Human Security as the Link Between Humanitarian Action and Peacebuilding

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015
Pat Gibbons and Hans-Joachim Heintze (eds.)The Humanitarian Challenge10.1007/978-3-319-13470-3_3

3. Human Security as the Link Between Humanitarian Action and Peacebuilding

Cristina Churruca Muguruza 

Pedro Arrupe Institute of Human Rights, Deusto University, Bilbao, Spain



Cristina Churruca Muguruza

3.1 Introduction

Humanitarian action is a needs-based emergency response aimed at preserving life, preventing and alleviating human suffering and maintaining human dignity, wherever the need arises, if governments and local actors are overwhelmed, unable or unwilling to act (Council of the European Union 2008).1 Peacebuilding, on the other hand, is to be understood, according to the United Nations, as a comprehensive and integrated strategy that encompasses a wide range of political, developmental, humanitarian and human rights programmes and mechanisms. This requires short- and long-term actions tailored to address the particular needs of societies sliding into conflict or emerging from it (United Nations Security Council 2001). This chapter seeks to underline the connection between humanitarian action and peace building, starting from the premise that in armed conflict and post-conflict settings the goal of each should be human security: the protection and empowerment of people.

Human security is commonly understood as priotising the security of people, especially their welfare, safety and well-being. The human security perspective is reproached for wanting to be policy-relevant and problem-solving. In response to this assertion, this paper argues that human security provides a critical perspective and an emancipatory agenda. It suggests that the importance of the concept of human security lies in recognising that, when it comes to successfully protecting and empowering people, there is an interconnection between security, development and human rights. It is not a question of whether security comes before development and/or human rights but of how people’s security and wellbeing are ensured and what an expanded notion of security means in their everyday lives (Newman 2011, p. 1751).

This paper maintains that humanitarian action should aspire to ensure survival and protect people’s fundamental rights and dignity. Seen from that perspective, humanitarian action becomes part of a broader and more holistic peacebuilding strategy. The interrelationship between humanitarian action and peacebuilding is therefore posited in light of the changes that occurred in the post-Cold War period when sovereignty was re-evaluated as meaning that the State had an obligation to take responsibility for the wellbeing and protection of its people and, if it failed to do so, the international community had a duty to take appropriate measures in that respect. The emergence of the concept of the responsibility to protect, known as R2P, emphasises the international community’s responsibility to place all the means at its disposal in the service of human security. It should be noted that the original core idea of R2P was not to promote the humanitarian imperative or political regime change as suggested by NATO’s recent armed intervention in Libya, but rather a comprehensive peacebuilding agenda. Against that background this paper highlights one aspect of humanitarian action’s contribution to peacebuilding which has been largely overlooked: the development of the protection agenda.

The inclusion of protection as one of the pillars of humanitarian action means that humanitarian work should focus on those particularly vulnerable, such as internally displaced persons (IDPs). Ultimately, protecting IDPs means ensuring the realisation of their rights. The search for dignified, lasting solutions for IDPs is recognised as being one of the crucial elements required for peacebuilding and achieving sustainable and lasting peace. However, as will be shown, peacebuilding and the liberal peace project do not prioritise human security. This paper suggests that protection and the search for lasting solutions for IDPs should be a central issue on an international agenda that is at the service of human security. Lastly, it seeks to demonstrate that the relationship between humanitarian action and peacebuilding is not without tensions and challenges. Recognising the need to develop comprehensive or integrated approaches in order to secure stable and lasting solutions to crises and conflicts, and the fact that humanitarian action may be hijacked by political and security objectives, is problematic for humanitarian actors. Furthermore, the current tendency for crises to be manipulated and humanitarian action used for political and security ends in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq raises questions about the community’s commitment to peacebuilding while at the same time jeopardising the independence and impartiality of humanitarian aid.

