Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh, Director, Program for Peace and Human Security, CERI/ Sciences Po, Paris, France
"Human Security is not a concern with weapons - it is a concern with human life and dignity." UNDP 1994 HDR
What is Human Security?
Much in the same way that Amartya Sen introduced ethics into economics, Mahbub ul Haq and his team, in the 1994 Human Development Report (HDR), posited that "security", until then associated with the prerogative of states in realist international relations and political science theories, should be seen from the point of view of people. The best way to achieve security (both at the global, national and societal levels) is to increase that of people.
In the 1994 HDR, Human Security was broadly defined as "freedom from fear and freedom from want" and characterized as "safety from chronic threats such as hunger, disease, and repression as well as protection from sudden and harmful disruptions in the patterns of daily life - whether in homes, in jobs or in communities" (UNDP, 1994). The Report outlined the four basic characteristics of Human Security as being universal, interdependent in its components, people-centered, and best ensured through prevention.
Since then, a healthy debate has been raging both in academia and in policy circles around definitions of Human Security. Some focus on a narrow definition of "freedom from fear" that concentrates on physical violence and threats, while add to the "fear" debate "freedom from want" and "freedom to live in dignity". For example, the Commission on Human Security proposed the most expansive and maximalist definition of Human Security around "vital core of all human lives" in its Human Security Now report of 2003.
Interest in Human Security has been pursued in at least two different fields:
Human Security and Human Development however have traveled different paths:
What is the relationship between Human Development and Human Security?
If Human Development is about people and expanding their choices to lead lives they value, Human Security recognizes the conditions that menace survival, the continuation of daily life and the dignity of human beings. It refers to the guarantor of the continuation of Human Development, its prerequisite, as well as a prioritization of its most urgent variables.
What are the sources of human insecurity?
The 1994 UNDP Report distinguished between two sets of threats: First it identified more localized threats, which were particular to different societies or regions of the world. The Report listed seven "components" or seven specific values of Human Security that needed to be protected: Economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political security. Second, the HDR identified threats that were global in nature because they could rapidly spill beyond national frontiers. These included all sorts of trans-national threats.
The Commission on Human Security (2003) on the other hand, preferred not to make a list of threats, leaving them to the specificity of the context. This approach is both intellectually, policy-wise, and ethically preferably, since it is not possible to deduce that the threats to Human Security are the same for people everywhere.
How do we measure Human Security?
Unlike the Human Development Index which chose the most basic, universal and quantifiable variables within the Human Development approach to create a universal index; measurements of Human Security so far have come against considerable difficulties. This challenge is related to four inter-related areas:
These challenges do not mean that measuring Human Security is a futile exercise. On the contrary. To become a malleable concept, especially for policy makers, there must be a way to recognize it and measure it. If the construction of a Human Security Index may be a futile and utopian, and perhaps even faulty, exercise, measuring human insecurities/security through different indicators should be attempted, bearing in mind that these need to be context-specific and include both qualitative and quantitative indicators.
What are the implications for policy and programming?
Human Security, ultimately, is a redefinition of traditional understandings of security and development to a positive state of being and feeling "secure" for everyone in their every day lives. It requires policies that protect, empower and provide personal safety, well-being and individual freedom. These policies should be based around the following principles:
Some general sources:
1. Alkire, Sabine. "A Conceptual Framework for Human Security", CRISE Working Paper No. 2, Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford, 2003
2. Commission on Human Security, Human Security Now: Final Report, New York, 2003.
3. Sen, Amartya. "Why Human Security?", presentation at the International Symposium on Human Security, Tokyo (July 2000)
4. Tadjbakhsh, Shahrbanou, "Human Security: Concepts and Implications", Etudes du CERI, No.117-118, Paris, CERI, September 2005
5. UNDP, "Human Development Report 1994 - New Dimensions of Human Security", New York, Oxford University Press, 1994.
6. See the UNESCO series of regional publications on Human Security in different parts of the world
Portals on Human Security:
7. Academic & practical work in the field of peace studies and Human Security, and available training in Human Security
8. Digital Library on Human Security prepared by the United Nations Trust Fund on Human Security, OCHA
9. Human Security Gateway
Selective NHDRs on Human Security:
1. Afghanistan 2004 NHDR
2. Latvia 2003 NHDR
3. Philippine 2005 NHDR
Note: HD Insights are network members' contributions and do not necessarily represent the views of UNDP.
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