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Can Commitments to Withhold Aid Improve Human Rights?: Donor Credibility and Recipient Restraint

Many western donors have made commitments to consider human rights performance in their aid allocation decisions.  Ostensibly, these commitments should translate to pressures on potential aid recipient countries to improve their respect for human rights, but their efficacy in doing so is not yet well-understood.   In this article, I focus on recipients' strategies and incentives in order to develop a theory of whether and how donors' commitments can function to deter repression.  Using formal theory, I demonstrate that we should expect recipients to improve their human rights performance when the recipient is reliant on foreign aid, when donor commitments to withdraw aid are credible, when the recipient's outside options are not too attractive, and when the costs to leadership survival of forgoing repression are not too high.  Empirically, I model these relationships using a panel of 153 recipient countries and 23 donor countries from 1981-2011.  I find evidence that aid moderates the relationship between repression and dissent after controlling for factors that undermine the credibility of donors' commitments to withhold aid.  Donor credibility yields recipient restraint.  These results have implications for understanding aid effectiveness, the politics of influence, and the promises and limitations of international development policy in achieving diverse goals.

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