Journal of Human Security | 2013 | Volume 9 | Issue 1 | Pages 1-3
DOI: 10.12924/johs2013.09010001
ISSN: 1835-3800
Sabina Lautensach
of the Journal of Human Security, Human Security Institute (Canada), University of Northern
British Columbia, Terrace, BC V8G 4A2, Canada; E-Mail: [email protected]
Submitted: 6 January 2013 | Accepted: 7 January 2013 | Published: 16 January 2013
Dear Reader,
A few changes have caught up with our venerable
journal since our last issue. As you have noticed, JHS
is now published by Librello, an excellent new
publishing house based in Switzerland. Volumes 1
though 7 are still available through the RMIT website.
The two issues of volume 8 are available freely
through our personal blog site [1] and from this
current issue onward our issues will be available by
open access through the Librello website [2]. All
archived volumes are also accessible though the
Librello site, although volumes 1 through 7 are still
on pay per view. We are grateful to the people at
Librello for providing access to our archive in its
entirety through their webside.
The state of human security has also experienced
some notable changes. The 2012
Human Security
[3] painted a glowingly optimistic picture of
human security improving worldwide. Of course such
sweeping proclamations always rely heavily on their
small print, in this case the particular definition of
human security employed. Unfortunately there is not
even a small print definition to be found in the
Report. The reader is obliged to infer that definition
from the sources of insecurity that the document
recognises. They encompass all forms of 'organised
violence': interstate and intrastate armed conflict, the
severity and persistence of warfare, and various kinds
of military interventions. Thus, the Report limits itself
to what Johan Galtung, the pioneer of peace studies,
calls 'direct violence'.
What the Report does not count as human
insecurity is what Galtung calls 'structural violence',
the slow death from hunger and preventable or
curable diseases, caused not by intentional acts of
commission, but by neglect, by acts of omission, by
gross inequality and by an unjust structure of society.
It is estimated that structural violence kills over
100,000 people every day, mostly children [4].
Galtung [5] also introduced the concept of 'cultural
violence', the advocacy of direct and structural
violence in education, the media, literature and art, in
the form of nationalism, racism, sexism and other
forms of discrimination and prejudice. One wonders
how differently the Report's pronouncements would
have come out under such a more inclusive
Furthermore, the Report fully ignores the fourth
pillar of human security, on which the other three so
frequently depend: the stability, productivity and
resilience of environmental support structures. It
represents the ecologically naïve position that we
encounter from time to time in a minority of
students, that food comes from grocery stores and
disease from germs. With respect to the forth pillar,
the decline of human prospects hardly requires any
further argument.
Given its narrow focus, the Report's assessments
and prognoses assume a similarly narrow validity. Its
optimistic outlook is not anything new; previous
Reports from 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2009/10
invariably announced declines in the number of
armed conflicts and their deadliness, in genocide, in
human rights abuses, and in terrorism [6]. Those
claims are supported by the work of Joshia Goldstein
© 2013 by the authors; licensee Librello, Switzerland. This open access article was published
under a Creative Commons Attribution License (
and Steven Pinker, showing that wars are becoming
less common and on average less deadly.
Even when one engages with the Report on its
own narrow conceptual territory, not all of its
proclamations appear equally defensible. The claim
that the number and severity of human rights
violations in general are in decline can hardly be
supported by data showing decreasing incidence of
direct violence alone. Moreover, even in terms of
direct physical violence the US State Department's
data on its Political Terror Scale (PTS) indicate more
of a steady state, or at best a return to 'normal' after
a post-Cold War upsurge [7]. This curiously stands in
contrast to a demonstrable increase in the number of
'democratic' governments.
An additional reason why overly optimistic reports
like this may do more harm to global human security
(however defined) than they reassure an already
complacent OECD consumer is in its implicit message.
Tak e, for instance, the claim that rape has decreased
as a weapon of war: "mainstream narratives on
wartime sexual violence and the impact of war on
education are often one-sided ad misleading". The
Report blames NGOs for over-reporting. "The
worldwide incidence of sexual violence has likely
declined" ([3], p. 79). Framing the information in this
way can do severe damage to the cause of human
rights. Readers too often infer that things are getting
better all the time anyway, which is of course what
everybody wants to believe and constantly looks to
see confirmed, but this is also fundamentally
counterproductive to the quest for human rights.
