Should Foreign Aid Be Tied to Human Rights Milestones?
Lisa Navarrette, MS
The United States provides more international foreign aid than any other country in the world. In 2021, at least forty-one billion dollars of aid were distributed to foreign countries. The purpose of foreign aid is not always with the intent of securing human rights; in fact, countries that are strategic military and diplomatic partners may receive aid as well. Others are given aid as a way to promote democracy and push back encroaching countries. While the sole purpose of foreign aid is not always with the intent of securing human rights, our government intends for American dollars to be used to advance human rights. The question remains of how the U.S. can ensure that countries receiving aid are improving their human rights conditions. Svensson, a foreign aid researcher, says, “Make them work for it!”
According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, several countries that received aid in 2021 had committed human rights infractions. The USAID’s Justice, Rights, and Security Team monitors the human rights situations of countries receiving aid and tailors aid to meet program goals. Many of these goals are lofty and never achieved, yet aid continues because Congressional budgets often dictate how much money is allotted per country. Irrespective of performance, the dollars keep rolling into countries with known human rights violations. Because of this policy of predetermined allocation, resources are often underutilized. The World Bank stated that if current aid funding levels were committed solely to countries with good human rights policies, it would lift eighty million people out of poverty.
Research has shown that aid and growth do not occur simultaneously but rather that growth occurs under specific conditions. Those countries with good leadership, infrastructure, opportunity, and channels to distribute aid are best situated to receive and utilize foreign aid. Historical case studies of Indonesia, El Salvador, and South Korea illustrate how aid can either uphold human freedoms or propagate human rights abuses.
Adding a competitive element between a group of proposed recipient countries would ensure the expansion of human rights. This would require foreign governments to develop and present their own “human rights plan” and determine whether aid would assist in reaching those goals. Instead of Congress allotting a certain amount per country, countries would be given amounts based on plan specifications. Once countries reached their human rights milestones, more aid would be distributed. In countries where the milestones were not met, support would stop or be postponed until those milestones were met.
What is the feasibility for a country needing aid to create such a plan? Participation would require that each country develop its own plan. Problems may arise as countries needing assistance may not have the human capital, skill, and infrastructure available to create such a plan. If they can produce a plan, do they have the leadership and resources available to implement it? Often countries in need of aid suffer from poor leadership and infrastructure, corruption, health and food insecurities, and several other crises, which makes planning for the future complex.
One hurdle for the U.S. is the feasibility of evaluating such plans. The U.S. will require more human and financial capital to evaluate proposed plans for aid designation, create change proposals, evaluate milestones, and monitor results. Monetary resources needed for program management will add to the cost of providing aid.
So, what is the U.S. to do? Should the federal government cut off aid entirely to countries with human rights violations? There are serious consequences to be considered in countries where aid is not distributed: malnourishment, disease, loss of education, poor infrastructure, terrorism, civil unrest, and opportunities for dictatorships and foreign take-overs. Cutting off all aid will result in the loss of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—some of the key pillars of human rights. However, if no milestones are met, foreign aid may be funding evil regimes known to exacerbate human rights issues.
What the U.S. can do is appropriate funding for a U.S.-based organization or agency to develop plan requirements. The objective would be to assist countries in developing plans specific to their country and current situation. The plan would identify the problem, barriers, solutions, and infrastructure needed to accomplish the goals for each nation. The goals would include physical, human, supply chains, plan oversight, accountability, and in-country evaluation.
The extent of the assistance will require Congressional approval. The dollar amount allotted to such agencies or organizations to assist foreign nations in developing human rights aid plans will be determined by Congress. In this way, the U.S. can ensure that every dollar of foreign aid is genuinely used to further human rights and not exacerbate human rights violations.
Lisa Navarrette has studied at both Roosevelt and Harvard Universities and is currently pursuing her Doctorate in Law & Policy at Liberty University. She writes for several human rights organizations and hopes her writing will have an impact in securing justice and human rights for all people.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of International Christian Concern or any of its affiliates.