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"Enabling People to Live in Security" - Keynote Speech by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the International Symposium on Human Security, Tokyo, 28 July 2000

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"Enabling People to Live in Security" - Keynote Speech by Mrs. Sadako Ogata, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, at the International Symposium on Human Security, Tokyo, 28 July 2000

28 July 2000
The concept of human securityEnabling people to live in peaceEnabling people to live in stabilityEnabling people to live togetherConclusion

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last year almost a million people fled Kosovo to Albania and Macedonia - and many of the refugees, as you will remember, left their homes driving a tractor. Tractors were often their only remaining possession; their new house, on which they slept and kept their children and travelled; and their fragile future. A few weeks later, they returned home.

Those were powerful images. And somehow, watching how the refugees were desperately clinging to their tractors, I thought that those machines symbolised "human security" - or, should I say, the tragic insecurity that pushes people to flee, the fragile security they live in as refugees, the longing for permanent security when they return home.

Human security is a term which can mean all, and nothing. In a general way, it is the fear of death and suffering that makes people insecure. Many phenomena carry this sense of insecurity - first of all, conflicts; but also terrorism and arms proliferation; transnational threats of people and drug trafficking; spread of HIV and other epidemics; environmental pollution and natural disasters; and, last but not least, abject poverty, which forces hundreds of millions of people to live oppressive and hopeless lives.

To make the argument more to the point, without however ignoring these broader links, I shall discuss "human security" in a context familiar to UNHCR, by referring essentially to our experience - the experience of forced human displacement.

The concept of human security

Globally speaking, one's home and country remain strong symbols of "security". This is why the images of fleeing refugees strike our imagination vividly: they make us feel how fragile and exposed people can be; how real dangers, which we often think of as distant menaces, can suddenly become very close, and affect us directly. During the Balkan wars, millions of people were plunged into total insecurity just a few hours' drive away from some of the most secure places in the world, in Western Europe. The Rwandan genocide and the cholera outbreak in the refugee camps in Goma, in 1994, brought to our screens images from the wars and epidemics of another age.

In today's conflicts, insecurity is caused much less by external aggression, but more by internal tensions. This threatens people very directly. And from our vantage point, we at UNHCR have observed that in the last few years, at least some international attention has shifted from the security of borders to that of people, inside and across borders.

Although inter-state wars have not disappeared - think of the Horn or the Great Lakes regions of Africa - conflicts today tend to be internal. And their consequences continue to require humanitarian responses. My Office deals on a daily basis with 22 million people who are, by definition, "insecure". Refugees are in fact doubly insecure: they flee because they are afraid; and - remember the tractors in Kosovo? - in fleeing, they start a precarious existence. There is much debate about the conceptual value of human security. At the same time, the idea of "human security" now commands the same respect and attention as the more traditional one of "state security". The first debates of the year 2000 at the United Nations Security Council were devoted to HIV-AIDS and refugees in Africa. There is a growing awareness that states cannot and will not be secure unless people feel secure too.

Here, I would like to make two points. First, "human security", although not a legal concept, nor can it be very precisely defined, does however represent a set of very concrete elements - places, objects, values, feelings. Human security is what refugees lose when they abandon their homes - a job, a family, an identity. Human security is not an abstract idea - it is a real, tangible need. Second - and I speak here as the head of the agency responsible to protect refugees, but also to find solutions to their plight - we should not look at human security just from the point of view of theory and definition, but rather examine what practical steps and measures can enable us to maintain people in, or restore them to, a state of security. In other words, "human security" should be a conceptual tool that leads to action.

Every day, in our work - defending asylum, helping people return home, promoting resettlement to third countries - we strive essentially to move people from insecurity to security. Our efforts, however, can only be successful if there is support in the larger context - political, social and economic. Enabling people to live in security cannot be just the result of humanitarian action, which responds to the symptom but does not treat the cause. When restoring human security is seen, and enacted, purely as a humanitarian gesture, its consequences will not last, and people will soon again revert to a situation of insecurity.

Think of other areas, for example - of the fight against HIV-AIDS, or the campaigns against landmines and small arms. Providing security to people calls for a broader range of responsibilities than ensuring the security of the state - it certainly requires a sense of direction, which governments can develop and maintain; but also commitment of a wider range of actors, from international organisations to NGOs; from civil society to business, and to individuals of good will.

From this starting point - the need to identify enabling factors and measures and to mobilise effective responses - I would like to briefly refer to three major challenges that we must face in realising "human security" as broadly as possible: ending conflicts; reconstructing war-torn societies; and helping people coexist in diverse communities.

Enabling people to live in peace

In a world of staggering means and opportunities, we have not been able - yet - to devise ways to prevent and stop fighting and violence, which are the first steps towards security. One of the main factors of human insecurity is precisely the lack of effective political mechanisms to address conflicts. In the context of internal conflicts, in particular, what means does the international community possess to ensure and maintain the security of threatened people?

There has been much discussion about "soft" power - power exercised through trade, through culture, through diplomacy - as a means to contain or prevent conflicts. Unfortunately, in the last few years nothing of what has happened in the world reassured us that "soft" power alone can be effective. The problem is that "hard" measures, such as international military intervention, appear equally inadequate, alone, to stop or prevent war.

