The relational politics of shame: Evidence from the universal periodic review

  • Rochelle TermanEmail author
  • Erik Voeten


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.


United Nations Universal periodic review Human rights Naming and shaming Quantitative analysis 

JEL Classification




An earlier version of this article was presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (San Francisco, 2015), the Human Rights in an Age of Ambiguity conference (New York City, 2016), and the International Relations colloquium at the University of California, Berkeley. For helpful commends, we thank the participants at those workshops, especially Marc Limon, Jeanette Money, and Laura Stoker. We are grateful to Erin Sielaff and Mathison Clore for excellent research assistance. This research was supported in part by the University of California Institute for Global Conflict and Cooperation and the University of California Berkeley Institute of International Studies.

Supplementary material

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for International Security & CooperationStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service and Government DepartmentGeorgetown UniversityWashingtonUSA

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