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15.3: How Important Are Grantable Human Rights to Human Security?

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    Grantable human rights are the ones mentioned in the thirty articles of the UDHR (UN, 1948). They depend on social, moral and emotional capital such as goodwill, altruism, empathy, trust and open-mindedness. Thus, they do not depend on finite limits of physical resources. History abounds with well-intentioned efforts by powerful rulers to enforce measures for the ‘common good’, which arguably required that the individual rights and liberties of some or all of their subjects be curtailed. Article 29 of the UDHR serves that purpose, albeit not in a dictatorial way. Even in retrospect it is often difficult to assess whether such specific curtailments of freedom in fact led to preferable outcomes all around. Certainly human rights were often violated in the course of such measures. In principle, every law that is passed represents a compromise between benefits to society and sacrifices to individual autonomy.

    As discussed in several of the preceding chapters, the next few decades will bring some drastic changes in lifestyle choices towards greater efficiency, reduced consumption, adaptation to global changes, and organisational reform, most likely accompanied by economic downturns and ultimately by a reduction in populations. Inasmuch as those changes are based on deliberate policy reform they will necessitate either an unprecedented amount of consensus on sacrificing current minority privileges or a draconian repression of individual autonomy (Bowers, 1993; Daly & Cobb, 1994; Lautensach, 2010). [3] Neither option sits well with advocates of human rights. Of course, avoiding the problem is always an option.: The 2005 quote by then Secretary-General Kofi Annan (2005, p. 1) given at the beginning of the chapter, from his report ‘In Larger Freedom’ advocating development, security and human rights for all (i.e. regardless of how many ‘we’ may be), eloquently catches the essential task while circumlocuting the important questions. Those questions include which rights are to be sacrificed for what degree of security, what kind of development can get us there, and how humanity is to make those decisions.

    The challenge, then, will be to find the right compromises between rights and security—solutions that will find the approval of democratic societies at the national level and international acceptance at the global level. The concept of human security focuses on the security of the individual as opposed to the security of the state against foreign enemies or competitors. It builds on grantable human rights while remaining in tension with ungrantable ones— echoing the tension between achievable and unachievable SDGs as noted in Chapter 3. Human security postulates that it is for the security of the individual that the security of the state is guaranteed. By making the individual free from fear and want, the state enables him/her to actively participate in decision making and thereby making it unnecessary to govern through force and violence—or so the theory goes. Many security challenges facing the world today are closely connected to the failure by governments and by the international community to respect and uphold the grantable human rights and fundamental freedoms of peoples around the world. Whilst it is undeniable that some autocratic states have achieved notable economic gains without paying much attention to human rights, history teaches that in the long run such countries remain turbulent, unstable and can easily degenerate into civil unrest. (To further explore this problem of secure autocracies, see Extension Activity 4 in Chapter 21.)

    One guideline for finding those proper compromises between rights and security, therefore, is the establishment and perpetuation of a stable civil society. Human rights must be respected and upheld sufficiently to allow this. Civil society augments the capacity of the state to protect human rights and it helps in holding perpetrators accountable for human rights abuses. Thus, it acts both as a watchdog against totalitarian tendencies and as a source of moral norms and ideals that govern society. Civil society campaigned for the downfall of dictatorships in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and is responsible for similar uprisings in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen. The role of civil society, augmented by social media, in setting the agenda for political reform at the national and international stage has been growing over the past decades. There is also a growing recognition of civil society by national, supranational, and international bodies such as the EU, AU, World Bank, IMF and the UN, as evident in international legislation and regimes holding states responsible for the protection of their citizens.

    However, despite the significant gains attained by civil societies in many countries in driving the agenda for human security, more than half of the world’s citizens still suffer human rights abuses of one type or another. The state remains the biggest perpetrator of human rights violations. Freedom House reported in 2018 that 2.8 billion people (37% of the world’s population) have no say in how they are governed and face severe consequences if they tried to exercise the most basic rights, such as expressing their views or their sexuality, assembling peacefully, or organizing independently of the state (Freedom House, 2018). The fall of autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya due to popular uprisings, at a great cost in terms of human life and suffering, and continuing disorder in those regions challenge us to rethink the concept of security in the 21st century. The fall of these regimes and the ongoing upheaval in the entire Arab region demonstrate that it is the relationship between the state and civil society that will ultimately guarantee peace and security as opposed to the traditional notion where peace and security were understood only in the realm of international relations. A productive relationship between the two absolutely depends on a modicum of human rights, and in many countries that norm has not been attained.


    15.3: How Important Are Grantable Human Rights to Human Security? is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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