Coercive and catalytic strategies for promoting human rights : state violence and the composition of foreign aid

Date

2023-04-17

Authors

Corwin, Hillary Genevieve

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Abstract

There is tremendous variation in whether and how donors respond to severe human rights violations using foreign aid. Donors that respond choose between two strategic options: coercion, which uses aid and the threat of withdrawal as material leverage to influence recipient leaders' behaviors, and catalysis, which uses aid for developing political systems in the recipient country to limit state violence from within.

Once a donor decides to respond, what determines its strategic choices? I argue that three factors help to answer this question: (1) how exposed the donor's interests are to problems stemming from human rights violations, (2) how costly each strategy would be to the donor, and (3) whether the recipient is willing to pay the costs of pursuing outside options to obtain development finance.

I use Tobit models to estimate how donor interests moderate the relationship between state violence and aid to economic and governance sectors from all OECD donors to all eligible recipients from 2003-2018. I find that donors typically prioritize catalytic strategies during this time period, but substitute coercive strategies when political liberalization would be difficult to achieve or undesirable from the donor's perspective.

To estimate how donors respond to recipients' outside options for development finance, I use doubly robust difference-in-differences estimator with multiple treatments to investigate how recipients signing Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) agreements with China affect donors' strategy. I find that when recipients signal that they are willing and able to bypass OECD donors' coercive punishments, these donors further increase their reliance on catalytic strategies for promoting human rights.

This has implications for understanding the relationship between human rights and foreign aid. Donors do not consistently rely on political conditionalities as leverage over leaders' policy decisions and typically attempt to strengthen and liberalize the domestic political environment for human rights in recipient states. When this is too costly for donors, they rely on coercive strategies. However, coercive strategy is under threat. Developing countries have access to a wider range of funding sources than in past decades, allowing them to access development finance without political conditionalities. Donors respond to these outside options by increasing their reliance on catalytic strategy, suggesting that donors are pursuing political liberalization in increasingly difficult environments.

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