Human rights as conditions for aid: how long is a piece of string?


 

Marta Foresti is the head of the politics and governance programme at the Overseas Development Institute.

In theory it makes perfect sense: aid to poor countries should not come without strings attached.

This is the gist of what Malcolm Bruce said on the Today programme this morning when discussing the new International Development Select Committee report into aid and fragile sates.

The idea that British taxpayers’ hard-earned money should not be used to support ineffective and totalitarian regimes is one few could disagree with.

Aid donors should use their influence to press for political freedoms and real commitment to poverty reduction. When these conditions are not met, as in Burma despite recent improvements, aid should be withdrawn or channelled through non-state actors, usually international or local NGOs.

Although this is nothing new, there appears to be a renewed interest in the ‘aid conditionality’ debate, and specifically on human rights and other forms of political conditionality.

Yet in practice political aid conditionality often does not work.

There are three main reasons:

• Thresholds, double standards and teeth.

Identifying non-negotiable conditions or thresholds beyond which aid is withdrawn or renegotiated is simply not practical or enforceable. David Cameron recently hinted that British aid should not be given to countries that do not respect gay rights. But what about countries that do not fulfil women’s rights? Or where there are no free democratic elections?

There is simply no way to enforce a one-size-fits-all mechanism that establishes minimum standards or thresholds for acceptable human rights performance.

As some have argued the UK does not give aid to Burma but has found ways to continue channelling aid to Ethiopia; a decision based not on substantial differences in the two countries’ human rights record but (rightly, I think) on a range of (geo)political and  economic priorities.

• Carrots and sticks.

Malcolm Bruce is right when he says that donors should do what they can to influence the performance of aid recipient countries, including improving political freedoms.

However, this is more likely to be achieved through dialogue and negotiations, and a focus on incentives and results, than by threats – which more often lead to ‘strategic compliance’ than fundamental changes in behaviours and relationships.

Also, it is worth noting that the removal of UK aid may not significantly affect the capacity of government when they can turn to other sources such as China, but it can be a real loss to citizens.

• Aid alone does not matter enough.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, whilst aid can make a real difference in supporting economic and social transformation, aid alone (and hence donors) is not likely to have a significant effect on domestic processes of political change – even in countries, such as Rwanda, where aid is a significant component of the national budget and is contributing to remarkable economic and social development.

Whilst it is highly desirable that human rights records in the country will improve, it is not clear how in practice the UK or other donors could use their leverage on the Government to increase political freedoms, as recommended by the IDC report.

Internal pressure, including from Rwandan citizens, media and business, as well as from other regional powers/actors is likely to matter more.

All this does not mean that the international community has no role to play in improving human rights and promote political freedoms.

As my colleague Jonathan Glennie always reminds, aid conditionality and other international sources of pressure mean that the government in Colombia is much more concerned about human rights and the rule of law than it otherwise would have been.

My point is simply that diplomatic efforts, trade rules and other forms of international pressure carefully tailored to the individual countries circumstances are more effective mechanisms than aid conditionality alone.

See also:

Cameron is abdicating his responsibility on international development – David Taylor, October 14th 2011

New report justifies aid to India and other Middle Income Countries – Gareth Thomas MP, August 24th 2011

Other nations need to follow Britain’s lead to avert disaster in Africa – David Taylor, July 6th 2011

International development back in the news – where it belongs – Jim Dobbin MP, June 8th 2011

Government review of UK aid – goals and reaction – Shamik Das, March 1st 2011

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  • Alan Hudson

    Yes, determining the length of piece of string in general terms doesn’t make sense. But, if we refuse to say how long a piece of string can get before it’s too long for a particular case, then we will give aid sceptics plenty of rope to hang those of us who think that aid – provided in ways that are appropriate for particular contexts, and that help to nurture transparent and accountable governance – can play a role in promoting development.

    “Political” conditionalities might not work, but perhaps some process-related conditionalities are necessary/desirable? How about requiring that governments are making progress in terms of budget transparency in order to be eligible for aid? Personally, I’d be supportive of that.

