The World Bank is often portrayed by human rights scholars as a ‘legal black hole’ where the workings of international law have been suspended. In a recognizable routine of human rights activism, consistent attempts are therefore made to throw out the normative net of international law over this institutional domain. A familiar response by the institution is the assertion of its autonomous international legal status and constitutional limitations. Rather than reaffirming a specific position in this deadlocked doctrinal debate, this article enquires into the performative effects of this jousting routine between human rights activists and the World Bank. The account points to the potentially problematic political effects indirectly and unwillingly engendered by repeated enactments of these deeply engrained juridical juxtapositions. This analysis provides an innovative, relational understanding of international law with analytical value beyond the scope of this particular debate.