The relational politics of shame: Evidence from the universal periodic review
International human rights institutions often rely on “naming and shaming” to promote compliance with global norms. Critics charge that such institutions are too politicized; states condemn human rights violations selectively, based on their strategic interests, while protecting friends and allies. In this view, politicization undermines shaming’s credibility and thus its effectiveness. This paper offers an alternative account of such institutions and the mechanism by which they promote human rights. We argue that interstate shaming is an inherently political exercise that operates through strategic relationships, not in spite of them. While states are less likely to criticize their friends and allies, any criticism they do offer is more influential precisely because of this pre-existing partnership. We test this argument through quantitative analysis of the most elaborate human rights mechanism in the international system: the United Nations Universal Periodic Review. We find that states are more lenient towards their strategic partners in the peer-review process. Yet when they do criticize, their recommendations are accepted more often than substantially identical recommendations emanating from other states with fewer strategic ties. Insofar as shaming disseminates powerful signals regarding political relationships between states, these interactions can be meaningful and influential, even as they remain selective and politicized.