Human Security – To Whom it May Concern


An undated handout photo of Palestinian refugees waiting for food aid in the Yarmouk camp on the outskirts of Damascus.

A handout photo of Palestinian refugees waiting for food aid in the Yarmouk camp on the outskirts of Damascus, Syria, Jan. 31, 2014. A United Nations agency official visiting the camp this week said he was shaken by the deprivation there. (United Nations Relief And Works Agency via The New York Times)

Human Security – To Whom it May Concern


This article is a rather unorthodox approach to the Human Security concept and its seven dimensions. It intends to disclose its definition but above of all, to clarify the readers and the author the scope of this concept. Who is covered by this “Human Security”? What are its limitations? If in a crisis, is its concept redefined? That’s what we aim to find out.

What is human security?

Human Security refers to the threats posed to the lives and freedom of individuals and communities and the ability to deal with them, quoting the author Kanti Bajpai[1] “security = threats – capacities”. This concept was stated in 1994, in the UN Human Development Report. But it arose years before that, by the threats of the Cold War, the novelty of globalization and furthermore the threats of the “new wars”. All of these different conjunctures made the concept evolve, like it should. It started off as a paradigm focused on state and military primacy. With time, and new schools of thoughts, the man itself became the center of the equation.

Marxism, peace studies and liberal schools believed that “Human Security” should be about understanding and preventing the several dimensions that might oppose as a threat to individuals’ safety. It is no longer a matter of eliminating potential life-threatening variables, but of guaranteeing that all Human beings have a dignified life, a life worth living.

Since the concept emerged, until the present day, we see that it has developed to a wider perspective, going from security to human security. From a semantical point of view, it might seem the concept is narrowing its field, but it is, in fact, doing the opposite. The concept is expanding with time in every direction: downwards, from nation to individual; upwards, from nation to the biosphere; and horizontally through political responsibility.

The proposal of Human Security is now divided into seven categories: Economic security; Health security; Food Security, Environmental security; Personal security; Community security; and Political security. If any of these categories is lacking or under any kind of threat, the “Human Security” of a given person or community is at stake. With this being said, the reader at this point could be asking: this concept is quite similar to Human Rights? Well, yes.

The first Declaration of Human Rights was written in 1948, after World War Two, at the United Nations Organization, by several big names across the globe, like Eleanor Roosevelt. This document clearly states all human rights, as a way to promote peace and strength of the man as an individual, but it has no legal binding[2]. Despite it not being a legal document, it served as the basis to more than one legal treaty in the UN and this author strongly recommends that you read it. Article 3: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”, is the only one that mentions “Security” directly, but the remaining twenty-nine articles do so, inherently. So if we were to compare the two concepts, we could say that Human Security is the absence and/or violation of the Human Rights.

We can agree that they are both centered on human beings, dignity, and universality and are, in a way, very co-dependent.  So the main difference between the two would be that “Human Security” lacks a protection and jurisdiction system, as opposed to Human Rights.   Why “Human Security”? Why the emerging of this concept? Why the emphasis on the Security?

Quoting Joseph Nye, Security is like oxygen, you don’t notice it till it’s gone. With the new wars and globalization, there was a perceived increase of threats and with it, the awareness of the need to create a set of norms, a literary Umbrella, where the focus was on safety and security, and gradually on the man itself.     Some writers believe that this concept was created mainly to guarantee a bigger number of supporters due to the strength of its naming. This writer believes we need all the help we can get.  So, we have two concepts that clearly state how human beings should be treated. These concepts also clarify who these “Human beings” are (both concepts are non-discriminatory). What enforces it? If anything doesn’t go according to plan, what happens then?

Responsibility to Protect, hereinafter referred as R2P and ICC, International Criminal Court. The norm R2P and the ICC are the existing tools that enforce human security or, in the case of the ICC, bring to justice cases where human rights and human security have been violated. Human Security is directly linked to R2P, rooted in the same principle “…Sovereignty no longer exclusively protects States from foreign interference; it is a charge of responsibility where States are accountable for the welfare of their people…”.[3] When there is a massive break in human security and human rights, “We”, the international community, have the Responsibility to Protect. This brings me to my next question:

Responsibility to Protect who?

06th of April, 2016. I’m writing this article at my kitchen table, in my lovely quiet town, Porto. I have my health covered, a stable job, I just had a nice dinner, a walk in the green park close to home and I am very happy with the job the city Mayor has been doing for this town. None of the Human Security categories are being threatened. I feel safe. I can say with fair certainty[4] that this feeling is extendible to the majority of the population of my city. Yes, our unemployment rate is high (18,2 % in Porto), we do have more than 400 homeless people in our streets, we have had some issues with the elected president, but all and all, we feel safe.

Same date, if we go beyond my kitchen, beyond my city, beyond my country, we know this feeling of safety is not a reality to many communities. There are, unfortunately, several countries where we know human security is not guaranteed at the present time. But, in this article, I will address only one: Syria.

