Human Security

A woman walks through the deserted streets of Bakara Market in central Mogadishu, Somalia. Bakara was up until just a few days ago a strategic stronghold of the Islamist group Al-Shabaab until their sudden withdrawal from the city overnight 5 August. Thousands of Burundian and Ugandan African Union troops, which support the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG), now control over 90 percent of the city since Shabaab's retreat.

The Human Development Report of 1994 defined human security as both “freedom from fear” and “freedom from want” (in 2003 the definition of human security was expanded to include “freedom to live in dignity”).  The threats to human security are many, but most can be considered under the seven security areas identified:

  • Economic security,
  • Food security
  • Health security
  • Environmental security
  • Personal security
  • Community security
  • Political security

 

Human security has four essential characteristics:

  • Human security is people-centred: it is concerned with how people live their lives, exercise choices and rights, access markets and social opportunities etc.
  • The components of human security are interdependent: insecurities in one sector can overlap or be linked to another sector – people often face multiple or related threats
  • Addressing human security is preventative: it is easier – and less costly – to address insecurities through early prevention than later intervention.
  • Human security is a universal concern: it is relevant to people everywhere and can cross borders; it relates to security threats that are common to all people, including unemployment, drugs, crime, pollution, human rights violations.

 

In addition to broadening the scope of security and insecurity, a focus on human security:

  • Affects how we think about post-conflict areas, specifically on the importance of context and how conflict and reform processes are conditioned and affected by history, society, politics, experiences and embedded practices.
  • Allows us to look not only at people’s vulnerabilities and issues of protection, but to the potential for human agency, and how various groups can take collective action to improve their situation through state and non-state institutions.
  • Prompts us to recognize the diversity of security and justice providers that operate at local levels, and that actors beyond conventional security providers (e.g. state police, military, etc.) must be considered.
  • Requires us to analyse power and power relations, and how they influence how reform is implemented and practiced. For example, we can consider the unequal power dynamic between the international actors of reform (military and police advisors) and local post-conflict governments. Do these groups have different conceptions of security and insecurity? Whose views are taken into greater account when designing police reform? Mapping these power relations can help us to better understand insecurities and vulnerabilities in society, and to be aware of potential shortcomings in reform design. This article offers a conceptual map for the analysis of power across context through police reform interventions in post-conflict societies.