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What is Human Security?

Human security is an approach to national and international security that sees human beings and their complex social and economic interactions as most important. The concept of human security represents a departure from conventional security studies, which focuses on the security of the state. It is about the security of individuals and communities, linking to both physical and material security.

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The former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, explained human security as so: “In the broadest sense, human security embraces far more than the absence of violent conflict. It encompasses human rights, good governance, access to education and healthcare…Every step in this direction, is a step towards reducing poverty, achieving economic growth and preventing conflict. Freedom from want, freedom from fear, and the freedom of future generations to inherit a natural, healthy environment. These are interrelated building blocks of human nature and therefore national security.” To summarise what Kofi Annan meant of this, he believes that human security means that a person should never have to want something, like the basic necessities of food, shelter, hygiene; a person should never be in fear for their own/families safety; and people should be able to grow up and enjoy an environment free from pollution and toxins.

Human Security can be described as the ‘security of small things’ because it isn’t about militaries and weapons, the conflict of territories and the defence of borders (which make up the classic concerns of traditional security studies). The small things are important though, they are fundamental for establishing durable peace, and building a firm base from the ground-up for lasting stability, preventing a return of conflict.

Respecting ones human right is an integral part of human security. It focuses on the most fundamental rights, such as, to life, basic needs and dignity, and attaches particular importance to local context in which threats to these rights exist. It emphasises the importance of interconnectedness, looking at the links between both individual types of rights and needs. For example, the link of physical safety to material welfare or land rights linking to dignity. It offers the chance to ‘ground’ human rights and human development work in the nature of wellbeing, directing attention to both potential dangers and imminent threats through focus of vulnerability. Human security emphasises capability through its stress on empowerment as well as protection. (London School of Economics)

The 1994 UN Human Development Report (HDR) listed seven essential dimensions of human security: economic, health, personal, political, food, environmental and community. These are seen as the fundamental freedoms.

States have the fundamental responsibility of providing human security. Yet they often fail to fulfil their obligations – many times they are even the source of the threat to people. People cannot be secure in the absence of responsible, strong and democratic states, as the multitude of collapsed states in the world illustrates, e.g. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, or even Palestine.

The twenty-first century is seeing the emergence of new transnational actors and non-state actors with significant capacity for global action. This is an important change and demonstrates the need to solve the problems of millions of human beings who are adversely affected by enormous (and growing) political, economic, social, health, personal, and cultural security. A significant proportion of the world’s population suffers from a great vulnerabilities in an unfair system with increasing regional and global interdependence. (Aravena, 2002)

The Rwandan Genocide represents one of the worst human security failures, with the consequences continuing to reverberate through the Great Lakes region of Africa (Human Security – the what and the why) This shows that human rights lie at the core of protecting and empowering people, like mentioned previously in the essay.

An example where human security is a failing concept is in Burma. It is believed that the majority of the Burmese population living within the state borders suffer from low levels of human security. The history of Burma is full of mistakes, mismanagement, fear and corruption. British Colonial rule transformed Burma from an agricultural subsistent economy to a large global exporter of raw materials and products. When it gained independence from Britain in 1948 it was a thriving country, but from 1958 onwards, there has been a human security predicament, shaped significantly by the brutal and xenophobic military rule that the population has suffered from. The UN human rights council said in a statement relating to Burma: we are “deeply concerned at the situation of human rights in Myanmar” we “strongly deplore the continued violent repression of peaceful demonstration in Myanmar, including through beatings, killings and arbitrary detentions.” The Burmese Junta responded by expelling the United Nations second most senior representative. The refusal of acknowledgement puts the Burmese people’s security at risk.

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Whilst the country’s elites and the Junta enjoy the benefits of profitable oil, gas and mining, the population’s economic security is still very poor due to an insufficient national infrastructure and framework. Government policies and healthcare structures are progressively declining. Additionally, the low levels of literacy and general education seems systematic. Many parts of Burma fail to have any resemblance of operating within the rule of law. Burma is estimated to be the world’s second largest illicit producers of drugs, with eastern parts of the country affected by armed conflict and rebellion. The Burmese Junta appear to be the antithesis of state responsibility when it comes to serving and protecting its citizens. As of 2008, Burma was rated as 132/177 countries in the human development index (UNDP, 2008). Unlike the ideal of human security, where there is freedom from want and fear, the people of Burma live their lives filled with fear and want. Law and order must be returned to Burma. So long as human security is non-existent there, people will suffer and many will seek to relieve the burdens imposed upon them by the Junta through rebellion or searching for abetter life in other countries. (Bowen, 2007)

