Citizen security and the protection of human rights

The protection of human rights is a central concern for the development of national security policies, particularly in times of transition and conflict. Our objective with this thematic forum is to contribute to the development of a security doctrine that would place citizens and their fundamental rights at the centre of security discussions. In this sense, the working group would analyse the evolution of violent conflict and the use of force by security forces, building on the continuing debate on human security and using a perspective that could be called citizen security.

The prevailing trend in conflicts is toward fewer inter-state conflicts and potentially more intrastate conflicts, often with external actors playing an important role. Wars among states are unlikely in the present international environment. According to a recent leading foresight report, “Global Trends 2030 - Citizens in an Interconnected and Polycentric World”,[1] wars fuelled by nationalism and extremist identity politics, and the associated dangers of mass murder and genocide, will be the core security challenges of the coming decades. Criminal networks and populist nationalist movements will tend to make states more vulnerable. Terrorism will remain a concern, but low-intensity conflicts such as urban violence will also require increased attention. This trend represents a major threat to human rights since it places civilians as the main victims of conflict. These trends are reinforced by the evolution of the military doctrine of many states that gives priority to the use of air power and drones, which can decrease the number of their own soldiers killed but increases the number of civilians killed.

Citizens are also seeing their fundamental rights violated and their lives threatened by military and security forces in the context of internal political conflicts, often when the military are in power, with excessive force used against those demonstrating for their rights. This problem is particularly grave in authoritarian states when those who feel threatened by demonstrating citizens can respond with violence.

Terrorist acts also constitute a threat to human rights. Paradoxically, however, the fight against terrorism has also become also a major concern for the protection of fundamental rights and justice. States and security forces around the world have committed grave violations of human rights in the name of fighting terrorism.

Internal conflicts such as those in Syria, Sudan or Ukraine are the main threat to human rights, as these situations can involve the mass murder of civilians, the use of torture against prisoners, the internal displacement of civilian populations and the creation of refuges crises.

To face such formidable new challenges to human rights, the international community has been shown to lack the will or the capacity to respond.

In the 1990s, during the multilateralist period that followed the end of the Cold War, the protection of civilians and the introduction of human rights concerns into military missions became priorities. Progress, however, was limited and came to be challenged during the unilateralist period at the beginning of the 21st century. It has been slow to recover.

Progress in the 1990s notably included the debate on the responsibility to protect (R2P) and the creation of the International Criminal Court and specialized tribunals for the Bosnian and Rwandan conflicts. These bodies, however, are limited by the scope of the conflicts that they can engage with unless requested by the UN Security Council, while the principle of R2P suffered greatly with the intervention in Libya. The development of military doctrine involving a dimension of peacekeeping, which must include a dimension of human rights, has become a priority for some states, while others still consider war and extreme violence as a legitimate continuation of politics by other means.

The main topics of the working group would be:

  • Identification of the main challenges to human rights that may come from violent conflicts, using trends analysis;
  • Analysis of public policies to address them;
  • The protection of human rights in the context of modern warfare, dealing with questions such as extra–judicial killings and the use of drones;
  • The protection of refugees from violent conflicts;
  • Relations among political, military and security forces in the context of democratic transitions;
  • The links between security and justice in the fight against terrorism;
  • The potential of current international conventions to protect human rights in the context of violent conflicts and analysis of implementation mechanisms;
  • The effectiveness of UN institutions in the protection of human rights in the context of violent conflicts;
  • The principles of Responsibility to Protect (R2P);
  • Human rights in the context of peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations;
  • A review of global trends in conflicts and security to develop a doctrine for citizen security that would coherently integrate way human rights.



Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)

Centre d'Etudes et de Recherches en Sciences Sociales (CERSS) , Morocco

Centro de Investigação Interdisciplinar em Direitos Humanos (DH-CII), da Universidade do Minho, Portugal

Instituto de Relações Internacionais da Universidade de São Paulo (IRI-USP), Brazil

[1] ‘Global Trends 2030 - Citizens in an Interconnected and Polycentric World’ was produced in 2011 as part of the European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS),