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The Politics of Shame: The Condemnation of Country Human Rights Practices in the UNCHR


  • Authors' note: An earlier version of this paper was prepared for presentation at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, April 2004. We thank the participants at that seminar, three anonymous referees, Steven Poe, and Emilie Hafner-Burton for useful comments and Jennifer Davis for valuable research assistance. The data used in this analysis can be found at:


Although the United Nations Commission on Human Rights served as the primary forum in which governments publicly named and shamed others for abusing their citizens, the practices of the commission have been largely ignored by political scientists. To address that deficiency, this study analyzes the actions of the commission and its members' voting records in the 1977–2001 period. It establishes that targeting and punishment by the commission decreasingly fit the predictions of a realist perspective, in which naming and shaming is an inherently political exercise, and increasingly fit the predictions of a liberal “reputation” perspective, in which governments hold others to their promises, and a constructivist “social conformity” perspective, in which governments distribute and respond to social rewards and punishments. With the end of the Cold War, the commission's targeting and punishment of countries was based less on partisan ties, power politics, and the privileges of membership, and more on those countries' actual human rights violations, treaty commitments, and active participation in cooperative endeavors such as peacekeeping operations.