Human Security in India is a unique case, as there are different communities live and have been consistently managing to retain their identity. This has given scope for inequalities to a great extent, there are now divisions based on class, religion and community, leading to groups feeling marginalised. There have been various welfare schemes are being implemented to mete out economic and social justice to the downtrodden and deprived in society. There is now an increasing awareness among various groups about their legitimate rights, demanding the provision of human security. There are six areas of human security that can be looked at in terms of India, these being: political, economic, food, health, environmental, and individual and community security. In terms of political security, India’s territorial integrity has been closely guarded ever since it gained independence in 1947. The strategic position of India has made it vulnerable to threats from many quarters, government officials infrequently perform their duties . Law enforcement agencies often face hurdles in remote areas where insurgent/military groups operate; there are also challenges relating to the proliferation of drugs and trafficking. Many experts propound human development as a prerequisite for human security as the inequalities tend to take a downward turn due to enhanced development levels and the availability of basic needs. Economic disparities in India continue to exist and the measures undertaken to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor have been rather inadequate. Poverty is one of the problems that have been stalling the growth of India. Progress in economic development reduces the risk of conflict situations and the temptation to wage war for greed. When a population is empowered and has opportunities for its own personal and human development, then reasons to go to war can no longer play on greed or economy. With regards to food security, it is one of the most crucial aspects related to human security. Poverty, hunger and food security are closely related . The deprivation of food leads to starvation and subsequently to ill health. It also leads to the impairment of one’s ability to work. India is home to millions of people malnourished or undernourished, therefore the task to bring in legislation that ensures this basic right is all the more important because of the high levels of targets to mitigate hunger and poverty. Relating to health security, in India there are primary health centres in most of the villages but they are least equipped to tackle even minor health problems. The public access to healthcare is rather dismal and the situation in rural places is even worse. The urban areas also suffer a most of people living in slums and unhygienic conditions cannot afford adequate health facilities. There is a provision of private hospitals under the private sector, with some extending their services to the poor, though the implementation is rather overdue. India has its fair share of legislation on environmental issues, with the most telling feature being its judicial activism in the arena of environmental protection. Since India is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, its development efforts are likely to disturb its ecological balance, it needs to work harder on this aspect keeping its traditional knowledge and wisdom that depended more on the fine balance of the nature-man relationship. And finally, in terms of Individual and community security, it is widely accepted by and one and all that human security’s primary goal is the protection of the individual. Threats to these individuals emanate from day to day events, threatening the safety of daily life and dignity of individuals and communities. In India, susceptible groups/communities include minorities, and specifically the more deprived people from different sections of society. While issues of discrimination relating to women, children and minorities is universal, issues pertaining tribes and people of lower strata’s in society is more of an India-centric problem. These groups don’t have access to essential social and economic and economic goods. Their isolation from the mainstream for ages has made them completely vulnerable. 1

Human Security in India, therefore, shows to be of a relatively low standard, with many people not having access to healthcare, food, clean water, or free from violence or any threats to their safety (due to drugs trafficking). However, unlike the Burmese government, India’s government is making an effort to improve certain areas to improve human security, these include environmental, economy, and healthcare, though the success of these efforts is varied, especially in regards to healthcare. But the government is more reluctant to improve human security when it comes to law enforcement as military and insurgent groups in some places make their job more difficult. Therefore it would be fair to say that even though currently India’s human security standard is relatively low, the government is trying to improve this, India is an example of a progressive country in terms of human security.

To conclude, human security is an approach to national and international security that sees human beings and their complex social and economic interactions as most important. It can be described as the ‘security of small things’ because it isn’t about militaries and weapons, the conflict of territories and the defence of borders. There are seven essential dimensions to human security: economic, health, personal, political, food, environmental and community (fundamental freedoms of humans). For a lot of countries, for example, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Sweden etc, human security is seen as a priority and important to protect, but there are some countries where human security isn’t seen as that important and isn’t known as a fundamental concept. These countries are usually the more economically, developing countries, such as Burma, India, and many African countries. Though some of these countries are increasingly recognising the importance of human security thanks to the United Nations’ intervention and so are actively trying to improve it, in order to avoid any potential sanctions.


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