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The application of human security

Human security is a dynamic and practical policy framework for addressing widespread and cross-cutting threats facing Governments and people. Recognizing that threats to human security vary considerably across and within countries, and at different points in time, the application of human security calls for an assessment of human insecurities that is people-centred, comprehensive, context-specific and preventive. Such an approach helps focus attention on current and emerging threats to the security and well-being of individuals and communities.

Furthermore, by identifying the concrete needs of populations under stress, human security directly and positively affects the daily lives of people threatened in their survival, livelihood and dignity. As a result, the advancement of human security gives rise to more immediate and tangible results that comprehensively address the root causes behind the threats; identifies priorities based on the actual needs, vulnerabilities and capacities of Governments and people; and reveals possible mismatches between domestic, regional and international policies and responses. The combination of these elements helps to strengthen actions taken by Governments and other actors in support of human security.
The application of human security derives much of its strength from a dual policy framework based on the mutually reinforcing pillars of protection and empowerment. Application of this framework offers a comprehensive approach that combines top-down norms, processes and institutions with a bottom-up focus in which participatory processes support the important role of people as actors in defining and implementing their essential freedoms.
Moreover, by integrating the responses of relevant actors in a more coherent and efficient manner, human security builds upon existing capacities of Governments and people through integrated and comprehensive responses that capitalize on the comparative advantages of a wide range of actors. This ensures coherence in the allocation of resources, goals and responsibilities across and among actors at the local, national, regional and international levels, thereby eliminating duplication and advancing targeted, coordinated and cost-effective responses. 
Lastly, human security is best safeguarded through proactive and preventive actions to current and emerging threats. By examining how the particular constellations of threats to individuals and communities can translate into broader insecurities, human security promotes the development of early warning mechanisms that help to mitigate the impact of current threats and, where possible, prevent the occurrence of future threats.

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Actors responsible for advancing human security

Governments retain the primary role for ensuring the survival, livelihood and dignity of their populations. At the same time, recent crises have illustrated that some threats are beyond the control of any individual Government or Governments. These threats have highlighted the need for greater collaboration among Governments, international and regional organizations and civil society and community-based actors.
Moreover, actors, particularly those close to and familiar with the realities on the ground are especially important in building responses that are proactive, preventive and sustainable, and they should be assisted by the international community. Similarly, regional and subregional organizations play a critical role in mobilizing support and advancing collective action. With knowledge of the political nuances and cultural sensitivities of their regions or localities, these actors are crucial partners in promoting human security.
The United Nations system is also instrumental in the application of human security. With a mandate to address security, development and human rights, the application of human security builds upon the expertise of the different parts of the system and does not bring additional layers to the work of the United Nations. This will help advance the “One United Nations” reform agenda and support the commitment made by Member States to move from a culture of reaction to one of prevention.

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The key principles and framework for advancing human security

Through the protection and empowerment framework, human security promotes people-centred, comprehensive, context-specific, and prevention-oriented measures that seek to reduce the likelihood of conflicts, help overcome the obstacles to development and promote human rights for all. 


Human security considers the broad range of conditions below which the survival, livelihood and dignity of people, particularly those most vulnerable, are seriously threatened. Essential to human security is the advancement of political, social, economic, environmental, military and cultural systems that together give people the building blocks for achieving peace, development and human progress.



By understanding how a particular threat can negatively affect freedoms that are universal and interdependent (freedom from fear, freedom from want and freedom to live in dignity), human security calls for responses that are comprehensive, multi-sectoral and collaborative. This ensures coherence, eliminates duplication and advances integrated solutions that give rise to more effective and tangible improvements in the daily lives of people. 


Recognizing that the causes and manifestations of threats vary considerably within and across countries, and at different points in time, human security advances solutions that are embedded in local realities and are based on the actual needs, vulnerabilities and capacities of Governments and people. 


Looking at the root causes of a particular threat, human security identifies the structural (external or internal), as well as the behavioral changes that are needed to help mitigate the impact, and, where possible, prevent the occurrence of current and future threats. 

Protection (top-down) and Empowerment (bottom-up)

The protection and empowerment framework further guarantees the development of appropriate responses to a particular threat. By combining top-down norms, processes and institutions, including the establishment of early-warning mechanisms, good governance and social protection instruments, with a bottom-up focus in which participatory processes highlight individuals’ roles in defining and implementing their essential freedoms and responsibilities, human security improves local capacities, strengthens social networks, and ensures coherence in the allocation of resources and policies.
For more on the application of human security, please refer to the Human Security Handbook and the Step-By-Step Guide to Applying the Human Security Approach

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What is the added value of human security as an operational tool?

First, human security focuses on widespread and cross-cutting threats to the survival, livelihood and dignity of individuals and communities and calls for a rethinking of security where the advancement of human security is fundamental to national security.
Second, human security is an approach that complements state security, enhances human rights, and strengthens human development and by doing so it puts in place the necessary requirements for achieving peace, development and human progress. 
Third, human security addresses threats in an integrated, multi-dimensional and comprehensive way. This not only helps mitigate the impact of these threats but also reduces their expansion into broader and more intractable crises.  
Fourth, by contextualizing the causes and manifestations of threats and their impact on people, human security highlights the actual needs, vulnerabilities and capacities of those impacted and strengthens the development of solutions that are targeted and prioritized.
Lastly, with people’s insecurities interconnected, human security provides a dynamic framework that capitalizes on the comparative advantages of a diverse network of actors. This ensures coherence, eliminates duplication and advances collaborative responses at the local, national, regional and international levels that together can yield much greater force. 

To what issues can human security be applied?