The civil Syrian War started in March 2011, with pro-democracy protests in the city of Deraa after the arrest and torture of teenagers who were protesting through graffiti. After security forces opened fire on protesters, killing several of them, more protesters came to the streets. This conflict triggered nationwide protests demanding President Assad’s resignation.    The government used force to fight the protesters killing them on the way. The opposition eventually took up arms to defend themselves and expel them from their local areas. Over the past 5 years, this has escalated to a civil war that has killed more than 250.000 Syrians and more than 11 million others are being forced out of their homes.

A UN commission of inquiry has evidence that all parties of the conflict have committed war crimes (including rape, murder, and torture). They are also being accused of depriving civilians of their basic needs (access to water, food, health care) as a war method. Upon this, the UN Security Council demanded all parties ended the indiscriminate use of weapons on populated areas – such request was ignored and people keep dying and trying to flee the country.

We are before one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our times. Since the start of the conflict, more than 4.5 million people have fled the country, 6.5 million people are internally displaced and 1.2 million were driven from their homes. To this day, about 70% of the population doesn’t have access to drinking water, 33% are not meeting their basic food requirements, 80 % live in poverty and move than 2 million children are out of school. We are undeniably dealing with a situation where all the dimensions of Human Security are threatened. Is it our Responsibility to Protect? Can we? How?

Focusing on the Human Security norm, we cannot hold accountable any of the parties involved in the civil war and prosecute either, due to the concept lack of jurisdiction; this would have to be an ICC job. But, the Human Security could very well help in the refugee humanitarian crisis. It is, after all, a matter of human security, focused on Man, a clear case of threat to its dimensions, violation of the human rights and an international issue.


The UN defines Human Security as “freedom from fear”, the ability to live in dignity without having one’s rights violated. The UN definition applies to all human beings, both its concept and demography are broad. But, as we can see from the article, it’s a difficult norm to apply.   In times of crisis, even if the countries are not directly involved, we see a clear regression to the first school of thought in this matter – “protect the state”, which for some, conflicts directly with human security. The priority goes back to being each country’s own state, as opposed to the individual, and a universal wellbeing.

Ambassador William Lacy Swing, Director General of IOM, said, “We need long-term migration policies that balance national security and human security”. I agree. We need to be better prepared for future crises. But we also need, at the present time, to embrace Human Security as humans, to restrain from regression, rather, look for progression. Human Security should be guaranteed to everyone. It is our Responsibility to Protect.[5] What can we do?

Bibliography references:

PARIS, Roland – Human Security, Paradigm Shift or Hot Air. International Security, Vol 26, n.2 (Fall 2001)

MOKONNIER, Laura – Human Security and the Syrian Refugee Crisis, The SAIS Journal of Global Affairs

[1] Kanti Bajpai, “An Expression of Threats Versus Capabilities Across Time and Space” Security Dialogue 2004

[2] Served as basis for two legal UN Human rights treaties: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

[3] Genocide Convention R2P

[4] No study in this matter was conducted

[5] the author uses “ours” to refer to the International community and European Union


Bárbara Moreira

Mestranda no Mestrado em Segurança, Defesa e Resolução de Conflitos

Instituto Superior de Ciências da Informação e da Administração (ISCIA), Aveiro – Portugal

06th March 2016



Sobre luisbrasbernardino

I'm an Infantry Lieutenant Colonel in the Portuguese Army with General Staff Course qualifications. He holds a post-graduate diploma in Peace and War Studies in New International Relations from Universidade Autónoma de Lisboa, a MA in Strategy from Instituto Superior de Ciências Sociais e Políticas at Universidade de Lisboa and a PhD in International Relations from the same university. He is currently conducting research at the Center for International Studies at the University of Lisbon (CEI-IUL) in a post-doctoral project on African Security and Defence architectures. He is a member of the editorial board of Revista Militar and Editor of the Revista PROELIUM at the Military Academy. LtCol Luis Bernardino regularly participates in national and international seminars and frequently publishes articles in journals on the subject of security and defence in Africa. He is currently Professor in the Department of Post-Graduate Studies at the Military Academy in Lisbon and member of the Directorate of the Centre for Investigation, Development and Research of the Military Academy (CINAMIL).
Esta entrada foi publicada em Uncategorized. ligação permanente.

Deixe uma Resposta

Preencha os seus detalhes abaixo ou clique num ícone para iniciar sessão:

Logótipo da

Está a comentar usando a sua conta Terminar Sessão /  Alterar )

Google photo

Está a comentar usando a sua conta Google Terminar Sessão /  Alterar )

Imagem do Twitter

Está a comentar usando a sua conta Twitter Terminar Sessão /  Alterar )

Facebook photo

Está a comentar usando a sua conta Facebook Terminar Sessão /  Alterar )

Connecting to %s