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When Is the Pen Truly Mighty? Regime Type and the Efficacy of Naming and Shaming in Curbing Human Rights Abuses

  • Cullen S. Hendrix and Wendy H. Wong

Does naming and shaming states affect respect for human rights in those states? This article argues that incentives to change repressive behaviour when facing international condemnation vary across regime types. In democracies and hybrid regimes – which combine democratic and authoritarian elements – opposition parties and relatively free presses paradoxically make rulers less likely to change behaviour when facing international criticism. In contrast, autocracies, which lack these domestic sources of information on abuses, are more sensitive to international shaming. Using data on naming and shaming taken from Western press reports and Amnesty International, the authors demonstrate that naming and shaming is associated with improved human rights outcomes in autocracies, but with either no effect or a worsening of outcomes in democracies and hybrid regimes.

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Department of Government, College of William & Mary (email:; and Department of Political Science, University of Toronto (email: The authors wish to thank Marie Chalkley and Rachel Rawana for research assistance, and also Idean Salehyan, Matthew Krain, panel attendees at the International Studies Association, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of the article. Replication data for this article can be accessed at

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64 UAs and our dependent variable measure communication and outcomes at different levels of aggregation. While UAs are targeted at violator states, they advocate for the release and/or betterment of conditions for individual persons. Our measure of human rights conditions, however, is aggregate. While acknowledging this potential mismatch, our theoretical argument regarding the informational context in which human rights abuses take place does not suggest any obvious reason for assuming UAs would not have a similar effect. UAs are not covert actions: they are public postings of information about human rights abuses in specific countries, posted on AI's website and distributed through its extensive fax, email and mail networks. They serve the dual purpose of focusing on an individual's plight and disseminating information about the general conditions of human rights in a country.

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68 Results using ordered logit are similar to those reported here.

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70 The exclusion of period dummies does not alter the findings presented here.

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74 A reviewer suggested an alternative operationalization of civil liberties using the CIRI Empowerment Rights Index, which addresses civil rights such as ‘Freedom of Movement, Freedom of Speech, Workers’ Rights, Political Participation, and Freedom of Religion’ (see Cingranelli and Richards, ‘Respect for Human Rights after the End of the Cold War’) that correspond to Freedom House's Civil Liberties Index, which emphasizes ‘freedoms of expression and belief, associational and organizational rights, rule of law, and personal autonomy without interference from the state’ (see Freedom House, Freedom in the World). The two indicators are highly correlated (r = 0.86). Models estimated using this alternative dependent variable returned results largely similar to those here: UAs exert a positive and highly significant (p < 0.01) effect on civil liberties in autocracies, but are negatively correlated with civil liberties in non-autocracies.

75 Ron, Ramos and Rodgers, ‘Transnational Information Politics’.

76 Cole, ‘No News Is Good News’.

77 Amnesty International, Who We Are (

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Murdie, Amanda and Davis, David R., ‘Shaming and Blaming for Change: An Event-Data Study on the Impact of Human Rights INGOs on Human Rights Practices’, International Studies Quarterly, 56 (2012), 116

Krain, Matthew, ‘J’Accuse! Does Naming and Shaming Perpetrators Reduce the Severity of Genocides and Politicides?’, International Studies Quarterly, 56 (2012), 574589

* Department of Government, College of William & Mary (email: ); and Department of Political Science, University of Toronto (email: ). The authors wish to thank Marie Chalkley and Rachel Rawana for research assistance, and also Idean Salehyan, Matthew Krain, panel attendees at the International Studies Association, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of the article. Replication data for this article can be accessed at

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