    Alan Hudson

  • Alan Hudson

    Yes, determining the length of piece of string in general terms doesn’t make sense. But, if we refuse to say how long a piece of string can get before it’s too long for a particular case, then we will give aid sceptics plenty of rope to hang those of us who think that aid – provided in ways that are appropriate for particular contexts, and that help to nurture transparent and accountable governance – can play a role in promoting development.

    “Political” conditionalities might not work, but perhaps some process-related conditionalities are necessary/desirable? How about requiring that governments are making progress in terms of budget transparency in order to be eligible for aid? Personally, I’d be supportive of that.

    Alan Hudson

  • Alan Hudson

    Yes, determining the length of piece of string in general terms doesn’t make sense. But, if we refuse to say how long a piece of string can get before it’s too long for a particular case, then we will give aid sceptics plenty of rope to hang those of us who think that aid – provided in ways that are appropriate for particular contexts, and that help to nurture transparent and accountable governance – can play a role in promoting development.

    “Political” conditionalities might not work, but perhaps some process-related conditionalities are necessary/desirable? How about requiring that governments are making progress in terms of budget transparency in order to be eligible for aid? Personally, I’d be supportive of that.

    Alan Hudson

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  • Jan Vanheukelom

    UK taxpayers’ money should not end up propping up repressive regimes that violate human rights. I fully agree with Marta’s three warnings why this dictum should not result in knee-jerk conditionalities to aid. She is right in proposing to look carefully at each country context, and to consider combinations of different sources of international pressure to promote political freedoms and human rights, not just aid. In fact, the UK taxpayer’s “buck” can even have more bang when the UK government uses its influence, knowledge, and resources cleverly within the European Union. This is the level where the policy domains of aid, diplomacy, trade and security can be leveraged even more effectively and coherently.
    Jan Vanheukelom, ECDPM

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  • Stuart Croft

    Very good article which illustrates the complex nature of aid. For one thing conditionality hits hardest the communiites we are trying to help rather than the regimes on whom we wish to bring pressure to bare. Secondly, government provision and support for aid is not just about the beneficiaries. It is, to what whatever degree, also about the electability of politicians. Do we think the Foreign Secretary has made a historic visit to Burma to have a huge impact on human rights and economic sanctions. No, he has gone in order to be photographed with nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, an iconic activist about whom a movie is about to be released. I will re post your article at my blog, lifeincharity.blogspot.org

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bdc-Burma/1533993512 Bdc Burma

    Burma Democratisation Strategy 2012

    Burma must work without wavering to restore democracy, human rights, and rule of law. Burma must establish the independent judiciary system so as to put a full stop on corruption, abuse of power, anyone staying above the law and anyone buying justice in Burma. We have to work our utmost to establish independent and impartial judiciary system in Burma.

    Burma must make sure to never allow manipulating laws which criminalize freedom of thought, expression, association, assembly and movement. Burma must ensure amending laws which legitimize arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, inhumane interrogation, torture, arresting without warrant, charge or trial.

    Burma must work to achieve the ever lasting peace, unity in harmony and equality in diversity in Burma. Equally important is to review the controversial 2008 constitution which gives absolute power to military commander in chief which is still major concern for people of Burma.

    Burma must prioritise alleviating poverty, unemployment, inflation, illiteracy and major diseases. At the same time, Burma must work hard to end the economics monopoly and cronyism in Burma.

    Burma needs financial and technological assistance from international community so as to address the immediate needs of the people and in the process of rebuilding Burma.

    Flourishing Civil Society Organisations are one of the main concrete pillars protecting and strengthening a democratic system in the nation. Burma must work her utmost to flourish Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Community Based Organisations (CBOs) in Burma. Emergences of the new institutions are an important part of the democratisation process of Burma.

    Burmese citizens must be able to practice three fundamental democratic rights i.e. freedom of association, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. Strengthening these three main principals are the essential parts of the democratisation process of Burma. Burma must work promoting freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of expression in Burma.

    Burma must work at the same time thriving Student Unions, Labour Unions and Peasant Unions so that students, workers, peasants and farmers will have the platforms to voice their concerns, to protect their rights and to promote their welfares in Burma.

