Facts, alternative facts, and International Law


The Goldstone Report exemplifies a broader phenomenon, of backlash against international institutions, and specifically against fact-finding efforts and dissemination of information during armed conflicts. This article analyzes common practices of legal fact-finding during armed conflicts, and examines their impact on factual beliefs held by the relevant societies. It builds on studies from three disciplines – law, psychology, and political science – and employs experimental methods and a rich case study analysis (including an interview with Richard Goldstone) to shed light on the way in which legal fact-finding efforts influence beliefs about contested events such as war crimes and crimes against humanity. It provides theoretical explanation and empirical data to illuminate why more information may sometimes mean less shared knowledge; why do many fact-finding efforts fail to resolve the very controversies they were established to settle?

The article argues that the unnecessary adoption of legal standards and legal blame triggers cognitive and emotional biases that may unintentionally intensify distortion (rather than assertion) of facts.

Ultimately, the article argues that in our 'fake news' era, where 'alternative facts' are often produced to counter unwelcome facts and narratives, it is more important than ever to seek new and better ways to produce and introduce information during armed conflicts.

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