The donor's dilemma: international aid and human rights violations

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations



Donor governments face a dilemma when providing development aid to states that violate human rights. While aid may contribute to positive development outcomes, it may also contribute to rights violations committed by these regimes. This article provides a conceptual framework for donors to address this dilemma in a normatively justified way. Drawing on recent methodological advancements in normative political theory, we develop a distinctively political framework of dilemmas, suggesting three models: complicity, double effect and dirty hands. We consider this framework in the context of development aid, discussing the relevant considerations for donors in different cases. We demonstrate that an approach to development assistance that acknowledges political realities does not have to be normatively silent.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1431-1452
Number of pages22
JournalBritish Journal of Political Science
Issue number4
Early online date29 Sep 2017
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2019


  • international development, political dilemmas, political theory, Human Rights, Aid, donors, authoritarianism