Having to face the humanitarian consequences of slow and uncertain peace processes in many parts of the world, especially in Africa, I have often spoken about the need to restore a sense of purpose, and of urgency, to political and diplomatic negotiations. Today, I will not elaborate on this crucial issue, but would like you to reflect on measures that the international community must put in place, more predictably, and in an appropriate and proportionate manner, to address situations of insecurity.

I cannot avoid asking some questions: can bombs dropped from 15,000 feet resolve a house-to-house conflict between communities that have lived together, separate but intertwined, for hundreds of years? And by the time high altitude bombs indeed become the only means left to the international community to resolve a conflict, isn't it too late to address its root causes? Obviously yes - and why, then, does the international community let conflicts simmer until the stage in which both "hard" and "soft" means are inadequate to attain peace - as in the Balkans last year, or in Congo today?

As Carl Bildt once said, in referring to the Kosovo context, the world does not need missiles, but crowd control systems. However, in many crisis situations, we observe what I would call a "mismatch" between the causes of conflict, and the measures taken to address them. What has happened in Kosovo after NATO action ended provides a telling example: yes, 800,000 refugees, almost all those who had fled in the previous months, have now returned home; yes, the rights of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo are now respected. These were indeed among the objectives of NATO's intervention. But since last July, it has been the turn of ethnic Serbs, and other minorities, to be killed, harassed and persecuted, and to flee the province: over 200,000 now live in exile, mostly in Serbia. I regret to say that Kosovo today is not a multi-ethnic society.

Another case in point is that of Congo. The Lusaka peace agreement foresees the combination of inter-Congolese dialogue and deployment of observers and peace keepers. But its implementation is blocked by continuing fighting among the parties to this very complex, multi-faceted war. The United Nations can not deploy observers and troops because there is no security; but security will not be established unless UN observers are deployed. While the international community struggles with an almost impossible "operational set up" for peacekeeping in Congo, the human cost of the war is increasing. Hundreds of people die every day; some are killed, but most perish of starvation and disease caused by it. In conflict, thousands of others are forced to flee, either as refugees to neighbouring countries, or as internally displaced, in a desperate quest for precarious security.

Obviously, these very difficult and complicated crises cannot be resolved by "quick fixes". And as I said, neither "soft", nor "hard" measures alone are adequate to resolve the crises. What we need to do - and this is an issue on which I would like you to reflect in your deliberations - is to develop a range of security options at appropriate levels, and - crucially - link these options to the political process. If the objective of conflict resolution is to maintain or re-create a multi-ethnic society, as in Kosovo; or restoring and upholding peace in a vast, resource-rich country with serious problems of governance, and very limited infrastructure, as in Congo; then measures put in place to stop the conflict itself should be both adequate, and well supported. Recent events in Sierra Leone proved once more that the price may be high, not only financially, but also in human terms - since some conflicts will only be resolved by actually deploying adequately trained and equipped troops on the ground.

Meanwhile, in the absence of broader, more comprehensive political mechanisms, in the last few years we at UNHCR have been developing attempts to create and maintain conditions of security at least in the areas of our most immediate concern - refugee camps and settlements. This is a modest and limited solution - but it does address an urgent problem; and if our proposals were implemented, they could provide some good example of how to address, in a more realistic, proportionate and predictable manner, other situations of insecurity.

The idea is to develop a "ladder" of options rather than to remain limited to "soft" or "hard" alternatives. The ladder would rise from the most basic step - the presence of UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies next to refugees in camps and settlement - to a range of "medium" alternatives of providing training and support to build national law enforcement capacity, or of deploying international civilian or police monitors; and further, to the international peacekeeping solution - with emphasis on sub-regional arrangements. At every level of this "ladder", security management capacity must be enhanced, with a possible linkage to the level above.

The heart of our proposal is to provide much more support to local institutions - provincial administrations, the police, the judiciary - before it is unavoidable to intervene with an external force. We experimented with these measures in refugee camps in the former Zaire between 1994 and 1996. We are also providing support to local authorities and to the police in refugee camps in Tanzania. Results have been mixed, but we are learning from these experiences.

Enabling people to live in stability

Silencing the guns, however, is just the first step on the road to security. To feel really safe, people must be given what I would call a "horizon of security" - not just a short-lived, fragile cease-fire.

For those who live in the industrialised north, insecurity is the exception, rather than the norm. It exists - in the forms of poverty, terrorism, crime or disease - but it is a confined phenomenon, which must be fought, and is not meant to last. It is difficult for them to even imagine how permanent, fearful and pervasive insecurity can be - for example to an Afghan woman, or to a Sierra Leonean boy of military age. In some places, the constant threat of insecurity makes even the periods of security uncertain and unpredictable.

The security of people, therefore, must be made to last. The international community must pay much closer attention, and much more coherent support, to societies emerging from conflict. Peace-building in the period immediately following the end of conflicts is a very weak link in the international cooperation system, although it is a vital one, since it connects conflict resolution with development efforts. I am very concerned by the gap which currently exists between humanitarian action during conflicts, and the introduction of long-term development programmes. UNHCR is particularly worried about this gap because very often recently returned refugees are among those who suffer most from the lack of resources available to build peace. This in turn does not help prevent the recurrence of conflict and of refugee flows.