    Independent media and right to access freedom of information are the indicators which show the degree of the democratic tolerant in any nations. Burma must work to flourish freedom of media, social media and freedom of internet and information technology in Burma.

    Burma must empower every citizen with education which is the best investment for future of Burma while ensure supporting welfares of teachers, teaching carrier, teaching environment and education standard in Burma.

    Burma must educate her citizens of their rights, responsibilities and necessity of taking responsibilities in order to lay the concrete democratic foundation for future generations of Burma bearing in mind that Burma has gone through nearly half the century of successive various dictatorships and military dictatorships together with armed conflicts.

    Burma must educate our children with knowledge, technology and employable skills while ensures teaching humanitarian caring, humanity values and human development.

    Burma must build the society of tolerance. To meet that end Burma must work to prosper the culture of dialogue, research, reasoning, question mark, freedom from fear, boosting self-confident and nurturing positive attitude in Burma.

    Education starts at home and we truly believe that it is the essential part of the nation building process to educate families with parenting skills, child development and nurturing children.

    Since Buddhist monasteries and Buddhist monks are essential vital part of the Burmese society and accordingly Burma must work to promote monastery education and support the welfare of the Buddhist monks.

    Burma must work to ensure promoting religious freedom in Burma while Burma must have a commission which oversee the protection and promotion of (ethnics) minority rights i.e. maintaining heritage, religion, language, culture, food, writing, music and environment etc.

    Burma must gradually modernize defence forces while educating them with values of professionalism and humanity.

    Burma must work improving health and social care system which must be affordable and accessible to all the citizens.

    Burma must improve agricultural system and must emphasise working on the development of villages, rural and border areas.

    Urban population is expected to grow and Burma must work to embrace urbanization by expanding urban infrastructure, by creating jobs and improving bus and transportation services.

    Responsible sustainable tourism is one of the most rewarding industries which can assist economic development in Burma. Burma must promote responsible sustainable tourism and at the same time Burma must encourage citizens to travel so as to promote understanding, knowledge and friendship between different societies residing at the different places.

    Burma must gradually build industrialised economy that can generate nation’s revenues. The process of gradual economic reforms must be initiated right now. Economic growth is essential for the well being of our people. We must build the infrastructures needed to industrialize Burma.

    Energy is an essential for development. Burma must work to ensure providing sufficient electricity and gas for all the citizens of Burma.

    Burma must protect and work improving environment for our future generations. We must work to protect the waters, lakes, streams and rivers not to be polluted and not to be dried up while ensure protecting people from flooding and water erosion. Burma must anticipate controlling the quality of our air bearing in mind that the potential growth of urbanisation and industrialisation can increase air pollution.

    Burma must protect forests, biodiversity and natural resources. Burma must work to gradually end excessive irresponsible logging, cutting forests and clearing land for agriculture. Burma must increase efforts to afforestation while Burma must work to gradually ban exporting teaks, logs, raw wood, cane, bamboo and endangered forest products in Burma.

    Burma must alleviate corruption. The worst form of corruption is corruption of immigration control personnel. We must prioritise to secure our borders to deter and detect illegal immigrants’ intrusions into Burma since population affect us all.

    Burma must ensure the fiscal stability and we must set up the feasible tax, banking and monetary policy in Burma. Burma must have the strategic national planning and budget distribution commission so as to effectively plan and distribute spending and future strategic national planning.

    We also need gradual reforms in systems of government which would increase responsibility, accountability and transparency. This will be simultaneous and gradual evolutionary process and from time to time we must re-evaluate our reform process so as to have the best possible results to democratise Burma.

    Burma must be working to decentralise her administration mechanisms and people must have the right to voice their concerns on every aspect of democratisation process.

    These must be top Burma Democratisation agenda.

    http://www.bdcburma.org

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bdc-Burma/1533993512 Bdc Burma

    Burma Democratisation Strategy 2012

    Burma must work without wavering to restore democracy, human rights, and rule of law. Burma must establish the independent judiciary system so as to put a full stop on corruption, abuse of power, anyone staying above the law and anyone buying justice in Burma. We have to work our utmost to establish independent and impartial judiciary system in Burma.

