To Sanction or Not to Sanction? Normative Dilemmas in the Promotion of LGBTI Human Rights

32 Pages Posted: 14 Feb 2020

See all articles by Johanne Saltnes

Johanne Saltnes

ARENA Centre for European Studies

Date Written: February 12, 2020


A rights-based approach to development, a cornerstone of the European Union’s (EU) development policy, can be interpreted as an attempt to govern development assistance through impartial rules and standards. Yet, such an approach might also run into a number of difficulties when introduced to a complex, real-world context. In this working paper, I emphasise that the practice of rights-based development policies is closely bound to the process of context-specific application. Through an examination of the path through which the EU and the United States decided on their approach to an anti-gay bill introduced in Uganda in 2014, I show that human rights conditionality is not applied in an automated fashion in accordance with impartial rules and standards. Rather, the path through which US and EU executives operate is weighing normative dilemmas connected to the unwanted consequences of human rights sanctions and public shaming. While these executives ultimately chose different responses, they arrive at their decision through weighing similar dilemmas. Accordingly, the paper highlights the importance of normative dilemmas for shaping and determining foreign policy decisions and calls for more research into this under-studied phenomenon.

Keywords: conditionality, EU, global justice, LGBTI human rights, rights-based approach, sanctions, Uganda, US

Suggested Citation

Saltnes, Johanne, To Sanction or Not to Sanction? Normative Dilemmas in the Promotion of LGBTI Human Rights (February 12, 2020). GLOBUS Research Paper 2/2020, Available at SSRN: or

Johanne Saltnes (Contact Author)

ARENA Centre for European Studies ( email )

Gaustadaleen 30
Oslo, 0318

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