2013 - December 6: CLEER Conference on Human Security

 ‘Human security as a tool for a comprehensive approach to human rights and security linkages in EU Foreign policy’

The T.M.C. Asser Instituut hosted this conference organised by the Centre for the Law of the EU External Relations (CLEER), with the support of Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP) of the European Union, bringing together academics, legal and policy experts, policy-makers and stakeholders to discuss the operational framework for a distinct EU approach to security policy so as to provide effective protection and due respect to individuals’ human rights in the conflict and post-conflict context. The conference focused on the need for enhancing coordination and synergies of the EU’s so far fragmented toolbox addressing peace, security, stability and development issues, for the overall goal of heightened human rights protection.

The workshop encompassed four main sessions, followed by lively Q&A sessions. Dr Aaron Matta, Senior Researcher at Asser and academic programme coordinator of CLEER, briefly welcomed the speakers and participants and made a few preliminary remarks on the conceptual development and evolution of the concept of ‘human security’. He underlined that human security has been developed over the last twenty years in response to the changing nature and proliferation of internal conflicts and failed states, as well as the humanitarian crises which arose as a result. The concept, it was noted, has since evolved as a multi-disciplinary approach of the international community in an effort to respond more effectively to conflicts and security challenges, including natural disasters. Dr Matta discussed the development of the concept which was first introduced by the UNDP Human development Report of 1994 and further elaborated upon in the Kofi Annan report of 2005, both of which emphasised the core components of human security, notably freedom from fear and freedom from want as well as economic, environmental, food, health and political security. He further discussed the impact of the Treaty of Lisbon upon EU External Relations policy, including the new institutional structure, which presented a unique opportunity for renewed focus upon human security, along with the Union’s long-term foreign policy objectives. Both the Barcelona and Madrid reports developing the concept and operationalization of human security in Europe were identified as demonstrating increased interest in incorporating the concept into the EU’s foreign policy. Dr Matta noted the argument that many of the general principles have already been implemented, although not explicitly, into the EU’s security and human rights discourse, for example in crisis management programmes and humanitarian aid agendas. He listed a number of existing challenges to a coherent human security approach, including tensions between the supranational and inter-governmental nature of the Union, state sovereignty and the nature of the intervention required. Nevertheless, Dr Matta emphasised that the human security framework undoubtedly has the potential to foster a more coherent long-term EU foreign policy approach.  

Session 1, chaired by Prof. Steven Blockmans, from CEPS and University of Amsterdam, focused on the experiences of recent crisis responses to security challenges through the prism of human security.  Mr Stavros Petropoulos from the Crisis Response and Operational Coordination department of the EEAS presented a comprehensive overview of the current EEAS crisis response system. Focusing on the functioning of the crisis response department, he stressed its central role in ensuring the immediate and effective mobilisation of EU resources to deal with the consequences of external crises caused by man-made or natural disasters. He referred to the main mechanisms of the current response framework, underlining the significance of the EU Crisis Platform which facilitates the effective coordination of the relevant crisis management instruments, along with the ‘EU Situation Room’ which provides a twenty four-hour worldwide monitoring and early warning services. He noted that a coherent response to crises should turn the EU 'comprehensive approach' into action by identifying ways to effectively use the entire range of tools and instruments which the EU has at its disposal.

Mr Cees Wittebrood from DG ECHO elaborated on the sensitive relationship between humanitarian assistance and the EU external action comprehensive policy, focusing on the different objectives they pursue and noting that in reality, visions and ambitions may clash. Within this context, in linking humanitarian assistance to human security, he underlined that although the EU has not formally accepted this concept, it nevertheless indirectly contributes to the achievement of human security in practice even if this is not the guiding principle of its action.

Ms Catherine Woollard from the European Peace-building Liaison Office (EPLO) provided an assessment of recent EU crisis management missions, highlighting the tensions between the different actors involved due to divergent understandings of the concept of human security. As she mentioned, these tensions unfortunately generate an inconsistent and arbitrary use of the concept, rather than a systematic approach that is inclusive of the needs of domestic actors.

The second session, chaired by Dr Aaron Matta, addressed ‘human security’ as a concept for a strategic approach for human rights protection in EU Security policy. Dr Mary Martin focused on the definition of the concept of ‘human security’, presenting the conceptual challenges, the EU-UN nexus and current progress made at a UN level. Referring to the common EU-UN definition of human security agreed in 2012 through a General Assembly Resolution, she highlighted the national dimension of the common concept which strengthens the national solutions in this field. With particular regard to the EU’s approach to human security, she mentioned that the challenge lies in rediscovering what makes it distinct from human rights, development and traditional security definitions. Dr Martin underlined the need for a political narrative on how human security should be applied, training, inter-agency guidelines, human security data which will better inform policy decisions, along with the development of a regulatory framework. It was emphasised that a strategic framework in particular would enable human security to be applied more concretely as a method rather than as a mere end goal.

Prof. Stephan Keukeleire then discussed the human security framework as a strategic long-term vision for EU foreign policy and its implications for the European Security Strategy (ESS). Contributing to the discussion on the use between the narrow-broader interpretation of human security, he noticed that, when it comes to the operationalization of the concept, greater focus has been so far placed on ‘freedom from fear’ and less on the ‘freedom from want’ which is closely linked to development. In assessing the Union’s interpretation of the concept, he noted that it is human rights-centred and is missing the ‘freedom from fear’ dimension. He finished his presentation by providing recommendations aiming at strengthening the effectiveness of the EU’s foreign policy particularly referring to the need for more focus on infrastructure support and development as a long term process.

