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Statement by Ms. Sadako Ogata

The High-level Event on Human Security

ECOSOC, New York, 8 May 2013



Secretary General H.E. Ban Ki-Moon, Excellencies, Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to give a statement at this High-level event on Human Security at the United Nations. First of all, I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to the Secretary General, the Chairperson of the Advisory Board on Human Security and the Human Security Unit of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for organizing this event.

The General Assembly resolution on human security adopted in September 2012 was clearly a significant milestone. To me, as one who desperately needed a concept that provides protection for people suffering from a wide range of insecurities in the 1990s, and as one who has subsequently dedicated herself to developing and disseminating this concept, the adoption of the resolution was indeed an exciting event.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

please allow me to take this opportunity to share my own experiences that led to the birth of the human security concept.

In the decade following the end of the Cold War, when I assumed the post of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the nature of conflicts had changed mostly from inter-state to intra-state, and the sources of insecurity had become largely internal with ethnic, religious and political groups fighting over contested rights and resources. I was faced with the daily operational challenges of coping with the protection and resettlement of the millions of people forced to leave their homes. While many had to cross international borders and become refugees eligible for international protection, many more became internally displaced without protection from any state.

In carrying out my responsibilities, I repeatedly questioned how we should address the evolving issues and problems. I began to focus more and more directly on the victims, all affected people suffering within their own states. I learned that by focusing more directly on the people, we could find ways to provide protection for them, identify their needs, and uncover the social, economic and political factors that endangered their own security.   

Thus the concept of “human security” began to impress me more and more as a useful entry point to deal with the prevailing security issues all over the world. Internationally too, the concept started to gain prominence. Observing that the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997-98 had its heaviest impact on the socially vulnerable segments of the population, the late Japan’s Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi announced his commitment to promote human security which led to two major initiatives by the Government of Japan. One is establishment of the U.N. Trust Fund for Human Security; and the other is to set up the Commission on Human Security with the support of the U.N. Secretary-General. I had the privilege to co-chair the Commission with the respected economist and Nobel Prize laureate Amartya Sen. After two years of research, field visits and public hearings, the Commission released a report in 2003 entitled “Human Security Now.” This report proposed an innovative framework of action that addresses critical threats to human security.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I think it is safe to say that the concept of human security has now evolved to a powerful tool for protecting and empowering people.

Through applying this concept, the international community has come to recognize that the survival, livelihood and dignity of people serve as the basis for achieving peace, development and human progress. The concept can recognize the complexity and interrelatedness of insecurities facing people, and the importance of working across a broad spectrum of sectors to address the full range of insecurities. Moreover, the empowerment of vulnerable people for enabling them to take active roles in making their lives and communities more secure has been widely accepted as a central focus of development and humanitarian efforts.   

In order to translate the concept of human security into concrete activities, U.N. agencies have implemented some 200 projects in 85 countries with financial support from the U.N. Trust Fund for Human Security. Through this experience, we have learned a lot of valuable lessons about rebuilding war-torn communities, strengthening the resilience of vulnerable people exposed to sudden economic downturns and natural disasters, and addressing urban violence. Quite a number of good practices exist as the Secretary General mentioned in his opening remarks.

Other international partners have also come to increasingly apply the concept of human security in their operations. For example, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, which I headed for 8.5 years until March 2012, adopted human security as a policy pillar and has accumulated experience with the application of the concept. In addition, I am pleased to note that the academic community has also taken strong interest in exploring the structural context of human security. The Japan Association of International Relations will host a session on human security this fall.   

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

since the birth of the concept, the International community has made significant advancement toward realizing human security. We have seen more seamless interventions among various actors, humanitarian and developmental, for protecting and empowering vulnerable people. Yet, there is no denying that, in too many parts of the world, people are still left at the mercy of threats to their survival, lives and dignity. At the same time, advancement in transportation and communication technologies have stimulated the aspiration of people and accelerated the movement of population and financial capital, further complicating the growing risks and threats to people’s lives.

Against this background, the adoption of the General Assembly resolution on human security bears a tremendous impact. We have produced a powerful operational tool to address problems and provide solutions through concrete action.

Those challenges and actions to be taken are enormous. Instead of discussion in the abstract, the U.N. enabled the commission to initiate concrete means of addressing the challenge.

First, the intervention by the U.N. Trust Fund for Human Security introduces concrete entry points for action. The projects supported by the Trust Fund have clearly made a difference and demonstrated that there are new, more holistic ways of identifying and addressing protection needs. But identifying and tackling the root causes of insecurity require longer term monitoring, innovative thinking and collaborative and sustained effort. To fulfill these requirements, I would like to emphasize the need to enhance the involvement of Member States in the operation of the Trust Fund, and to expand the administrative and analytical capacity of the Human Security Unit.        

Secondly, now that a common understanding on human security has been established by the General Assembly resolution adopted last September, the U.N. organizations and other development and humanitarian organizations should better integrate the concept and lessons learned into their own operations. This is particularly important given the limited size of each project through the Trust Fund. And I would also like to stress that human security should be an overarching principle for the post-2015 development agenda in order to coordinate and indeed galvanize the world’s many humanitarian and development resources for greater effect. 

Finally, but not least importantly, there is one crucial issue that must be addressed, which is how to sustain the political will of governments and leaders to care and act on behalf of those who suffer. I would like to conclude my statement by asking the following questions: do we show sufficient compassion for the people whose lives and dignity are at risk? If yes, how can we turn this compassion into political and benevolent action across the international community?

Thank you very much.


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