Conditionality in U.S. Foreign Assistance

The Council for Global Equality - Conditionality in U.S. Foreign AssistanceLGBT hate crimes and other abuses are a clear concern in a number of countries.  Our developmental assistance policy-makers inevitably will confront the question of whether – and if so, how – foreign assistance might appropriately be conditioned in response to these and other LGBT human rights policy concerns.  The human rights and developmental assistance communities are divided internally on that point; we will not resolve those divisions today.

It seems to us that all foreign policy decisions, including with respect to foreign assistance, ultimately must reflect our own country’s principles and values – and these include the manner in which a country’s citizens are treated fairly, with equal rights, obligations, and opportunities.  It also seems to us that, except, perhaps, in emergency response, the decisions we take must encourage the kind of global community that shares our principles and values:  otherwise, those individual decisions have little import or reason.

With that in mind, the question of whether foreign aid should be conditioned on a country’s acceptance of LGBT fairness principles logically might come into play at any of three decision points.One is the initial decision on whether to offer foreign assistance to any particular country.  Some would argue that an asterisk is needed here, one that would allow humanitarian assistance (food, shelter, and medicine in emergency conditions, even to countries run by odious regimes) to be given – or indeed that would permit assistance to highly impoverished countries whose citizens otherwise would have no hope.  To be clear, we do not believe that foreign assistance as a whole should be hinged on any single issue, but rather that LGBT issues be included in existing mechanisms that review a country’s human rights and governance record as part of assistance determination.  We would note, however, that where LGBT rights are at stake, other anti-democratic trends generally are apparent as well.  In those circumstances, it would seem fair to ask, BEFORE a bilateral agreement is negotiated, whether USG values and interests are fairly respected by giving assistance to a regime that does not respect the rights of its own people.  It also would seem only fair that human rights concerns be interjected regularly into our bilateral dialogue throughout the course of any ensuing bilateral assistance agreement.

In many ways, we are attracted to the funding model used by the U.S. Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which requires aid recipients to meet a range of good governance and other indicators before qualifying for assistance.  No such evaluation is perfect, of course.  But even from a narrow technocratic angle, there’s clear merit in doing “due diligence” as to whether the principles and behaviors of any partner government are such as to allow U.S. assistance dollars to carry maximum impact – and, as noted in yesterday’s blog, how governments treat their own minority citizen groups can be deemed a fair indicator on that front.  USAID operates in many countries that do not benefit even from MCC’s threshold assistance programs; it may have reason to put USG assistance programs to productive work for marginalized communities in those countries, including when doing so helps build capacity and impact among local NGOs.

A second decision point on the conditioning of foreign assistance over LGBT concerns might come when a specific assistance program is opened up to a specific country.  As a case in point, should a finite pool of resources to combat HIV/AIDS be given to countries that refuse to treat men who have sex with men?  Many advocates argue, frankly on sound health policy grounds, that if USG funding is given in direct support of foreign health ministries or government health budgets, the funding must be contingent on ensuring that MSM communities and other at-risk populations are truly included in those government health programs.  We concur with that view.  We further believe that the receiving government should have an obligation to address homophobic climates that may prevent a gay man from seeking or receiving needed medical treatment.  Without such a commitment on the part of a foreign partner, the question becomes one of whether our limited health assistance funding might carry greater impact in other countries.

Finally, a third decision point might arrive if and when a deteriorating human rights situation negatively impacts a country’s LGBT community.  Would USG assistance, in those conditions, be seen as tacit approval of a country’s actions?  Might that assistance prop up a foreign government that is losing favor among its own people?

The argument for conditionality in these circumstances clearly seems strengthened to the degree that conditions have been built into our bilateral agreement from the beginning.  Here again, we are attracted to the MCC’s funding model, which allows, even requires, concerns over a government’s behavior to be raised throughout the duration of the assistance program, and which could result in at least a temporary suspension of some programs in order to allow a focused dialogue on our concerns to proceed.  It seems only logical that, if human rights and democratic governance indicators show a downward slide, we should review how that deterioration might negatively impact the manner in which our funding programs are carried out.  We also think it only right that the question of whether our aid is consonant with U.S. principles and values should be addressed.

Tangentially, we note USAID’s recent adoption of hortatory language that encourages implementing partner organizations to be respectful of sexual orientation and gender identity, and inclusive of those communities in the implementation of USAID programs.  This, too, relates directly to the importance of ensuring that USG assistance programs are fully reflective of U.S. principles and values.  We believe this language should be mandatory rather than hortatory, and that it should be incorporated into the policies of all USG assistance agencies.  Implementing partners should, in other words, be required to take no action that would undercut the principles of equality and inclusiveness that underlie USG policy and, therefore, programmatic assistance.  Our missions should monitor whether that commitment is being observed in practice.  And contracts should not be renewed with any implementing partner that fails to respect these principles in the delivery of USG assistance.

As these questions arise, we trust that USG developmental assistance agencies will establish a practice of seeking the views of the NGO community, both in the U.S. and in the individual countries where our programs operate.  The latter, of course, are most immediately impacted by our assistance decisions, and the consequences for them are, in either case, the point of the discussion.

Tomorrow:  Scope of Interagency Influence and Authority

Related: Working Toward Policy Coherence

Related: Opening up U.S. assistance programs to LGBT populations

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