Human Security: The what and the why

Human security is concerned with safeguarding and expanding people's vital freedoms. It requires both protecting people from critical and pervasive threats and empowering people to take charge of their own lives. Protection refers to the norms, policies and institutions essential to shield people and implies a 'top-down approach', such as the rule of law and democratic governance. Empowerment underscores the role of people as actors and participants and implies a 'bottom-up' approach.

Human security does not seek to supplant state security, but rather to complement it. States have the fundamental responsibility of providing security. Yet they often fail to fulfil their obligations - many times they are even the source of the threat to people. As the multitude of violent conflicts and extreme poverty demonstrates, states cannot be secure if people's security is at stake. But neither can people be secure in the absence of strong, democratic and responsible states, as the multitude of collapsed states in the world illustrates. These are the challenges in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine today.

Human security also underscores the close linkages between gross human rights violations and national and international insecurities. The Rwandan genocide represents one of the worst human security failures, and the consequences still reverberate through the Great Lakes region of Africa nearly ten years later. Therefore, realizing human rights lies at the core of protecting and empowering people.

Human security also adds an important dimension to development thinking. As Amartya Sen argues 'development can be seen as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy'. By focusing on downside risks, human security emphasizes that people must be protected when facing sudden and profound reversals in economic and social life. In addition to 'growth with equity', human security is equally concerned with 'downturns with security'. In the absence of safety nets, people face critical and pervasive insecurities in sudden downturns which, in turn, may be exacerbated, increasing conflict and violence, as recent examples in Asia and Latin America illustrate.

If security is to be protected, conflict prevented, human rights respected and poverty eradicated, we require urgently a new consensus on security. This is a shared responsibility. Human security provides an impetus for all countries, whether developed or developing, to review existing security, economic, development and social policies. Creating genuine opportunities for people's safety, livelihood and dignity should be the overall objective of these policies.

Equally important is to overcome the existing compartmentalization of policies and programmes along institutional divisions of work - along security, development and assistance lines. This requires a fundamental rethinking of current institutional arrangements and policies. Integration rather than separation should be the catch phrase.

At a time when the exercise of hard military power seems to leave little scope for soft power, of promoting democratic principles or respecting freedom and human rights, this call for a new security consensus may appear ill timed. But hard power alone does not win the minds and confidence of people. Not only does our security understanding need to respond to changing threats, but also to the emerging configuration of joint efforts by civil society groups and community leaders. States no longer hold the monopoly over security issues. People themselves are expected to shoulder increasing responsibilities in determining their own interests, aspirations and security.

Source: Human Security Now, Commission on Human Security

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