Foreign aid donors, domestic actors, and human rights violations: the politics and diplomacy of opposing Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Act

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How should aid donors respond to human rights violations in ‘recipient’ countries? Much of the literature on this topic focuses on whether donors use aid conditionality rather than the effectiveness of different donor responses in preventing rights abuses. This article argues that to better understand the effectiveness of conditionality, and donor responses to rights violations more generally, it is necessary to consider the role of domestic actors and processes in recipient and donor countries. Drawing on the concept of ‘two-level games’, it develops a framework for donor responses to rights abuses that incorporates international- and domestic-level processes. This article examines these dynamics with a case study of donor responses to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill/Act in Uganda between 2009 and 2014. The analysis shows how different donor responses impacted the struggle against the repressive legislation—positively and negatively—through their effects on domestic actors. More broadly, the article shows that engaging with domestic actors and processes can shed light on how aid donors can most effectively respond to human rights violations in different political contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)657-684
JournalJournal of International Relations and Development
Issue number3
Early online date28 Feb 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
For their invaluable help, advice, and feedback, I would like to thank John Boswell, Stephen Brown, Jasmine Burnley, Jack Corbett, Nic Cheeseman, Sofia Collignon, Susan Dodsworth, Lior Erez, Jonathan Fisher, Gillian Fletcher, David Hudson, Sam Gibson, Nicolas Lemay-Hebert, Claire Manibog, Heather Marquette, Claire Mcloughlin, Neil Mitchell, Frank Mugisha, Jasmine O’Connor, Simon Osborn, Martin Ottmann, Brian Pellot, SM Rodriguez, Emily St Denny, James Weinberg, and the reviewers and editors of the Journal of International Relations and Development. I would especially like to thank all of those that agreed to be interviewed for this study for so generously sharing their time and experiences. This work was supported by the Economic Social Research Council [ESRC IAA 2014-UEF].


  • Aid donors
  • Foreign aid, human rights
  • LGBT rights
  • Political conditionality
  • Two-level games

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations


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