European Aid: Human Rights Versus Bureaucratic Inertia?

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Original Publication Date

July 1, 2007


Sabine C. Carey


Journal of Peace Research


Most studies on foreign aid and human rights have ignored the role of bureaucratic inertia in the allocation process. By not controlling for which developing countries have received aid in the past and how much aid they have received, continuity of aid flows remains unaccounted for. Additionally, previous studies have not allowed for a possible non-linear relationship between human rights and aid. This study investigates aid commitments from the European Commission, Germany, France, and the UK, paying attention to non-linear effects of human rights on aid commitments and the role of bureaucratic inertia. Using data from 1978 to 2003, the study investigates how past aid commitments, the level of human rights violations, and substantial changes in the respect for human rights influence the decision of European donors on whom to give aid to, how to choose a new recipient country that did not receive aid previously, and how much aid to give to countries that made it past the gatekeeping stage. Controlling for various donor interests and recipient needs, the results show that, despite donors' emphasis on human rights in official documents, the human rights situation in developing countries does not consistently shape European aid commitments. Only Germany commits less aid to more repressive countries. However, recent substantial improvements of the human rights records are rewarded by both Germany and France when deciding whom to give aid to. Bureaucratic inertia seems to be a major obstacle to the consistent implementation of human rights consideration in European aid allocation.