    Burma must make sure to never allow manipulating laws which criminalize freedom of thought, expression, association, assembly and movement. Burma must ensure amending laws which legitimize arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, inhumane interrogation, torture, arresting without warrant, charge or trial.

    Burma must work to achieve the ever lasting peace, unity in harmony and equality in diversity in Burma. Equally important is to review the controversial 2008 constitution which gives absolute power to military commander in chief which is still major concern for people of Burma.

    Burma must prioritise alleviating poverty, unemployment, inflation, illiteracy and major diseases. At the same time, Burma must work hard to end the economics monopoly and cronyism in Burma.

    Burma needs financial and technological assistance from international community so as to address the immediate needs of the people and in the process of rebuilding Burma.

    Flourishing Civil Society Organisations are one of the main concrete pillars protecting and strengthening a democratic system in the nation. Burma must work her utmost to flourish Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Community Based Organisations (CBOs) in Burma. Emergences of the new institutions are an important part of the democratisation process of Burma.

    Burmese citizens must be able to practice three fundamental democratic rights i.e. freedom of association, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. Strengthening these three main principals are the essential parts of the democratisation process of Burma. Burma must work promoting freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of expression in Burma.

    Burma must work at the same time thriving Student Unions, Labour Unions and Peasant Unions so that students, workers, peasants and farmers will have the platforms to voice their concerns, to protect their rights and to promote their welfares in Burma.

    Independent media and right to access freedom of information are the indicators which show the degree of the democratic tolerant in any nations. Burma must work to flourish freedom of media, social media and freedom of internet and information technology in Burma.

    Burma must empower every citizen with education which is the best investment for future of Burma while ensure supporting welfares of teachers, teaching carrier, teaching environment and education standard in Burma.

    Burma must educate her citizens of their rights, responsibilities and necessity of taking responsibilities in order to lay the concrete democratic foundation for future generations of Burma bearing in mind that Burma has gone through nearly half the century of successive various dictatorships and military dictatorships together with armed conflicts.

    Burma must educate our children with knowledge, technology and employable skills while ensures teaching humanitarian caring, humanity values and human development.

    Burma must build the society of tolerance. To meet that end Burma must work to prosper the culture of dialogue, research, reasoning, question mark, freedom from fear, boosting self-confident and nurturing positive attitude in Burma.

    Education starts at home and we truly believe that it is the essential part of the nation building process to educate families with parenting skills, child development and nurturing children.

    Since Buddhist monasteries and Buddhist monks are essential vital part of the Burmese society and accordingly Burma must work to promote monastery education and support the welfare of the Buddhist monks.

    Burma must work to ensure promoting religious freedom in Burma while Burma must have a commission which oversee the protection and promotion of (ethnics) minority rights i.e. maintaining heritage, religion, language, culture, food, writing, music and environment etc.

    Burma must gradually modernize defence forces while educating them with values of professionalism and humanity.

    Burma must work improving health and social care system which must be affordable and accessible to all the citizens.

    Burma must improve agricultural system and must emphasise working on the development of villages, rural and border areas.

    Urban population is expected to grow and Burma must work to embrace urbanization by expanding urban infrastructure, by creating jobs and improving bus and transportation services.

    Responsible sustainable tourism is one of the most rewarding industries which can assist economic development in Burma. Burma must promote responsible sustainable tourism and at the same time Burma must encourage citizens to travel so as to promote understanding, knowledge and friendship between different societies residing at the different places.

    Burma must gradually build industrialised economy that can generate nation’s revenues. The process of gradual economic reforms must be initiated right now. Economic growth is essential for the well being of our people. We must build the infrastructures needed to industrialize Burma.

    Energy is an essential for development. Burma must work to ensure providing sufficient electricity and gas for all the citizens of Burma.

