The Review of International Organizations

, Volume 13, Issue 3, pp 335–357 | Cite as

Can human rights conditionality reduce repression? Examining the European Union’s economic agreements

  • Daniela DonnoEmail author
  • Michael Neureiter


The insertion of human rights commitments into international economic agreements is now a widespread practice. We argue that the effect of such commitments depends on the degree of leverage held by one partner over the other. In a comprehensive analysis of the European Union’s (EU’s) relations with developing countries, we find that human rights clauses are conditionally effective; they are associated with improved political freedom and physical integrity rights only in countries that are more heavily dependent on EU aid. An in-depth look at the EU’s enforcement of its human rights clause in the African-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) group reveals that the Union most often responds to violations of political rights—particularly coups and flawed elections—and that enforcement is indeed a more powerful catalyst for change in highly aid-dependent states. Alternative explanations—that the impact of the human rights clause depends on legalization, the country’s strategic importance, NGO activity, or domestic institutions—find little support.


Human rights European Union Foreign aid International law 

Supplementary material

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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

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