Summer School: Human Security: A Concept in Search of Content

by: Caroline Omari

“Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains “

All citizens of the world ought to be secure in their daily lives. Unfortunately, in reality vast numbers of the population live in a state of perpetual insecurity. This is especially the case for people living in post-conflict and fragile societies. The word “security” in this context goes beyond the narrow meaning attributed to it in ordinary parlance Vis security from violence and threat of bodily harm. A person who lacks food, or shelter or education necessarily lacks human security. In a sense therefore, human security aims to ensure that individuals have “freedom from fear” and “freedom from want”.


The 1994 Human Development Report of the UNDP identified seven specific elements that are encompassed by the term human security. These are:

  1. economic security (e.g., freedom from poverty)
  2. food security (e.g., access to food)
  3. health security (e.g., access to health care and protection from diseases)
  4. environmental security (e.g., protection from such dangers as environmental pollution and depletion)
  5. personal security (e.g., physical safety from such things as torture, war, criminal attacks, domestic violence, drug use, suicide, and even traffic accidents)
  6. community security (e.g., survival of traditional cultures and ethnic groups as well as the physical security of these groups)
  7.  Political security (e.g., enjoyment of civil and political rights, and freedom from political oppression)


The definition above remains the most widely cited and authoritative formulation of the human security concept, but does little to imbue it with content. The list is so broad that it is almost impossible to identify what are the core needs which inhere in all individuals and whose absence would imply that their human security has been violated.

If individuals are right bearers in terms of human security, then there must be duty holders in order to make sure these rights are fulfilled. Who then are the duty holders? In a liberal democracy it is the duty of the government to ensure that persons within their jurisdiction are secure. However, since the security and wellbeing of one individual has an effect on the security and well-being of other individuals it is necessary for Human security concerns to have a global rather than a purely national focus.



Arguably, the development of the responsibility to protect doctrine can be attributed to the recognition of the fact that where a government fails to protect its citizens the International Community should step in in order to restore security. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon released a report in 2010 (A/64/701) acknowledging that there is indeed a relationship between human security and responsibility to protect. Despite the inherent tensions and inadequacies of both terms, it is incontrovertible that human security places the individual at the center of global discourse and is more than mere rhetoric.