What is human security?

Human security is a modern concept, particularly in the military context. Simply put, it is about positioning human security as the core focus and primary objective of an organisation’s thinking and planning. It supports both the constraints and the rights (“freedom from” and “rights to”) provided in the framework of human focused international law. The most obvious international law regimes are international human rights law and international humanitarian law, but obligations are also directly and indirectly found in other regimes, including but not limited to international criminal law, international law of responsibility, international environmental law, international weapons law as well as any domestic legal obligations. The interpretation and operationalisation of these obligations will manifest in a potentially infinite number of operational outputs. Human security can be conducted in pre- and post-conflict settings, as well as during the conduct of hostilities.

The end-state for a human security operation is not the defeat of an enemy, but facilitating the security of a group of people from a particular threat or threats. Due to the contemporary nature of contested and multi-polar conflict, it is possible that human security teams will be deployed independently alongside a multitude of other operations, such as counter-terror operations and conventional IAC conflict, or embedded within other structures. A contemporary example of this would be human security within MINUSMA. The military contribution to human security operations will be varied and although the military will often have a significant contribution to make, it will almost always be in a supporting or enabling capacity.”[1] For example a military commander may be tasked to make adversaries irrelevant to such an extent that the other agencies can deliver their elements of the solution. [2] Accordingly, It is important to make the distinction between human security and human development.[3] The former of which can facilitate that latter.

The UNDP recognises seven essential dimensions of human security. These are not definitive nor exhaustive. They are; economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community and political.[4]

An example of personal, community and political is conflict and post-conflict resolution. It is also known as transitional justice. It contains notions of peace, justice and reconciliation, which intersects with international criminal law. Human security teams could assist domestic and international courts pursuit of various objectives, for example;

  • Truth-telling, memorialization and other forms of historical memory and reconciliation;
  • Documenting human rights violations for transitional justice purposes;
  • Forensic analysis and other efforts related to missing or disappeared persons;

Securing transitional justice as an objective of human security seems to be less commonly discussed in the human security space, but imperatively important. Apart from the focus on addressing the wrongs of the past, transitional justice demands approaches that create security and peace of today and put in place mechanisms that guarantee the building of a just, democratic and inclusive political and socio-economic future for all.[5]

Mandates or parameters of human security operations could be determined through unilateral MOU’s or multilateral RoE’s, but this should not conflict with the international legal architecture previously mentioned.


[1] UK MOD, JDP 05, Shaping a Stable World: the Military Contribution [2016] (Shaping a stable world: the military contribution (JDP 05) – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

[2] UK MOD, JDP 3-40, Security And Stabilisation: The Military Contribution [2009] (Security and stabilisation: the military contribution (JDP 3-40) – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk))

[3] UNDP, Human Security, A Thematic Guidance Note for Regional and National Human Development Report Teams

[4] UNDP, Human Security, A Thematic Guidance Note for Regional and National Human Development Report Teams

[5] GIJTR, negotiating Justice: Peace Processes as Vehicles for Transitional Justice [2021] Resources | Global Initiative for Justice, Truth and Reconciliation (gijtr.org)

Published by Luke James

Visiting Professional Political and Security analyst at the ICC, research associate Center for the Study of Democracy, Defence Human Security Advisor Legal research interests in conflict and security law, emerging technologies and the intersection with human security.

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