When people first consider the relation between development and human rights, most spontaneously begin by thinking about conditionality. They argue that donors should threaten to cut off development assistance—and execute that threat—to recipients that consistently violate human rights. How can donors develop policies that employ their aid resources to put pressure on human-rights-violating recipient countries and make them mend their evil ways? At what point should countries be threatened with the withdrawal of aid in order to oblige them to respect human rights? It is in these terms that ordinary people—including human rights groups—usually approach the problem; the same holds for most scholars. During my last five years of work in Rwanda, for example, the need for political conditionality (with many diplomats and aid experts opposing it and others seeking much more of it) has constituted the key issue in any discussion about the relation between human rights and development there. Note that this debate, in Rwanda as everywhere else, is in practice exclusively concerned with CP rights, and most particularly those rights related to democracy. Only under the rarest circumstances—the fate of the Ogoni people in the oil-producing regions of Nigeria comes to mind—has political conditionality been discussed for ESC right violations.
There are understandable reasons for the popularity of political conditionality. First, donors have a longstanding de facto policy of providing development aid to regimes regardless of their human rights practices. According to some data, until recently countries that were heavy human rights abusers received significantly more aid than others.1 As a result, people opposed to human rights abuses have historically and politically couched the debate in terms of ending aid to dictators or using aid to force dictators to change their behavior. Second, most people, including scholars, spontaneously assume that aid is a powerful lever for policy change.