Incentivizing Progress

Providing benefits to governments that improve their records on human rights. 

When To Do This

Governments that receive U.S. assistance, or potentially could receive U.S. assistance, may be more likely to respect human rights if good performance leads to more aid or better relationships.

How To Do This

Establish eligibility criteria for government-to-government assistance, develop rating and ranking systems, create procedures for restoring aid that is cut off, set aside funding to be available once conditions are met.

What You Should Know Before Proceeding

  • U.S. assistance is rarely large or important enough to coerce a government that does not respect human rights to change its behavior.
  • It can be difficult to define conditions that are achievable but ambitious. Usually the administration requests waiver authority, which undermines the purpose of the conditions.
  • Inflexible bars and hurdles, such as the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s “Control of Corruption” indicator, can be somewhat arbitrary and subjective. There may be no significant difference between a country that barely passes and one that barely fails the test.
  • Even if funding is authorized for good behavior, there is no guarantee that money will be appropriated, which reduces the inducement for improved performance.

Good Practices

  • Be clear and reasonable about the behaviors you are seeking to elicit (or weed out). Having too many or too strict conditions will reduce the incentive effect.
  • Know how important the U.S. relationship is to the foreign country, and how much assistance the United States is providing in comparison to other donors and as a percentage of the country’s GDP, in order to determine whether financial incentives are likely to be effective.
  • Use a common standard for all countries – and make it one that the United States would meet, if it applied domestically.
  • Creating lists, ratings and rankings of country performance is something that the State Department is especially loathe to do because of the diplomatic repercussions. However, it has been repeatedly shown to be a very effective method for incentivizing increased attention by U.S. diplomats and improved conduct by foreign countries.



Establishing Eligibility Criteria

  1. For an MCC Compact. Section 607(b) of the Millennium Challenge Act of 2003 (Title VI of PL 108-199) requires eligible countries to demonstrate a commitment to “just and democratic governance”, including to “promote political pluralism, equality, and the rule of law” and “respect human and civil rights”. Each year the MCC issues a report on the criteria and methodology for determining the eligibility of candidate countries for assistance.
  2. For Debt Relief. To be eligible for benefits under the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative (Sec. 703 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, PL 87-195), a government must be democratically elected and its security forces must not engage in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.


Creating Lists, Ratings, and Ranking Systems

  1. Tier Rankings for Trafficking in Persons. Section 110 of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (PL 106-386) requires an annual report that divides countries into three categories: those whose governments comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking (Tier I); those whose governments do not yet fully comply with such standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance (Tier II); and those whose governments do not fully comply with such standards and are not making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance (Tier III). (These tier rankings were initially based on the rankings for counternarcotics cooperation under Sec. 490 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961.) Within Tier II, there is also a “Special Watch List” of countries where the absolute number of victims is very significant or significantly increasing, there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking, or the determination of “significant efforts” was based on commitments to take additional future steps. The William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 (PL 110-457) limits inclusion of countries on the Special Watch List to two consecutive years before they are moved into Tier III (with certain exceptions).
  2. Designation of “Countries of Particular Concern”. Under Section 402 of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (PL 105-292), each year the President must designate a list of countries whose governments have engaged in or tolerated particularly severe violations of religious freedom over the prior year. This list is published on the USCIRF website.
  3. List of Countries Recruiting and Using Child Soldiers. The Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 (Title IV of PL 110-457), requires the State Department to publish in the annual Trafficking in Persons Report a list of foreign governments whose armed forces recruited and used child soldiers in the preceding year. The list is available on the State Department’s website. After Chad was included on the list in 2010 and 2011, its government signed an agreement with the United Nations to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers.
  4. Congressional Awards. Each year from 1975-1987, Sen.William Proxmire issued an award to U.S. public officials for wasting taxpayer money, known as the “Golden Fleece Award”. Similarly, Sen.Jeff Flake has been issuing an annual “Wastebook” of reckless government spending. These types of lists could be adapted for annual rankings such as “Top 10 Most Corrupt Governments”, “Most Repressive U.S. Allies”, or “Worst Cases of Labor Trafficking”.


 Defining the Process for Restoring Assistance

  1. Taking Effective Steps. The Leahy Law (actually two laws, 22 U.S.C. 2378d and 10 U.S.C. 2249e) ceases to apply if the government of the relevant country is “taking effective steps to bring the responsible members of the security forces unit to justice” (22 U.S.C. 2378d) or “has taken all necessary corrective steps” (10 U.S.C. 2249e). Subsection (c) of the Title 22 version requires the State Department to inform governments of the basis for the aid cutoff, and to assist them in bringing the perpetrators to justice. In August 2016, the State and Defense Departments issued a “Joint Policy on Remediation and the Resumption of Assistance” that has been restricted under the Leahy Laws.
  2. Change of Government. The so-called “coup clause” – most recently Section 7008 of PL 114-113 – allows the resumption of assistance after a coup d’état once a democratically elected government has taken office.


Rewarding Good Performance

  1. Rewarding Successful Transitions. The Support for East European Democracy (SEED) Act of 1989 (PL 101-179) and the Freedom for Russia and Emerging Eurasian Democracies and Open Markets (FREEDOM) Support Act of 1992 (PL 102-511) provided bilateral aid, business centers, technical training, joint research and development programs, and other forms of cooperation to countries making the transition to democracy. The East Timor Transition to Independence Act of 2001 ( 375/H.R. 675, 107th) would have provided a full package of aid, trade, and investment benefits, scholarships and diplomatic facilities. Although the legislation never passed, many of the programs were established administratively and through appropriations.
  2. Peace and Reconstruction Fund. Section 203(b) of the International Security and Development Cooperation Act of 1985 (PL 99-83) expressed the sense of Congress that $250 million in assistance should be provided to Cyprus if a peace agreement is concluded. However, more than 30 years later, the bonus goes unclaimed.