Inspired by last week’s class on human security, I had a quick scout around a number of UN organisations’ websites. More specifically, I looked at annual reports and budget/programme documents for UNEP, UNOPS, UNDP, UNHRC, ILO, UNESCO, WTO and the World Bank.
Here are my findings: UNDP was the only organisation to use the actual term “human security”. It was framed in terms of threats: “The programme addresses the different threats to human security…” UNDP also used the term “citizen security”, as did the World Bank. Interestingly, the World Bank Annual Report used the term “citizen security” more than UNDP’s Annual Report. Perhaps this was to avoid the definitional dispute between the Japanese and the Canadians. Food security was used by the most: UNEP, UNDP and the World Bank. Environmental security, job security and economic security didn’t get past the editors…
What does this mean for human security? I would have expected the term to have been peppered throughout high-level documents such as biennial programme documents and annual reports. On a positive note, perhaps the term has been so well internalised throughout the UN system that it is no longer needed as some kind of unifying or packaging device. After all, the operationalisation of the concept is what really counts. However, aside from food security, there is little evidence of any mainstreaming of the notion.
Does this mean the term “human security” has seen better days? Or does the lack of it in formal documents reflect a concern about the word “security” which sounds rather alarmist? Perhaps the concept has been influencing the shape and design of UN programmes on the ground, but because of linguistic concerns it’s been by and large dropped by the UN spin doctors. This is pretty hard to tell though given that so many programmes have always been focused on individuals.
Given the “shareholders” of the UN are nation states it’s not that surprising that human security may have seen better days. Perhaps civil society organisations will see it breathe another life.