For better or worse: Shaming, faming, and human rights abuse

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Does it matter whether human rights (HR) shaming is accompanied by acknowledgments of reforms and progress? Do such acknowledgments weaken or strengthen the impact of shaming? Rulers decide whether to oppress or to comply with HR treaty obligations by considering what compliance entails and by weighing the internal and external costs and benefits of oppression. Research shows that HR shaming alters such considerations and is associated with changes in HR protection levels. Can the same be said of faming? This article examines three forms of HR reporting: faming, which focuses on positive developments; shaming, which focuses on problematic HR practices; and scrutiny, which combines shaming and faming. The article analyzes the association between shaming, faming, and scrutiny by UN treaty bodies, on the one hand, and oppression on the other. The potential associations are conceptualized as mitigation, backsliding, and specification. The analysis finds that shaming with no faming and faming with no shaming are each negatively associated with HR protection. Scrutiny, the combination of shaming and faming, is positively associated with subsequent HR protection levels, and the higher the level of scrutiny the higher the subsequent level of HR protection. The article argues that the reason for this association is that the combination of shaming and faming helps policymakers understand how to properly implement their treaty obligations and how to improve HR protection. The article draws policy and theoretical implications including the need for balanced and detailed HR reporting, and the importance of learning in HR advocacy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)479-493
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Peace Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 May 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2020.


  • Convention against Torture
  • human rights
  • international organizations
  • regression analysis
  • shaming
  • web scraping


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