Human security, human rights, and human needs

The concept of human security was introduced in the 1994 Human Development Report.12 The report argued that “the search for security... lies in development, not in amis,”13 focusing on sustainable development as the guiding principle for ensuring the security of people, not states. Two models of human security are generally recognized: the Canada model and the Japan model:

While Canada tends to emphasize the dimension of “freedom from fear,” favouring the narrow approach to human security and stressing the critical importance of humanitarian intervention, Japan emphasizes the dimension of ‘“freedom from want,” paying special attention to official development assistance (ODA).14

Both have been criticized for perpetuating unequal power relations between developed and developing nations, the “helpers” and the “helped.”15

The distinction between “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear” originated with US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1941 State of the Union address.16 Freedom from fear corresponds roughly with civil and political rights, while freedom from want corresponds roughly with social, economic, and cultural rights. The former are known as negative rights: “the proscribed acts the state should abstain from,”17 while the latter are known as positive rights: “the prescribed acts of commission the state should engage in.”18

The International Bill of Human Rights (IBHR) constitutes “a summary statement of the minimum social and political guarantees recognized by the international community as necessary for a life of dignity in the contemporary world.”19 It consists of three documents: the 1948 UDHR, and the 1966 International Human Rights Covenants, the CPR and the ESC. During the Cold War, these international human rights nonns were caught up in the rivalry between the Soviet Union and the US. The Soviet Union and its allies abstained from the 1948 UNGA vote establishing the UDHR because they felt that the Declaration gave insufficient emphasis to economic and social rights. In addition. South Africa abstained because of the provisions on racial discrimination that went against their existing policy of apartheid and Saudi Arabia abstained because of the provisions of gender equality.20 Long after the end of the Cold War, the US has failed to ratify the ESC, though US President Jimmy Carter signed it in 1977.

Jack Donnelly lists 38 human rights that appear in two of the three documents comprising the IBHR or have a full, dedicated article in one document. Each right is followed by a code that identifies which document it appears in and the number of the article which refers to it.21 A careful look at the table reveals that most rights listed appear in the UDHR (32) and the CPR (27) and that civil and political rights far outnumber economic, social, and cultural ones (12). A few rights appear in both the CPR and the ESC: equality of rights without discrimination; marry' and found a family; free trade unions; special protections for children; and self-determination. The rights that appear only in the ESC include: social security; favourable conditions of work; rest and leisure; food, clothing, and housing; health care and social services; education; and participation in cultural life.

Johann Galtung introduces the concept of human needs into the discussion of human rights, arguing that rights are the means by which we fulfil the needs of individuals. He classifies needs into actor-dependent needs vs. structure-dependent needs and material needs vs. non-material needs.22 He explains the first distinction as follows:

In the first case something has to be done about actors whose deliberate acts impede the need-satisfaction of others; in the second case something has to be done about structures made in such a way that needs are not satisfied.23

The second distinction refers to the material-spiritual distinction or whether “the satisfaction of the needs requires material components or not.”24 Combining the two pairs, we arrive at four categories of needs: survival (to avoid violence); freedom (to avoid repression); well-being (to avoid misery); and identity (to avoid alienation)._r> The first two categories are actor-dependent, where individuals rely on actors to refrain from impeding their survival or freedom needs. The second two are structure-dependent, where individuals rely on actors to ensure that society is structured in such a way so as not to impede their well-being and identity needs. Well-being, or the absence of misery, is closely related to economic structures, while identity, or the absence of alienation, is more closely related to what Galtung calls “culture.” Economic and social well-being and cultural identity are clearly the focus of the ESC, not the CPR, and have been at the centre of political struggles and violent conflicts of all ideological stripes.

Galtung argues that human rights, as embodied in the UDHR, are “unmistakably Western.”

Propagation of human rights, consequently, is also propagation of Western civilization, and partly intended as such. This in itself does not make the Western human rights tradition wrong. But it certainly leads to important questions. What, if anything, is so specifically Western that it should not form part of a universal declaration? And what could other civilizations ... contribute to a universal declaration?26

For Galtung, the legal tradition of human rights cannot adequately deal with social evils that are built into social structures or address the diversity of cultures around the world. He defines a structure as “patterned interaction, with each act performed approximately the same way by actors in the same situation.... Two sayings often accompany such acts: ‘everybody does it that way,’ and ‘we always did it that way,’ testifying to synchronous and diachronous constancy, hence normalcy.”27

As for “deep culture,” Galtung defines this as “a socio-cultural code embedded in the collective subconscious, defining for that collectivity (e.g. a civilization) what is normal/natural. Being subconscious there is no individual awareness of the deeply rooted cultural standards steering everybody....”28 When I taught a humanities course in Montreal on dualities and polarities, I presented my students with a quotation from the American theologian and philosopher, Alan Watts, who popularized Eastern religions to a Western audience in the 1960s. He wrote that “Man makes God in his own image, and as he comes to a clearer and more intelligible view of his own image — changing it in the process — he comes to a more intelligible view of God.”29 Some of my students, many of whom were first-generation immigrants from Italy and Greece, reproduced the text in an assignment as “God created Man in his own image ...,” unable to register the striking reversal in the original quote — no doubt because their religious upbringing had ingrained those words into their subconscious.

Galtung’s trenchant analysis makes it clear that a direct correspondence between human rights and human needs does not exist:

there are needs that may be said to have rights counterparts; there are needs without rights counterparts leading to the idea of extending the concept of human rights; there are rights that do not have needs counterparts leading to the idea of certain cultural and class biases underlying the production of human rights; and there are no doubt relevant items that have not surfaced and become formulated explicitly at all, neither as needs nor as rights.30

Recognizing the difficulties and challenges related to finding universal values and nonns, Sissela Bok argues convincingly for “a minimalist set of basic values as a starting point for cross-cultural understanding, negotiation, and cooperation.”31 She concludes that there are three categories of values that appear in all societies across all religious, moral, and legal traditions: “the positive duties of mutual care and reciprocity; the negative injunctions concerning violence, deceit, and betrayal; and the norms for certain rudimentary procedures and standards for what is just.”32

  • 1. All human groups ... stress some form of positive duties regarding mutual support, loyalty, and reciprocity.33
  • 2. The second category of fundamental values consists of negative duties to refrain from harmful action. All societies have stressed certain basic injunctions against at least a few forms of wronging other people - chief among these “force and fraud,” or violence and deceit.34
  • 3. A third category of basic values ... consists of norms for at least rudimentary fairness and procedural justice in cases of conflict regarding both positive and negative injunctions, prominently including those listed in the first two categories above.... All societies share certain fundamental procedures for listening to both sides and determining who is right and who is wrong in disputes.35

The first category relates closest to the ESC, while the latter two relate closest to the CPR. Bok recognizes that these minimalist standards are not consistently applied to all groups within society, especially those perceived as “enemies” or “the other.”36 She explicitly refers to “the tendency to regard outsiders and enemies as less than human, barbarians, utterly alien from a moral point of view.”37 She also points out that these three value categories are even limited within communities: “violence, for example, against women, or children, or slaves and servants has been common from biblical times on.”38

Either/or, us/them thinking is the underlying factor related to these processes of “othering.” They underlie the dehumanization processes involved in “crimes of obedience” and the practice of torture.39 Such thinking also fosters the proliferation of “bubbles” or niches on social media where like seeks and reinforces like and “cancel culture” can thrive, as tweets in the millions bombard the victim, their family, their employer. The key to expanding “common” values to other tribes, the outsider, the alien, the stranger, is communication. This is why I take a communication approach to the study of the terrorism-counterterrorism nexus, as highlighted in the subtitle for this volume.

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