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putting human lives first

Many people in the world lead intolerably insecure lives. In many cases, insecurity is the consequence of conflicts in which civilians are deliberately targeted with impunity.

‘Generally, contemporary conflicts are characterised by circumstances of lawlessness, impoverishment, exclusivist ideologies and the daily use of violence. This makes them fertile ground for a combination of human rights violations, criminal networks and terrorism, which spill over and cause insecurity beyond the area itself.

‘In today’s world, there is a gap between current security capabilities, consisting largely of military forces, and real security needs. The European Security Strategy (agreed by the European Council in December 2003) lists 5 key threats: terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts, failing states, and organised crime. These are not just threats to Europe; they are global threats. In these situations, the use of traditional forms of military power can often be counter-productive.

‘The consequence of the large-scale, intrusive wars of the last 2 centuries was not only the introduction of legal constraints on war but also growing public pressure against war. Human rights norms have become much more prominent. The use of traditional war-fighting means, such as bombardment from the air, may be unacceptable viewed through the lens of human rights.

‘Human security means individual freedom from basic insecurities. Human beings have a right to live with dignity and security, and an obligation to help each other when that security is threatened. All human life is of equal worth, and it is not acceptable that human lives become cheap in desperate situations.’

Those words come from a report called ‘A Human Security Doctrine for Europe’. A study group on ‘Europe’s Security Capabilities’ was convened by Mary Kaldor (long associated with work for peace), and this report is the result. It was presented to Javier Solana (Secretary-General of the EU Council and High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy) this September.

Mary Kaldor says: ‘A human security approach would aim, first and foremost, to protect people, calm violence and establish a rule of law. The question is not whether the international community should intervene in situations of severe insecurity, but how. The goal is not victory but cessation of violence, in order to provide space for political and economic solutions.’

but how
So far, few of us would disagree. But what are the team’s practical proposals?
First, they suggest a set of 7 principles for human security operations - principles applied to both the objectives and the methods of any such missions.

1 – the primacy of human rights: this ‘distinguishes the human security approach from traditional state-based approaches. The right to life, the right to housing, the right to freedom of opinion are to be respected and protected even in the midst of conflict. It also implies that those who commit gross human rights violations are treated as individual criminals rather than collective enemies.’
2 – clear political authority, exerted by the EU over the command and control of its missions, which should always be led by a civilian.
3 – multilateralism: a commitment to work with and through international institutions, primarily the United Nations but also regional organisations, and to agree common rules, norms and ways of working.
4 – a bottom-up approach: ‘The decision about policies to be adopted must take account of the basic needs identified by the people affected by violence and insecurity. This is not just a moral issue, it is also a matter of effectiveness. A continuous process of consultation and dialogue with local people is the way to decide when situations urgently require prevention. It also helps to build commitment to those involved in dialogue, as well as being a guide to what strategies are likely to work. Institution-building is bound to fail when it excludes those for whom the institutions are built.’
5 – regional focus: today’s wars have no clear boundaries: the whole region in which a conflict is happening must be considered.
6 – use of legal instruments: ‘A much larger investment will have to be made in civilian capabilities for law-enforcement, i.e. police, court officials, prosecutors and judges.’ ‘Terrorists, war criminals, human rights violators and drug traffickers should face fair trials according to international human rights standards.’ The report goes further: it asks for ‘a new legal framework to govern both the decision to intervene and operations on the ground. This would build on the domestic law of host states, the domestic law of sending states, international criminal law, international human rights law, and international humanitarian law’.
7 – appropriate use of force: ‘minimum force is key’. The aim is to protect people and minimise all casualties – though ‘nothing should undermine the inherent right of self defence’.

‘Peace comes before human rights in classic peacekeeping, and victory comes before human rights in classic military interventions. A more holistic approach is needed that covers different types of political institutions and different phases of conflict or state failure.’ Who should put that holistic approach into practice? The Human Security Doctrine team has this suggestion:

‘The EU should establish a Human Security Response Force, composed of 15,000 men and women, of whom one-third would be civilian. Personnel could be drawn from the troops and civilians already made available to member states. Police officers, human rights monitors, humanitarian aid workers, civilian administrators and others would be working alongside the military; in addition, a Human Security Volunteer Service should be established. 5,000 personnel would be at a high level of readiness, able to deploy at short notice, and constantly training together (the rest would train together periodically). The idea is to develop a new ethos combining traditional military values like heroism, sacrifice and excellence with the civilian qualities of listening to and enabling others. The force should also have a capacity for intelligence and communications, much of it drawn from existing civilian capacities.’

