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Achieving Human Security through Human Rights

Updated: Jan 21

Written by: Karina Matvienko


2019 celebrates 25 years of the idea of human security as of an overarching and pervasive concept which appeared in our lexicon and was integrated into policy and decision-making process nationally and internationally. Human security approach allows policymakers and politicians look at the challenges of the 21st century from a different angle. The era of the Cold War and border security has gone, and the focus has shifted from the territory protection to a more modern idea of a human being in the centre of everything. There are two major components of human security: freedom from fear and freedom from want. They derive from a changed nature of the security concept which ever since the establishment of the Westphalian system of international order in 1648 was the protection of sovereignty over a given territory. More and more states place the security of individuals in the forefront of their policies. People are not preoccupied with the external threats anymore. A threat of disease, unemployment, hunger, crime, political repression and environmental hazards have become the main destructive forces of one’s life.


These challenges are closely connected with respect for human rights. Lack of respect for human rights in society leads to the lack of human security which in its turn results in violence and intolerance. According to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program (UDCP) the trend is that the number of internal conflicts has been on the rise since the end of the Cold War. If we dig deeper into the nature of these conflicts, they all stem from the lack of respect of human rights. Upheavals in the Middle East and Northern Africa known as the Arab Spring had their root causes mainly in the lack of freedom, human rights and democracy.Economic discontent of the population made them violent and forced to take a stand. Other internationalized interstate conflicts reveal the same pattern of people’s insecurity be it disrespect of fundamental rights, rights of a life in dignity, oppression of the minority groups etc. These events also show the world that people strive for freedom and respect and the best way to prevent potential conflicts is to secure their decent quality of life.

The United Nations System has significantly contributed to the conflict prevention mechanism through human security. Sustainable Development Goals together with Millennium Development Goals echo human security in each and every goal. If we look at the initial principles of human security in the UN Human Development Report 1994, we will also find all of them in the SDGs and MDGs plans. These are: economic security, food security, environmental security, personal security, community security and political security.


Another compelling example would be the United Nations’ Responsibility to Protect (R2P). For most people R2P is an excuse to intervene in the domestic affairs of a sovereign country which the UN Charter prohibits (Article 2.4). However, it is important to know that R2P consists not only of the intervention of the blue berets (responsibility to react), but also of two more principles: responsibility to prevent and responsibility to rebuild. A lot of conflicts could have been prevented if the conflict-prone nations would have expressed their wish for international assistance. As of today, there is just one but a very convincing case of this principle, in Kenya. Kenya faced a post-electoral crisis in 2007 when the constituents believed in rumors of election-rigging. Ex Secretary-General Kofi Annan managed to mediate the conflict by negotiating a power-sharing agreement between the two candidates which de-escalated the situation and prevented a potential exacerbation by granting people a more legitimate government.


Why is it important to pay more attention to the security of people in the societies and what message do these examples convey? The very last type of security the UN Report 1994 mentions is international security. Due to the internationalized nature of modern conflicts what happens in one country affects others. As one of the speakers during Geneva Peace Week 2019 put it: “Building peace does not start at the UN Offices in Geneva or New York, it starts at the local level with the city, district, administrations, people and NGOs”. Simply put, to ensure well-being and dignity of a person is to protect the world peace.


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