In advancing the human security agenda, and in light of monumental levels of human rights abuses recorded in many countries, a lot more needs to be done to ensure that state security becomes people centred as opposed to backing the security of regimes and political elites. Many regimes in the world still believe the security of the state is made possible through acquiring the latest military hardware on the market and by ensuring that state security agents receive the best training available. Billions of dollars are spent annually in activities and programmes that undermine the fundamental freedoms and basic human rights of the people, all in the name of national security.
However, a closer look at the United Nations Charter supports the notion that the organization was formed to create a climate where individuals can pursue happiness, freedom and prosperity that is built on the principle of mutual respect. In his speech to the UN General Assembly on 10 November 2001, the then Secretary General Kofi Annan reminded world leaders that ‘[t]he United Nations must place people at the centre of everything it does.’ After highlighting pressing issues to be tackled by the UN such as poverty, HIV/AIDS and political violence, Annan added that ‘the common thread connecting all these issues is the need to respect fundamental human rights.’ Thus there is no confusion at the level of the UN as to what needs to be done in principle to enhance human security and global peace. The biggest challenge to ensuring that the UN vision is transformed into a reality is bringing the UN Charter and the UDHR to the very people for whom the UN came into existence in the first place. An international Bill of Human Rights would serve as an important stepping stone (Sachs, 2003).
The task of putting human rights at the centre of human security should not be left to the UN alone, but rather should be ‘mainstreamed’ and be part of mechanisms and strategies adopted by governments to improve the security of their people. The problem with ‘mainstreaming’ is that it mainly focuses on 3rd generation ungrantable rights and particular visions of development that are mainly informed by the Conventional Development Paradigm (Trainer, 2016). This bias limits the potential benefits, and it diverts attention from the grantable social and political human rights that could sorely use some support in many parts of the world. The task of re-focusing on those rights must be spread to many more local and international human rights organizations so as to create sufficient advocacy at the grassroots levels, which can force governments to put human rights on their agenda. Civic education on human rights, targeting grassroots populations and political leaders, is vital in ensuring that any mechanisms and strategies taken by governments to improve human security follow a rights based approach.
The scourge of human rights abuses is not only the preoccupation of dictators under pressure. It can also be argued that the so-called ‘war on terror’ has created more insecurity for the global citizen than does the threat of terror. Human rights abuses committed by NATO forces in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, as well as other military forces elsewhere, have matched, if not surpassed, the collective atrocities committed by dictators and paramilitaries against their own people around the world during the same period. Similarly, failure by the International Criminal Court to investigate and based on verifiable evidence, prosecute Western leaders such as George Bush and Tony Blair for their involvement in starting and perpetuating the second Iraq war, which has claimed the lives of approximately 204 000 civilians as of 2019 (Statista, 2019), has undermined the work of the ICC which now stands accused of selective application of international law. Why is it that, ever since Nuremberg, it is only always the losers that are being prosecuted? In his address to the 2011 session of the African Union summit, UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon said the Universal Declaration of Human Rights “is a promise to all people in all places at all times.” Obviously there remains work to be done, and it will require substantial pressure from below.
Another category of human rights abuses comes from transnational corporations who take advantage of cheap labour and lax labour laws in developing countries to minimize their costs of production. Often those abuses are supported or at least tolerated by colluding government officials who benefit financially; even if the benefits are in some cases more equitably directed towards the state budget, the temptation is great for the government not to place too great an emphasis on questions about labour conditions and risk that the corporation relocates its operation. Transnational crime is another obvious threat, as Chapter 13 documents. Lastly, it is aid agencies themselves that have largely remained exempt from scrutiny in terms of their own human rights performance (Haslam et al., 2009, p. 253). The common condition to all of those threats is the absence of scrutiny by civil society.