The 13-strong team included a Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies, a Professor of International Law specialising in conflict resolution and human rights, and a SIPRI project leader researching conflict prevention and peacebuilding: it’s likely they had sympathy with the pacifist position. Are there signs of this in what they say about their proposed ‘response force’? For a start, they insist that human security missions should not be led by the military. They also say:

– ‘For the military, it means a shift from the traditional use of force as war fighting to that of law enforcement. They have to be actively involved in assisting the police and civil authorities.’ ‘Even if military forces are used, they can only succeed on the basis of local consent and support.’

– ‘The principle of primacy of human rights has far-reaching implications for military tactics. In human security operations, protection of civilians, not defeating an enemy, is an end in itself. Coercive tactics would be ruled out while others, like safe havens or humanitarian corridors would have a central role.’

‘Armed forces have to act within a legal framework that applies to individuals. There may even be situations where it is legitimate to kill someone who is trying to kill a third party. Soldiers need to be confident of their rights to use force. However, they remain legally accountable for their actions.’

Of course organised armed forces are unacceptable to pacifists. But before throwing out the Human Security team’s suggestions, we might think about another proposal, this time for achieving international commitment to the 1972 Biological & Toxins Convention (BWC).

The BWC was drawn up with no agreement on how to check that the ban was being obeyed. Without such verification this treaty is easy for a state to break without being found out or, if found out, brought to justice. Discussions on how to solve this problem have rambled on inconclusively for decades.

Biological weapons rely on micro-organisms, which reproduce themselves and so don’t need factories. They are easily released, spread widely of their own accord, and only a small quantity is needed. And BW can be developed and produced in laboratories and equipment normally used to make beneficial bioproducts. So it’s not surprising that big biobusinesses, and governments benefiting from them, resist the idea of inspections which might reveal commercial secrets or uncover top-secret military research. The USA has been particularly sensitive about this and has unilaterally pulled out of the BWC debate.

People have at last begun to realise that trying to create a single BWC Protocol is getting nowhere. Instead, it’s been suggested that separate ‘building-block’ agreements could be drawn up, easier to sign up to on their own.
One would deal with ‘biosecurity’. Countries signing this would agree on the standards of safety that must be kept when dealing with dangerous micro-organisms and poisons. There would also be provision for vetting the scientists that work with them.

A second Protocol would focus on ‘investigation’. Systems would be set up to investigate any allegations that BW are being used. This would mean creating and equipping rapid-response forensic teams to inspect suspicious outbreaks of infectious disease. They would also follow up information and intelligence about BW generally. A procedure like this already exists: the UN Secretary-General has the authority to send out just such teams to suspected BW danger-zones (and has done so). This ‘building-block’, however, means that those who sign up must readily allow UN experts into any suspect area on their soil. A state that showed reluctance would risk looking guilty.

A third agreement would concentrate on inspections. Up to now, teams have carried out repeated routine inspections of ‘dual-use’ laboratories and factories. Under a new Inspection Protocol, the teams would instead concentrate on rapid response to information about suspicious activities, at short notice and with full rights to collect any on-site samples they want. This agreement would include safeguards on security: benign secrets would be safe.

The first step, it’s been suggested, is to create a new international conference – perhaps a voluntary coming-together of like-minded states – devoted to creating the building-block agreements and united by the wish to protect the world from the terrible effects of biological weapons. Past disagreements and tensions could be ignored. If the ‘big pharmas’ and biotech industries can be reassured, there’s a chance of success. And if that happens there will be a model for the future: using ‘building-block’ protocols to end war altogether.

So perhaps the idea of a rapid-response Human Security Force (re-named without that word ‘force’?) could be seen as a building-block towards the abolition of war. Its new requirements of the military – in a role more like that of police, fire-fighters or disaster relief engineers – move towards a new concept of military training: training for co-operation not aggression, rescue not retribution, problem-solving not power-wielding. Such new units, saving lives rather than taking them, could by their very existence – and, of course, by the work they would do – create an ethos in which armies and armaments begin to fall into disuse.

‘The EU would need to make an additional investment in human security, although some resources could be freed by restructuring defence budgets,’ says the Human Security report: isn’t that a step towards conversion? ‘Traditional war-fighting is unacceptable viewed through a human rights lens’: isn’t that a step towards a change of perception – which some are already taking?

This a step-by-step process is something pacifists must at least consider. We know that the move towards a war-free world can’t be made in one leap. Maybe, insisting on ‘the primacy of human rights’, we can get there from here?

Margaret Melicharova

Get the full Human Security report here




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