Shiri Krebs

Stanford Law School

Zukerman Fellow; Law and International Security Fellow

 Center for International Security and Cooperation

‘The Facts Speak for Themselves’: Impact of Legal Institutions on Public Perception of Contested Facts During Armed Conflicts 

 

One of the most certain facts about conflicts is uncertainty about facts. To establish the truth and find out what really happened the international community has been sending fact-finding missions to conflict areas around the world. These missions have been designed based on legal norms and standards. Unfortunately, the reliance on abstract and adversarial legal norms may have a negative impact on public perceptions of facts. Legal norms might create a psychological distance between the facts and their audience, and intensify socio-psychological dynamics of bias and distortion. Instead of smelling the dust, seeing the victims and feeling their pain, the focus of attention is shifted to abstract legal norms and to the threat they pose to collective beliefs and identities. My research project is designed to shed light on the possible influence of legal institutions on public perception of facts. Specifically, I use survey experiments to demonstrate the impact of legal language and legal attribution of fault on the legitimacy and credibility of fact-finding mechanisms during armed conflicts. The data collected and the findings of these experiments will hopefully offer new ways to better design fact-finding mechanisms to promote their most salient goal: the truth.