The “Winners” and “Victims” of Naming and Shaming

By Julie Geng

Human rights condemnations are usually voiced by liberal democracies, and have differential effects on other liberal democracies in comparison to autocracies; in particular, these agents, the liberal democracies, are ultimately the ones implementing normative changes through mechanisms such as naming and shaming. [1] Here, this research article further spell out the cases in which human rights condemnations are ineffective or missing and the cases in which such condemnations do lead to measurable, quantitative effects. The article argues that the naming and shaming mechanism has more tolerance for certain states due to their power and alliances, and these “winner states” can reframe such condemnations to play the victim in front of their citizens, leading to the normalization and perpetuation of human rights abuses. On the other hand, autocratic and repressive regimes that disproportionately bear the economic and political consequences of the condemnations are further isolated and carries the stigma of a pariah state, leading to continued political instability and economic hardships.

In the introduction of Vadlamannati et al., the politicization of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voting patterns is treated as a given that explains how the outcast effect operates rather than being problematized as a fundamental flaw within the UNHRC. [2] As illustrated by the following examples, powerful human rights violator states, regardless of their regime types, are mostly shielded from the negative repercussions of international condemnations because of their alliances and political-military dominance. Krain cites Economy and Segal to illustrate how the 2008 Olympics drew attention towards China’s human rights violations and evoked public doubts regarding China’s role as “a responsible global actor.” [3] However, the UNHRC has yet issued any public condemnation towards China, and China has been continually strengthening its status as a rising global power. In spite of being accused of “violating the Olympic spirit” with its human rights violations, China recently won the bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics. On the other hand, weaker states, as long as they maintain stable alliances with powerful states, can be protected from the consequences of shaming. Israel is the most condemned human rights violator state by the UNHRC: from its creation in 2006 to August 2015, the Council has condemned Israel 62 times (followed by Syria and Myanmar). [4] After the United States joined the Council in 2009, there have been significantly fewer condemnations issued towards its most important ally in the region and the U.S. successfully directed the attention towards North Korea, Iran and Syria. [5] The condemnations were barely translated into on-the-ground changes as tensions escalate following Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, as human rights defenders from Palestine continue being detained indefinitely, and as Gaza remains a mass prison system with chronic water and electricity shortage.

What is more unsettling is that such condemnations can also be reframed by these “shielded states” as an unfair treatment and be repurposed as a rallying call for their citizens to devote efforts into protecting their national interests and ideals. In the case of Israel, the jarringly large number of condemnations has fueled the existential threats instilled originally by the Zionist Movement and contributed to the rise of the right-wing party in Israel. Economy and Segal seem to be hopeful that the “Genocide Olympics” accusation can subdue the “nationalist backlash” arisen in response to Tibetan protesters, but the reality today is that nomadic Tibetan groups are being forced to resettle in “socialist villages” and tightened surveillance system is employed to keep close track of the potential “troublemakers.” [6] For future research, the political allies of shamed states ought to be considered when assessing the effects of naming and shaming in terms of FDI withdrawals and change in the level of compliance with human rights law. More fundamentally, the voting patterns within the Council need to be de-politicized, which might be achieved by modifying the election procedure. Currently, the members are elected due to its contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights. [7] However, their indirect contribution to and complacency with human rights violations through political alliances also need to be taken into consideration.

Contrary to the above-mentioned ineffectiveness of the naming and shaming system, the four econometric studies in the course packet provide situations where intergovernmental organization (IGO) condemnations and northern media coverage lead to concrete responses that expose violations, ameliorate the conditions and alter citizen perceptions. One of the major problems with these quantitative studies is that the researchers pose themselves as human rights experts who occupy some moral high ground, and as a consequence, the subjects of their studies, the citizens of the shamed countries, are further stripped of their agency and reduced to passive victims of their own violator states. Although Ausderan succeeds in establishing a negative relationship between domestic perceptions and human rights condemnations, he does not examine what citizens do after such changed perceptions and uses a hand-waving term “complex politics” to justify the absence of this necessary analysis. Ausderan does not address how such deteriorated perception of their own states affect the mental health and living conditions of the citizens but simply treats them as an indicator of the effectiveness of international accusations. Hendrix and Wong point out the importance of domestic political institutions and incentives in persuading states to adopt the political will to change their behaviors without exploring the mechanisms at work. [8] Future research ought to focus on citizen responses in terms of their actions and behaviors, their level of political engagement and any changed pattern of local media reporting and grassroots organizing. The role of transnational advocacy network (TAN) also needs to be highlighted and studied as the transnational advocates are the people who are actively claiming and protecting their own human rights and they are the reasons why human rights need to exist according to Ingram. [9] While one can understand that Krain chooses AI reports and northern media as his independent variables because violators tend to be more responsive to them. However, the culture of human rights will remain another example of the “outgrowth of the structure of worldwide Western culture” if IOs and western states monopolize the role of the “teachers.” [10]

Another problem with these studies is that they do not offer an in-depth look at why human rights violations took place in the first place. Are there systemic factors that render these states more prone to become violators? While Krain acknowledges that perpetrators of genocides only resort to such means to solve their most difficult challenges, we must address the root causes of these challenges that can lead to horrific violations of human rights and devise preventive measures that involve transnational advocates. [11] Also, what happens after the severity of genocides and politicides is reduced? Does political stability necessarily follow suit? After suffering from the Darfur genocide, 100,000 civilians in South Sudan are faced with famine while nationwide peace is long overdue. [12] Vadlamannati et al. prove the FDI withdrawal pattern without measuring how such actions negatively affect the local economy, and the condemners ought to provide assistance programs that do not treat former violator states as pariahs but aim to help them incorporate to the global economy and governance, if they so desire.

The quantitative studies offer a crucial insight into the effectiveness of international condemnations with regard to human rights organizations, but we must focus more on why some states’ behaviors are more publicly criticized than others. The differential effects due to regime types and alliances speak to the biases within the UNHRC system and the need for reform. The naming and shaming system cannot simply serve as a tool for states to prove their support for human rights and to gain political legitimacy at the expense of alienating other states. The international governance must tackle the “now what” question in a constructive way that does not lead to further alienation, debilitating economic sanctions, and continued instability and suffering. Most importantly, transnational advocates and the people who are working to claim their own human rights deserve more spotlight and support because they are ultimately the agents who are going to bring about the global social structure that values and upholds human rights for all.

 Julie Geng is a Senior at Williams College, where she is majoring in Economics and Arabic.

Works Cited:

[1] Finnemore, p. 24.

[2] Vadlamannati et al, p. 223

[3] Krain, p. 576-7; Economy & Segal (2008), p. 56.

[4] “Charts of All UNHRC Condemnations,” UN Watch (Accessed March 5th, 2018),

[5] Ted Piccone, “5 Myths about the U.N. Human Rights Council,” Brookings Institute (Accessed March 5th, 2018),

[6] Economy and Segal (2008), p. 49; Celia Hatton, “China Resettles Two Million Tibetans, Says Human Rights Watch,” BBC News, June 2013. (Accessed March 5th, 2018)

[7] Vadlamannati et al. (2018) p. 224; OHCHR (2016)

[8] Hendrix & Wong, p. 672.

[9] Ingram, p. 411.

[10] Finnemore, p. 21.

[11] Krain, p. 576.

[12] “South Sudan,” International Crisis Group, 2018. (Accessed March 5th, 2018)

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