3.2 Human Security as a Goal of Humanitarian Action and Peacebuilding

Human security, as mentioned in the introduction, is generally understood to mean prioritising the security of human beings, especially their welfare safety and well-being over that of state. It is accepted as being an overall approach to protect people from whatever is threatening them—extreme poverty, deadly diseases, and environmental degradation—as well as immediate violence. The spread of the use of this term shows that the challenges in the field of international security today include protecting individuals from increasingly complex global threats and not just defending State interests by military means. The strength and appeal of the concept of human security lies not only in the fact that it challenges traditional ideas and studies of security by taking the individual as its point of reference but also in the fact that those ideas have become increasingly incapable of generating adequate responses to the new security environment.

Proponents of human security argue that poverty, population displacement, hunger, disease, environmental degradation and social exclusion, for example, all bear directly on human and hence global security. These kill far more people than war, genocide and terrorism combined. Therefore the recognition that development, peace and security and human rights are interlinked and mutually reinforcing is considered as being encapsulated in the concept of human security. Since the end of the Cold War a consensus has emerged at international level around the central messages of human security (Tschirgi 2006). The fact is that, despite significant differences in interests and perspectives, all member states of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) endorsed the inclusion in the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document of the dual aim of human security, recognising freedom from want and freedom from fear as being core values for international relations in the twenty-first century. In particular, this means “the right of people to live in freedom and dignity, free from poverty and despair” and has implications for the State: the responsibility to protect (UNGA 2005). Although by the end of the decade the term ‘human security’ seem to had fallen in disuse (Martin and Owen 2010) in 2012, the UNGA adopted Resolution 66/290 entitled ‘Follow up to paragraph 143 on human security of the 2005 World Summit Outcome’. In this Resolution, the UNGA confirmed human security ‘as an approach to assist Member States in identifying and addressing widespread and cross-cutting challenges to the survival, livelihood and dignity of their people’. paras. 138 and 143).

Although the concept of human security has been gradually incorporated into international relations, its use as a policy instrument and its operationalisation as well as its academic value have been questioned (Churruca 2007). Academics interested in human security have been viewed as insufficiently critical and reflective (Newman 2010). Conceptual critiques of its practical and theoretical use are grounded in the same arguments: the absence of a commonly accepted definition of human security and the weakness of its analysis.2

The notion of human security has been questioned first of all because of the absence of a commonly accepted definition. Most definitions concur in recognising the existence of a vital core of people’s rights and safety. However, the consensus breaks down when considering the threats from which individuals should be protected. Depending on what “people’s rights and safety” is deemed to mean, the scope of the definition is either broad or narrow. The concept of human security therefore remains a subject of debate between the so-called “broad” and “narrow” approaches, as if the two were separable. Each emphasise one aspect of human security. The broad approach focuses on “freedom from want”, namely, the satisfaction of human development and a minimum level of wellbeing (food, health and environmental security, etc.).3 The narrow approach, on the other hand, focuses on “freedom from fear”, namely, protection from physical violence in conflict settings.4 Nevertheless, the advocates of both approaches agree that the main goal of human security is the protection of people.

Beyond discussion of the absence of theoretical and political agreement on its definition and content, human security is best understood as being a goal to be attained. The Commission on Human Security (CHS), in its important report Human Security Now, published in 2003, offers a dynamic definition of human security based on the initial formulation used by the UNDP in its 1994 Human Development Report, namely protection of “the vital core of all human lives in ways that enhance human freedoms and human fulfilment” (CHS 2003, p. 4). This definition is broad enough to encompass the various concerns and narrow enough to have technical credibility as an analytical framework. More important than the broad meaning of human security is what people living in situations of insecurity want. The imperfect but operational response is therefore to maintain a self-consciously vague, wide working definition of human security (CHS 2003, p. 3). The CHS definition does not specify which rights, capabilities and needs belong to the above-mentioned vital core other than identifying the basic elements of survival, dignity and livelihood. The task of prioritising between rights, capabilities and needs is both a value judgment and an exploratory exercise, and something that depends on both governments and international agencies and the people affected.