    Burma must protect and work improving environment for our future generations. We must work to protect the waters, lakes, streams and rivers not to be polluted and not to be dried up while ensure protecting people from flooding and water erosion. Burma must anticipate controlling the quality of our air bearing in mind that the potential growth of urbanisation and industrialisation can increase air pollution.

    Burma must protect forests, biodiversity and natural resources. Burma must work to gradually end excessive irresponsible logging, cutting forests and clearing land for agriculture. Burma must increase efforts to afforestation while Burma must work to gradually ban exporting teaks, logs, raw wood, cane, bamboo and endangered forest products in Burma.

    Burma must alleviate corruption. The worst form of corruption is corruption of immigration control personnel. We must prioritise to secure our borders to deter and detect illegal immigrants’ intrusions into Burma since population affect us all.

    Burma must ensure the fiscal stability and we must set up the feasible tax, banking and monetary policy in Burma. Burma must have the strategic national planning and budget distribution commission so as to effectively plan and distribute spending and future strategic national planning.

    We also need gradual reforms in systems of government which would increase responsibility, accountability and transparency. This will be simultaneous and gradual evolutionary process and from time to time we must re-evaluate our reform process so as to have the best possible results to democratise Burma.

    Burma must be working to decentralise her administration mechanisms and people must have the right to voice their concerns on every aspect of democratisation process.

    These must be top Burma Democratisation agenda.

    http://www.bdcburma.org

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bdc-Burma/1533993512 Bdc Burma

    Burma Democratisation Strategy 2012

    Burma must work without wavering to restore democracy, human rights, and rule of law. Burma must establish the independent judiciary system so as to put a full stop on corruption, abuse of power, anyone staying above the law and anyone buying justice in Burma. We have to work our utmost to establish independent and impartial judiciary system in Burma.

    Burma must make sure to never allow manipulating laws which criminalize freedom of thought, expression, association, assembly and movement. Burma must ensure amending laws which legitimize arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, inhumane interrogation, torture, arresting without warrant, charge or trial.

    Burma must work to achieve the ever lasting peace, unity in harmony and equality in diversity in Burma. Equally important is to review the controversial 2008 constitution which gives absolute power to military commander in chief which is still major concern for people of Burma.

    Burma must prioritise alleviating poverty, unemployment, inflation, illiteracy and major diseases. At the same time, Burma must work hard to end the economics monopoly and cronyism in Burma.

    Burma needs financial and technological assistance from international community so as to address the immediate needs of the people and in the process of rebuilding Burma.

    Flourishing Civil Society Organisations are one of the main concrete pillars protecting and strengthening a democratic system in the nation. Burma must work her utmost to flourish Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) and Community Based Organisations (CBOs) in Burma. Emergences of the new institutions are an important part of the democratisation process of Burma.

    Burmese citizens must be able to practice three fundamental democratic rights i.e. freedom of association, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. Strengthening these three main principals are the essential parts of the democratisation process of Burma. Burma must work promoting freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom of expression in Burma.

    Burma must work at the same time thriving Student Unions, Labour Unions and Peasant Unions so that students, workers, peasants and farmers will have the platforms to voice their concerns, to protect their rights and to promote their welfares in Burma.

    Independent media and right to access freedom of information are the indicators which show the degree of the democratic tolerant in any nations. Burma must work to flourish freedom of media, social media and freedom of internet and information technology in Burma.

    Burma must empower every citizen with education which is the best investment for future of Burma while ensure supporting welfares of teachers, teaching carrier, teaching environment and education standard in Burma.

    Burma must educate her citizens of their rights, responsibilities and necessity of taking responsibilities in order to lay the concrete democratic foundation for future generations of Burma bearing in mind that Burma has gone through nearly half the century of successive various dictatorships and military dictatorships together with armed conflicts.

    Burma must educate our children with knowledge, technology and employable skills while ensures teaching humanitarian caring, humanity values and human development.

    Burma must build the society of tolerance. To meet that end Burma must work to prosper the culture of dialogue, research, reasoning, question mark, freedom from fear, boosting self-confident and nurturing positive attitude in Burma.