Under the chairmanship of Prof. Ramses A. Wessel from University of Twente, Session 3 dealt with the institutional structure for operationalising human security in EU Foreign policy. Mr Petr Pribyla from the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) of University of Nottingham discussed the role of the Commission and EEAS in post-conflict reconstruction environments with a close focus on the security sector reform (SSR). He underlined the importance of the security sector reform, stating that it is a key process of post-conflict reconstruction having as its main goal to bring security services in line with democratic principles. He pointed out that as the general SSR policy framework at the core of peace building is based on documents dating back to 2006, it is thus time to develop a new approach based on security sector reform. In addition, he noted the obstacles within the institutional coordination of EU action, as well as the crucial role of the national member states whose different approaches on security matters do not always reflect the Union’s approach. He underlined the need for comprehensive implementation of the EU SSR policy framework by the member states as well as the need for an increased focus on democracy alongside the protection of human rights in EU peace building efforts.

The session continued with Mr Marcus Houben, from the Crisis Management and Planning Directorate of the EEAS who gave his insight on the institutional coordination for an integrated approach in CFSP/CSDP in development cooperation and in post-conflict reconstruction environments. Mr Houben stressed that a successful CSDP mission should be accompanied by a financial mechanism in the form of a ‘pension system’ for people employed in the security sector, aimed at ensuring the proper functioning of the security sector after the completion of the EU mission. He also stressed the need for capacity building and strengthening of national institutions, for example judicial mechanisms, in order to facilitate the attainment of a lasting solution. On the question of whether human security is the key concept underpinning CSDP policy, he noted that human security as a concept is a ‘horizontal cross-cutting’ approach to security, while CSDP missions on the other hand need to be focused and targeted based on measurable, specific objectives in order to deliver tangible results.

The last session, chaired by Dr. Wybe Douma from the T.M.C. Asser Instituut, discussed the security-development nexus in the context of EU involvement in third countries. Mr. Hans Merket from Ghent University analysed the institutional tensions surrounding the realisation of a human security concept risking fragmentation and duplication as a result. He underlined that the concept of human security often forms part of a comprehensive policy approach but that only scant references have been made to it in EU development policy documents. It was noted that the broad scope of human security enables it to be invoked in a wide range of operations and for many tools to be created to that end. EU development cooperation instruments are beginning to take a more security-oriented approach by focusing for example on conflict prevention, while the CSDP policy can be seen to be taking a more civilian-oriented approach with long-term missions focused upon capacity building. These trends have blurred the dividing lines between these EU policy fields which has had the effect of exacerbating institutional tensions, serving to underline the need for a clear overarching human security strategy.  

Ms. Corina van der Laan from the Stability & Rule of Law Division of Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented the Dutch perspective on the application of the development-security nexus stressing the need for a more coherent approach among the member states. It was noted that while the Dutch approach to international security is very much focused upon inter-institutional development cooperation, the EU approach to human security by contrast has suffered as a result fragmentation and duplication. However, the new communication on the comprehensive approach was said to be cause for hope. The need for institutional development and inter-institutional cooperation at the EU level was stressed in order to address the existing ‘planning gap’ in operations.

Dr Aaron Matta, Senior Researcher at Asser and academic programme coordinator of CLEER then proceeded to make a few closing remarks. He underlined that the first session had identified a clear need for a more comprehensive and coordinated approach to EU crisis responses and that humanitarian aid should not be used as a foreign policy tool. When it comes to CSDP crisis management, it was found to be important to take the local population’s viewpoint into account. In terms of the conceptualisation of human security, the discrepancies between member states’ approaches underline the need for a clear conceptualisation at the EU level. The institutional challenges to the successful implementation of the human security framework were noted, along with the need to enhance legitimacy and engagement. The inconsistencies in funding and coordination on the ground were found to present key challenges, along with financing. It was underlined that we should, as far as possible, avoid the politicisation of the strategic narrative. In the final panel, we learned that human security has been invoked on an ad-hoc basis and that inter-institutional tensions threaten to undermine its successful implementation. However, we have heard positive examples and proposals for how a comprehensive EU approach could be improved. Dr Matta concluded that human security as a concept remains very difficult to define so the EU should see human security as more of a goal than a method. Institutions can be part of the problem rather than the solution but there is hope for change and improved coordination in the future. 


The conference was the first event of CLEER’s project ‘Human Security: a new framework for enhanced human rights in the EU’s foreign security and migration policies’, implemented with the support of the Lifelong Learning Programme (LLP) of the European Union.

A further conference on ‘Responding to new threats with a human security approach and the EU’s asylum and international protection policy’ will take place in Spring 2014, with the date to be announced shortly.

The project runs from 1 September 2013 until 31 August 2014 and aims at facilitating academic interaction in closely interrelated areas of EU external conduct, creating synergies between and raising awareness of global security concerns. A CLEER Working Paper will appear later in 2014, covering the papers presented in the conference. For more information on the research project and for a monthly overview on human security related legal and policy developments see CLEER website at www.cleer.eu

Conference Programme