Legal Framing and the Politics of Shame in the Lebanon and Gaza Wars
“Naming and shaming” alleged perpetrators of human rights abuses is one of the most common strategies of transnational activists. By showing that a target actor is not living up to its own normative claims, their hope is to jeopardize the target’s credibility and motivate a change in policy and behavior. Yet, both qualitative and quantitative studies show that the policy effects of naming and shaming are often ambivalent and even contradictory, notably because the capacity of targeted actors to adjust to outside pressure is uneven or because they choose to adjust selectively. By contrast, I show that naming and shaming can be brought to a standstill because of the unintended consequence of the frame used by transnational activists. Specifically, I analyze the naming and shaming of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) by Human Rights Watch (HRW) during the Second Lebanon War of 2006 and the December 2008-January 2009 Gaza war. Building upon novel insights on legal framing in the sociology of social movements and on Martti Koskenniemi’s conception of international law as an argumentative practice, I argue that International Humanitarian Law used as a legal frame led to an argumentative deadlock. On the one hand, this legal frame genuinely constrained the IDF, affecting its operations and behavior. But, on the other, that legal frame simultaneously provided the IDF with a range of material and ideational resources, ultimately allowing it to claim that its actions were conform to the law and to continue to use force in densely populated areas.