Helen Clark: Statement at the High-Level Event on Human Security

May 8, 2013


United Nations, New York, NY

3 p.m., 8 May 2013

Almost twenty years ago, the concept of human security was introduced to global development discourse by UNDP through the 1994 global Human Development Report. The report defined human security as having two key elements: “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear”.

Today, the concept of human security is relevant across UNDP’s work – from that on poverty reduction and food security, to rule of law, citizen security, human rights, conflict prevention, gender, youth, and climate change and the environment.

Our work has been greatly assisted by funding from the United Nations Trust Fund for Human Security – for which we are currently the largest implementer of projects.

The human security concept continues to influence the global development debate. Most recently, it was raised in the global consultations on the post-2015 agenda, in particular on discussion on how conflict, armed violence, and disasters impact on development. This consultation was co-led by UNDP, the Peace Building Support Office, UNICEF, and the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR). At the consultation, participants called for an integrated, comprehensive, human security-centered, and human rights-based approach to guide the post-2015 development agenda.

UNDP finds that the human security approach leads to deeper analysis of the root causes and consequences of the insecurities which undermine people’s lives. That, in turn, leads to initiatives which encompass development, human rights, and peace and security.

By their nature, these initiatives are multi-sectoral and must be collaborative – across the UN family and beyond, with national partners and communities. We have many examples of such work.

A human security approach also demands a clear focus on the actual needs and capacities of governments, local actors, and communities, so that responses are well targeted.

An example, in El Salvador, UNDP contributed to a significant reduction of crime rates in some of the most violent cities in the country through support for local governance, rule of law, and citizen security. Critical to the success of this initiative was the organization of local crime prevention committees which designed citizen security plans and other specific measures. It has been very satisfying to see a substantial decline in homicides as these initiatives have taken root.

There have also been challenges in applying human security approaches. For example, the concept of human security is sometimes confused with the concept of national security or national safety. This can create concerns for member states. It is important to UNDP that human security is viewed from a development perspective.

Human security approaches focus on capacity development and institutional change. This is not short term work – the issues which undermine human security are not susceptible to simplistic solutions. It needs to be understood that success takes time and patience.  

Overall, UNDP finds human security a highly relevant concept in framing its initiatives to promote poverty eradication, equity, and sustainability. It encourages us to look deeper into the causes of insecurity, focus on the actual needs and capacities of governments and peoples, and combine our strengths with others to mobilize the wide range of skills necessary to address complex challenges.

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