3Schools There is ex­tens­ive polit­ic­al im­pris­on­ment, or a re­cent his­tory of such im­pris­on­ment. Ex­e­cu­tion or oth­er polit­ic­al murders and bru­tal­ity may be com­mon. Un­lim­ited de­ten­tion, with or without a tri­al, for polit­ic­al views is ac­cep­ted.
W3Schools Civil and polit­ic­al rights vi­ol­a­tions have ex­pan­ded to large num­bers of the pop­u­la­tion. Murders, dis­ap­pear­ances, and tor­ture are a com­mon part of life. In spite of its gen­er­al­ity, on this level ter­ror af­fects those who in­terest them­selves in polit­ics or ideas.
W3Schools Ter­ror has ex­pan­ded to the whole pop­u­la­tion. The lead­ers of these so­ci­et­ies place no lim­its on the means or thor­ough­ness with which they pur­sue per­son­al or ideo­lo­gic­al goals.