Human security is focused on complex and multidimensional threats that challenge the survival, livelihood and dignity of people. As a framework, it can be applied to a wide range of current and emerging challenges. Through UNTFHS funded projects, the human security approach has been applied to complex situations of human insecurity, such as:

  • Transition to peace and sustainable development in fragile and conflict-affected communities.
  • Victims of human trafficking, their protection and empowerment.
  • Responding to the multidimensional consequences of climate-related threats.
  • Urban violence and its impact on health, education, economic, personal and community security.
  • Poverty reduction, social inclusion and community-based development in isolated areas.
  • Economic, environmental and social components of health-related insecurities.


Conflict prevention and peacebuilding

UNTFHS projects have focused on strengthening citizen security, improving the delivery of and access to basic social services, restoring livelihoods, promoting community reconciliation and enhancing conflict-prevention activities. 

Some of the lessons learnt include the following:
  • By focusing on bringing the rewards of peace to people and communities, and by emphasizing that a lasting peace hinges on a life free from fear, want and exclusion, the human security approach can help recast efforts towards concrete interventions that address people’s needs. 
  • Multi-sectoral strategies that engage a broad range of UN and local stakeholders have been pivotal in producing the peace dividend needed to bolster confidence in consolidating peace and transitioning to recovery.
  • The human security-based needs, vulnerabilities and capacity analysis support more targeted, efficient and sustainable priority setting.
  • The analysis provides a foundation for capacity-building empowerment strategies that nurture local ownership and promote greater sustainability.

Trafficking in persons

UNTFHS projects have advanced context-specific responses that aim to lessen the impact of human trafficking on the victims and the communities from which they are recruited.  
Some of the lessons learnt include the following:
  • Trafficking in persons separates families, erodes social bonds, and undermines the political, social, economic and cultural prospects of communities. By creating an environment of violence, crime and fear, criminal networks undermine the rule of law, weaken public safety, and threaten the overall security and development of communities. 
  • In placing people and the conditions in which they live in at the center of analysis, a more comprehensive and targeted assessment of the root causes behind human trafficking is identified. A multi-faceted threat, human trafficking can best be addressed through collaboration at all levels and across sectors.  
  • Through the protection and empowerment framework, the needed capacities are strengthened. This is particularly important in changing behaviors and in advancing more hopeful trajectories for those directly impacted by human trafficking. 

Climate-related threats and natural or man-made hazards

UNTFHS projects have strengthened the capacity of communities to cope with and recover from climate-related threats, while simultaneously addressing food, health and economic insecurities, and supporting the development of local and national response mechanisms.
Some of the lessons learnt include the following:
  • A comprehensive and integrated approach helps reduce the social, political, economic and environmental consequences of climate change.
  • The human security analysis provides useful information for developing evidenced-based protection and empowerment strategies that can expand people’s welfare and ensure sustainability.
  • The protection and empowerment framework can also result in improved early warning systems, more-resilient coping mechanisms and better-tailored adaptation strategies.
  • Community-based empowerment initiatives can be scaled up to mainstream disaster reduction and risk management into national development plans.

Urban violence

UNTFHS projects have aimed to empower communities to address the complex challenges of urban violence and crime, while also reinforcing the capacity of local and national mechanisms that respond to citizen security.
Some of the lessons learnt include the following:
  • Reducing violence and crime requires an integrated and multidimensional approach that can respond to the multitude of interconnected factors at the institutional and community levels, including public order, poverty, education, health and social cohesion.
  • By promoting participatory processes, the human security approach supports the development of networks of diverse stakeholders. This can increase dialogue between Governments and their citizens, resulting in improved levels of trust and greater civic engagement.
  • The human security approach focuses on the importance of preventive actions that address the root causes of violence and criminality, and build on the positive contributions of at-risk community members.

Poverty reduction, social inclusion and community-based development

In addition to considering the multiple dimensions of poverty in a particular context, UNTFHS projects have also focused on situations of poverty that stem from inequalities in treatment or are caused by sudden crises such as financial and economic downturns and natural disasters.
Some of the lessons learnt include the following:
  • Social exclusion can trap communities into a persistent state of poverty. Inequities of access to social services and economic opportunities, if not addressed, can lead to social instability and rising tensions among communities. 
  • A better understanding of the differential impact of poverty can help to advance policies that are more targeted to the actual needs and vulnerabilities of the people.  
  • Poverty reduction strategies will benefit from policies and actions that are comprehensive and coherent. These will minimize duplication and accelerate the impact of actions taken by those at the international, national and the local level. 
  • The strong engagement of local, municipal and/or national authorities coupled with measures to build the capacity of local communities supports the sustainability and the institutionalization of positive responses. These help reduce poverty, promote sustainable economic growth, and strengthen the long-term resilience of communities to current and future challenges.

Health and related challenges                                                                  

UNTFHS projects have addressed the combined impact of factors such as poverty, displacement, violence, the environment, and poor service-and-sanitation infrastructure on the health status of the most vulnerable people.
Some of the lessons learnt include the following:
  • By promoting a multi-dimensional analysis, the human security approach highlights the multiple factors that contribute to ill health. This helps strengthen the development of integrated responses across sectors, and capitalizes on the comparative advantages of different actors towards more targeted, efficient, and cost-effective responses.
  • Protection measures aim to prevent, monitor and anticipate health-related threats by developing early warning and response mechanisms, as well as strengthen preparedness to identify and control health-related challenges.
  • Empowerment measures rely on improving health-care systems, training health professionals, educating and mobilizing the public, and developing local-level health insurance schemes that reach the most vulnerable people. 

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To learn more about thematic issues related to human security, please see the Human Security Newsletter