That quest relies desperately on continuous funding,
which under neoliberal administrations must come
increasingly from private donors and charitable
organisations. Those in turn base their allocation
decisions on research reports such as this one.
This objection has nothing to do with the fact that
the Report's claims may be factually correct, at least
in part. It rather addresses the strategic blunder, the
outrageous offence to millions of women, and the
damage to the cause of human rights and women's
security. It raises the question about underlying
motives, and Jürgen Habermas's famous question,
"who benefits?" What might be the reasons why an
organisation dedicated to human security would
dissociate itself ideologically from the human rights
movement? The Human Security Report Project
(HSRP), affiliated with Simon Fraser University in
Vancouver, Canada, claims to be an independent
research centre even though it receives funds from
several national governments (Switzerland, Sweden,
UK, Norway) and a private investment banking
Among the actors who might benefit from the
proposition that the global situation of women and
human rights has improved (and been misrepresented
by others) are organisations in charge of allocating
scarce resources, as well as all those who would
rather see those funds be allocated towards more
expressly industrial interests, such as defense
contracts. The idea of empowering women
particularly has never sat well with groups of certain
ideological bents, from orthodox religious
organisations to extreme conservatives.
As an active educator, I was also surprised by the
Report's claim, based on data published by UNESCO's
Institute for Statistics, to the effect that educational
outcomes did not decline during periods of warfare.
Intuitively such a claim seems grotesque. To put it
bluntly, if the schoolhouse burning down has no
impact on education, then why do we bother with
building schoolhouses? Surely kids who are drafted
into armies will be unable to attend school? One
wonders about the quality of the data used to make
this claim sound even marginally convincing. But
again my concern lies as much with possible motives
as it does with the claim's veracity. Is it intended as a
justification of military conflict, or as belittlement of
its horrors? Who benefits from it?
On the other side of the coin is the researcher's
obligation to report whatever conclusions their data
indicate unequivocally. And, as we all know but not
do not always acknowledge, bias of framing is
unavoidable. Ideally the researcher would cope by
representing their conclusions in more than one form,
framing them from diverse ideological viewpoints.
Academics are (or should be) well acquainted with
such dialectical approaches. However, such
ideological fence-sitting tends to be frowned upon by
funders. Their interest is to see their points of view
confirmed. These two approaches appear
fundamentally irreconcilable, which usually leaves the
decision up to the power differential. I leave it to the
reader to guess which side is more powerful, a
funding organisation or the researcher.
Taking this argument one step further, the
question arises what counterhegemonic obligations
arise for the researcher from this inequitable
situation. Many would name a judicious screening of
possible funding agencies, taking into account the
extent of academic latitude, possible conditional
strings leading to moral or financial commitments,
and the overall ideological bent of the organisation.
This ideal clashes of course frequently with what are
perceived inevitably as 'realities on the ground'. But
so do other academic ideals, such as objectivity,
veracity, and equity. We still are expected to try our
best. Sadly, the authors of the Human Security
Report evidently did not.
Wishing you all a very peaceful 2013!
1. Human Security Institute. Available from:
(Accessed on 5 January 2013).
2. Librello Publishing House. Journal of Human
Security. Available from:
journalofhumansecurity (Accessed on 5 January 2013).
3. Human Security Report Project. Available from:
text.aspx (Accessed on 5 January 2013).
4. Fischer D. Peacebuilding Processes. In:
Lautensach A, Lautensach S, editors. Human Security
in World Affairs: Problems and Opportunities. Vienna,
Austria: Caesar Press; 2013.
5. Galtung J. A Theory of Conflict: Overcoming
Direct Violence. Transcend University Press; 2010.
6. Human Security Report Project. Available from:
human-security-report.aspx (Accessed on 5 January
7. Wood R. Doubting a New Ear in Human Security?
Available from:
(Accessed on 5 January 2013).