The Ferguson Uprising, Shadow Reporting, and Human Rights Experimentalism

In this virtual workshop, Joel Pruce presented his recent work on the year-long protests in Ferguson from 2014 to 2015.

Paper Abstract

In Fall 2014, a delegation of frontline activists and lawyers from Ferguson, Missouri, including Michael Brown’s parents, traveled to Geneva, Switzerland to testify in front of the UN Committee Against Torture while the US government appeared before the treaty monitoring body. But, why? Why would a grassroots movement for racial justice, whose comrades were literally facing down sniper rifles and tanks in the streets of a small American town, go to all the trouble—especially when critical observers have remarked about the futility of international law and limitations or even colonial nature of human rights? The Ferguson to Geneva delegation, with support from the US Human Rights Network, participated in “shadow reporting,” a term that describes opportunities for impacted people to confront the state in a multilateral forum and to challenge the state’s official account. Shadow reporting transforms international legalism into participatory politics. In these spaces, ordinary people interpret and shape international law based on their experiences to suit their interests. Shadow reporting provides a crucial tool for grassroots activists and impacted people to assert themselves as global citizens with international human rights. In this paper, I will establish shadow reporting as a key platform for a critical form of transnational politics and contribute to an evolving view on the inherently political nature of international law. Shadow reporting processes reveal that bureaucratic measures such as these can become charged venues for making claims and demanding accountability. By considering how these spaces can be utilized and leveraged, human rights activists affect the meaning and purpose of international law, which provides evidence for what Seyla Ben-Habib terms “jurisgenerativity” or Gráinne de Búrca describes as “human rights experimentalism.” In pursuing this platform, activists seek not formal criminal justice nor even justice associated with public shaming; but, rather, a deeply personal justice connected to notions of recognition and dignity written into the bedrock of the human rights project. 


  • Joel Pruce (presenter) is Associate Professor, Political Science in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Dayton.
  • Cosette Creamer is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota.
  • Mark Berlin