    Education starts at home and we truly believe that it is the essential part of the nation building process to educate families with parenting skills, child development and nurturing children.

    Since Buddhist monasteries and Buddhist monks are essential vital part of the Burmese society and accordingly Burma must work to promote monastery education and support the welfare of the Buddhist monks.

    Burma must work to ensure promoting religious freedom in Burma while Burma must have a commission which oversee the protection and promotion of (ethnics) minority rights i.e. maintaining heritage, religion, language, culture, food, writing, music and environment etc.

    Burma must gradually modernize defence forces while educating them with values of professionalism and humanity.

    Burma must work improving health and social care system which must be affordable and accessible to all the citizens.

    Burma must improve agricultural system and must emphasise working on the development of villages, rural and border areas.

    Urban population is expected to grow and Burma must work to embrace urbanization by expanding urban infrastructure, by creating jobs and improving bus and transportation services.

    Responsible sustainable tourism is one of the most rewarding industries which can assist economic development in Burma. Burma must promote responsible sustainable tourism and at the same time Burma must encourage citizens to travel so as to promote understanding, knowledge and friendship between different societies residing at the different places.

    Burma must gradually build industrialised economy that can generate nation’s revenues. The process of gradual economic reforms must be initiated right now. Economic growth is essential for the well being of our people. We must build the infrastructures needed to industrialize Burma.

    Energy is an essential for development. Burma must work to ensure providing sufficient electricity and gas for all the citizens of Burma.

    Burma must protect and work improving environment for our future generations. We must work to protect the waters, lakes, streams and rivers not to be polluted and not to be dried up while ensure protecting people from flooding and water erosion. Burma must anticipate controlling the quality of our air bearing in mind that the potential growth of urbanisation and industrialisation can increase air pollution.

    Burma must protect forests, biodiversity and natural resources. Burma must work to gradually end excessive irresponsible logging, cutting forests and clearing land for agriculture. Burma must increase efforts to afforestation while Burma must work to gradually ban exporting teaks, logs, raw wood, cane, bamboo and endangered forest products in Burma.

    Burma must alleviate corruption. The worst form of corruption is corruption of immigration control personnel. We must prioritise to secure our borders to deter and detect illegal immigrants’ intrusions into Burma since population affect us all.

    Burma must ensure the fiscal stability and we must set up the feasible tax, banking and monetary policy in Burma. Burma must have the strategic national planning and budget distribution commission so as to effectively plan and distribute spending and future strategic national planning.

    We also need gradual reforms in systems of government which would increase responsibility, accountability and transparency. This will be simultaneous and gradual evolutionary process and from time to time we must re-evaluate our reform process so as to have the best possible results to democratise Burma.

    Burma must be working to decentralise her administration mechanisms and people must have the right to voice their concerns on every aspect of democratisation process.

    These must be top Burma Democratisation agenda.

    http://www.bdcburma.org

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  • http://twitter.com/onthinktanks quiquemendizabal

    Now, for the sake of argument, and consistency… The EU (and the UK) is imposing conditions on Greece, Italy, Spain and more recently Hungary. No fiscal responsibility? No more aid, says the EU.

    Why should Nigeria be treated any differently? Why should my own country, Peru, be allowed to do what it pleases and keep getting aid? (Peru does not get UK aid directly, by the way.)

    I would say that no, we should not be treated any differently.

    But then again, Colombia is paying a high price by not being able to sign a FTA with the EU -and so if Peru, by the way, whose FTA is linked to that of Colombia. Preferential access has the potential to crate new opportunities for poor Colombians and in the process gain economic and political rights.

    So the answer is not clear.

    But consistency would certainly help.

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  • Stephen Corry

    “There is simply no way to enforce a one-size-fits-all mechanism that establishes minimum standards or thresholds for acceptable human rights performance.” That’s quite right, governments just pretend they believe in universal human rights and all the declarations, convenants and conventions they sign up to which crazily claim there ARE minimum standards and that some rule of law should prevail. In fact of course, “aid” is largely about business and political influence – in exactly the same way there is one law for the very rich and a very different one for the poor.

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