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A recent high-level symposium at the United Nations hosted by Japan and other member states emphasized “human security,” tracing the framework’s evolution through decades of U.N. efforts to cope with humanitarian and environmental crises around the world.

The event, which took place on Feb. 28 at the U.N. headquarters, coincided with the 25th anniversary since human security as a paradigm for state decision-making first appeared in a landmark United Nations Development Program report. It also marked the 20th anniversary of the Japan-led effort to establish a trust fund supporting a “people-centered approach” when providing for those in need.

Since that time, the concept has grown and been defined in greater detail, including in a 2012 General Assembly resolution describing it as “the right of people to live in freedom and dignity, free from poverty and despair.”

UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner, one of the event’s two keynote speakers, outlined the influence of human security in shaping the international body’s 2030 agenda and the 17 objectives that make up its Sustainable Development Goals.

“There is no question the power of human security remains so acute and relevant today because it is an integrated tool,” Steiner said, calling it “identical” to the SDGs in tackling complex, interrelated issues that stand in the way of development.

The goals, meant to be achieved by 2030, were crafted to prompt simultaneous efforts to help lift millions out of poverty, improve health and education, protect the environment and more.

Yukio Sato, the event’s other keynote speaker, served as Japan’s ambassador to the United Nations from the late 1990s. He was instrumental in bringing forward the human security concept while working with other diplomats and former Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Sato spoke of a paper on human security that he prepared for Non-Aligned Movement members in the lead-up to the international body’s widely touted Millennium Summit.

The principles laid out by the ambassador gained influence through that September 2000 meeting of world leaders, whose group declaration paved the way for the later adoption of the Millennium Development Goals. These eight goals included halving poverty and stopping the spread of HIV and AIDS within 15 years.

Recalling a 2004 visit by Annan to the Diet, Sato said the U.N. chief credited Japan’s technology and its “focus on human security” as instrumental in establishing the MDGs.

“Human security was meant to ensure the safety and survival of individuals and protection of their dignity,” he explained. “We also pointed out that the threats to human security varied broadly — from poverty to conflicts, from environmental degradation to displacement of people, from land mines, small arms, terrorism, organized crimes to infectious diseases and drugs and so forth. Natural disasters would also pose serious threats to security in our view.”

Nearly two decades after that summit, Sato noted the world is still “rife” with a range of threats and said that efforts “to enhance human security should remain the central focus to achieve the SDGs.”

Japan’s Deputy Ambassador to the U.N. Toshiya Hoshino also made remarks stressing the importance of human security in addressing today’s global challenges.

“With our collaborative efforts through the application of human security, we can greatly contribute to realize the future where people everywhere can thrive and prosper,” he said.

The 90-minute program, which also included a panel discussion, was sponsored by the missions of Japan, Norway, Thailand and South Africa, as well as the U.N.’s Human Security Unit and UNDP.

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