Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

11: Protecting People

  • Page ID
    11166
  • The United Nations (UN) was established in 1945 with a charter that set out to ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’ and ‘uphold faith in fundamental human rights’. Three years later, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed at the United Nations, calling for states to work together to ensure that everyone enjoys ‘freedom from fear’ and ‘freedom from want’. Added to the issues of global inequality and poverty addressed in the previous chapter, finding ways of protecting people from harm is a major contemporary debate. While the picture overall might be improving, too often the international community does too little, too late to protect people from atrocities, civil wars, and other human-made ills. In the twentieth century tens of millions of people were killed in wars between states, while an even higher number were killed by their own governments. Facts like these pose a major challenge for the way we think about world politics. Our contemporary international order is based upon a society of states that enjoy exclusive jurisdiction over particular pieces of territory and rights to non-interference and non-intervention that are enshrined in the United Nations charter. This system is in turn prefaced on the assumption that states exist primarily to protect the security of their citizens. In other words, the security of the state is considered important, and worth protecting, because states provide security to individuals. But, as countless examples show, not every state protects the wellbeing of its population. From recent examples like Syria to examples from the past century, threats to individual security have tended to come more from one’s own state than from other states. Facts like this pose a major challenge to international peace and security and raise questions about whether there are circumstances in which the security of individuals should be privileged over the security of states.