When peace is negotiated, more attention must therefore be paid - immediately - to long-term reconstruction. Rebuilding institutions and infrastructure must be planned and implemented much sooner by multilateral and bilateral development actors. But rebuilding is more than this - it also means empowering people, for example through education and training. Humanitarian agencies such as my Office can in fact concentrate on people - helping them return and be reintegrated in their communities. Support to local institutions and civil society is essential. In many situations, national NGOs and grass-roots groups are among the few functioning providers of human security in weak states wrecked by internal conflicts.

I believe that efforts to allocate resources and implement programmes in post-conflict situations are urgently needed if we are serious about enhancing the security of people in a comprehensive, far reaching and durable fashion. On our side, together with UNDP, the World Bank and a group of key donor governments, and under the sponsorship of the Brookings Institution in Washington, we are trying to explore ways to improve both institutional and funding arrangements to address the gap in this transition phase. We are testing a new approach in Sierra Leone. A menu of inter-agency projects was developed. They are aimed at bridging the emergency and development phases at a very early stage - just after the cease-fire agreement and even before half a million refugees and countless displaced return. The fresh outbreak of violence in Sierra Leone, however, has caused serious delays in the implementation of the project. But this is probably inevitable in dealing with extremely volatile post-conflict situations, and shows the importance of putting in place early measures to transform fragile cease-fire agreements into real security for individuals and communities.

Enabling people to live together

In speaking of what should be done to restore the security of people following conflict and flight, I would like to mention a third dimension. When internal fighting ends and repatriation becomes possible, refugees often return to live with the very people they had fought with - from Bosnia to Rwanda and from Liberia to East Timor, this is the pattern that prevails in most large returnee situations. I could describe to you many contexts in which UNHCR is struggling not with refugee, but returnee crises - almost a contradiction in terms! Kosovo, which I have already mentioned, is perhaps the most acute example of a post-conflict situation of deeply divided communities. During my last visit there, in March, I was dismayed to see children belonging to minority groups go to school under NATO military escort.

There are two challenges, broadly speaking. The first is of course to devise ways to bring people together - to actually implement coexistence. The second is to create awareness of the "coexistence potential", or lack thereof, of any project carried out in a situation of divided communities - something which has not yet entered into the methods and culture of international cooperation. We have learned in many places the unifying (or dividing) power of a well, a school, a playground, a sports event. I believe that in the future, when planning and implementing reconstruction projects, from water to education to social services to the rebuilding of infrastructure, we shall have to ask ourselves - is this activity conducive to coexistence? Will it bring communities together, or divide them?

To support activities aimed at promoting coexistence when refugees return to divided communities, and at creating this "coexistence mindset", UNHCR, in co-operation with Harvard Law School, is launching a programme that we call "Imagine Coexistence". In many war-torn places, courageous groups of individuals, often women, have started implementing projects that - consciously or not - help people live together, work together, play together, think together. Our ambition, starting with pilot projects in Bosnia and Rwanda later this year, is to select clusters of such activities, support them financially, and make both their implementors and beneficiaries aware of the "coexistence potential" of their work. At the centre of each project there should be, I believe, an income-generating activity: a small factory, for example, which receives incentives for employing people of different social and ethnic origin. Around this central activity we would like to regroup a number of related initiatives: playgrounds for children, theatre groups, sports and games, spaces for people to talk.

The basic philosophy of this initiative underscores one of the key elements of human security - that the peaceful coexistence of its inevitably diverse constituents be accepted by the people, rather than be simply forced upon them. It is in this acceptance that lies the key to trust, which is the foundation of a secure society.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have attempted to outline the complexity of human security issues seen from one very specific angle - the refugee perspective. I have referred to a few emerging proposals on how to address them comprehensively - during and after conflicts - with people, rather than states in focus. I have also spoken of the need to establish concrete mechanisms allowing us to provide security at every stage of conflict resolution processes.

I would like to insist on this point - the concepts are in place, but the measures are not. We need to work more on the "operational" aspects of human security. They will require political attention and support and - in particular - financial backing. There are some initiatives in this respect. A very important example is the Human Security Fund, a 100m US dollars initiative of the Government of Japan - an idea to which I would like to pay tribute. This Fund is the result of a visionary decision of the late Prime Minister Obuchi.

I hope similar contributions will come from other governments and foundations and that resources can be allocated for human security activities. Concrete projects and measures are needed to enable us to move people from insecurity to security.

To conclude, and in wishing you fruitful and interesting discussions, I would like to remind you of the stark reality. If to be secure means to be free from fear of being killed, persecuted or abused; free from the abject poverty that brings indignity and self-contempt; free to make choices - then a majority of people in today's world do not live in security.

We live, indeed, in a world which for most is both dangerous and frightening. The human security of every man, woman and child can only be assured by a collective, comprehensive and creative effort. This is not only politically wise, and morally right. It is necessary, for nobody is secure while a good many men, women and children live in fear.

Thank you.