The fact that prioritising between rights, capabilities and needs relies on the making of a value judgment means that the concept of human security has been seen as analytically weak, since if there is no agreement about what should or should not be prioritised, how can it be a useful concept for decision-makers? How can it be reliably measured? The criticism made by Mack in the prologue to the Human Security Report is that seeing anything that presents a threat to survival, dignity and livelihood as a threat to human security has limited utility for policy analysis (Mack 2005, p. viii). However, the question is whether trying to create a hierarchy and prioritise among human security goals is the right approach to human security. As Shahrbanou Tadjbakhsh rightly points out, “the fallacy is in assuming that viable policies are to be made by top “political actors”, who sift through competing demands in order to choose one or two suitable targets for attention and resources; their decisions ignore that reality may in fact be many-faceted, involving a host of interconnected factors. Policy-making should not be a vertical process but a networked, flexible and horizontal coalition of approaches corresponding to a complex paradigm” (Tadjbakhsh 2005, p. 8).

Indeed, to try to create a hierarchy and prioritise among human security goals is the wrong approach to human security. It is not only that the concept is based on the assumption that all threats are interdependent and should be addressed comprehensively. It is also that human security focuses on the human being, not on the threats. This means that the threats should be viewed as challenges. Rather than prioritising between competing goals, policy makers should focus on identifying thresholds of survival, livelihood and dignity. A threshold-based approach to human security requires choosing policies based on the specific effect they have on people’s wellbeing and dignity (Alkire 2003, pp. 35–36).

Human security is normative; it argues that there is an ethical responsibility to re-orient security around the individual in line with recognised standards of human rights and governance (Newman 2010, p. 78). This means assuming that the protection of people has become an international problem and a crucial element of not only humanitarian action but also peacebuilding. Humanitarian agencies throw themselves into humanitarian action by following their most important guiding principle: the principle of humanity. The principle of humanity recognises that human beings are more than physical organisms in need of the means to survive. In the classic formulation of the humanitarian principle, Jean Pictet pins down the essence of humanitarian action when he defines its purpose as being “to protect life and health and to ensure respect for the human being” (Pictet 1979, p. 12). Humanitarian work therefore goes beyond providing physical assistance; it seeks to protect the human being as a whole. Understanding humanitarian action in this way makes it clear that preserving people’s dignity and wholeness is just as valid a goal of humanitarian work as ensuring their physical safety and resolving their material needs Seen in this way, the goal of humanitarian action is simply to ensure and safeguard human security. Peacebuilding, for its part, as Goodhand emphasises, based on his experiences in Afghanistan and other conflicts, is ultimately “the construction of human security” in the sense of democratic governance, human rights, the rule of law, sustainable development and fair access to resources (Goodhand 2006, p. 12).

3.3 The Responsibility to Protect

The increasing incidence of gross human rights violations and human suffering caused by mainly internal armed conflicts and the growing acceptance in international policy circles of the responsibility to protect meant that humanitarian action and peacebuilding were high on the international agenda during the 1990s and the first decade of the twentieth century. This coincided with more long-term trends which, from the perspective of international law and international relations, development and security, began to prioritise people (their rights, development and security) over States and put them at the centre of debates and, therefore, to question the principle and traditional conception of sovereignty.

In the face of the massive population movements and refugee flows caused by the conflicts in Iraq, the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda during the 1990s, States were reminded of their responsibility for protecting their populations and this led to humanitarian crises being increasingly seen as a question of international peace and security. In a series of resolutions adopted after 1991, the Security Council began to demand international access to populations affected by conflict and mass human rights abuses, sometimes authorising the use of force to ensure that help could be provided. For the first time the Security Council showed a willingness to authorise the use of armed force to ensure the distribution of humanitarian aid, but this fell short of a readiness to directly protect the population that was being targeted or who were the victims of the conflict. The endeavour to support survival “in situ” is posited by some as a covert means to avoid or ‘prevent’ mass cross-border displacement, seen by neighbouring States as a threat to their security (Peral 2001). Despite the selective nature of what are questionably termed humanitarian interventions, this development paved the way for seeing State sovereignty as a matter of responsibility and not just of power.

The approach developed by Francis M. Deng for addressing the IDP issue was key to moving forward with the idea of viewing sovereignty as responsibility. Deng argued that, in order to be legitimate, sovereignty has to show responsibility, which means at least ensuring a certain degree of protection and providing for people’s basic needs, and if governments are unable to do so because they lack the capacity, then the international community will have to take the necessary remedial action (Deng 1995; Deng et al. 1996

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