Efforts to improve human security in situations of violence have increasingly recognized the differential experiences and vulnerabilities of specific communities – like women or the elderly. In this line, advances have also been made in exploring the intersectionality of these contexts – that is, the fact that those belonging to multiple marginalized groups endure compounded risks. We are now at a point where we explore identity in conflict with more nuance than ever before. Yet, one collective still often remains excluded from our analysis – the LGBTQI+ or Queer community.
Despite efforts at inclusion and nuance in international security, like the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda, we still implicitly marginalize or exclude the queer community from policy or alleviation measures, offering little differential protection or recognition. As such, in the words of Academic Jamie Hagen, “those vulnerable to insecurity and violence because of their sexual orientation or gender identity remain largely neglected by the international peace and security community”.
Queer human security and protection in conflict: where we fall short
From Chechen leaders, to Zimbabwe’s President or Turkey’s Erdogan, world leaders often don’t only decline to offer protections to LGBTQI+ people – they actively deny their existence. Be it within their borders or entirely, the majority of world leaders still deny basic recognition and rights to the queer community, paving the way for discrimination, abuses, and killings.
As a result, LGBTQI+ experiences are often implicitly or explicitly excluded from policy, research, and services addressing identity-based violence and mass atrocity. A recent paper by Protection Approaches has explored the multiple ways queer experiences of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide remain under-explored and unaddressed.
As we have stated, this is often due to pervasive political, legal, and social discrimination. However, another prominent effect is that, due to the community’s exclusion from research and debate, there is a stark lack of data pertaining to the lives of queer populations. Even when attempts at inclusion are made, we have little experience in how to ethically and effectively gather data on the community. Firstly, as violence is often viewed through a dichotomous lens with regard to gender, there is little space or recognition for communities that do not conform to this binary. Secondly, even if research focuses on LGBTQI+ minorities, challenges remain when attempting to ethically explore identity outside primarily western categorizations of gender and sexuality – which need to be adapted to different cultural realities – as well as in deciding which collectives to include and how to do so without putting them in danger. Lastly, researchers face the potential lack of availability of basic data on abuses – as many people do not report violence due to the fear of stigmatization or reprisals. As a result of these converging dynamics, queer populations suffer a double attack: victimization and erasure.
Being Queer in war: lived experiences of LGBTQI+ populations in modern conflict
The reality is that LGBTQI+ persons suffer disproportionate violence during armed conflict. The continued abuse and discrimination the community is subject to in peacetime only aggravates within this context, with the worsening of social chaos and the erosion of the rule of law. Indeed, the violence extends beyond self-identification, as even those being only suspected of belonging to the community face reprisals. While progress has indeed been made in terms of the recognition of LGBTQ+ populations under human rights law and existing abuses are increasingly being documented by media, human rights bodies, and civil society, queer populations remain among the least protected of all communities in armed conflict.
“I was on my way home [from work] when five or six men (…) stopped me. They kicked and punched and slapped me all over my head and body. They (…) threw me in a garbage bin. I lay down (…) and they pulled out a razor blade and a screwdriver and poked and cut me all over (…). They sliced me up and poured around five liters of gasoline all over my body and face and set me alight…. The neighbors rescued me”.
Beyond this, queer populations often contend with a severe lack of accountability and a sense of impunity, with states and armed groups tending to be involved in their abuses. Unlike other collectives, queer individuals not only have little or no recourse in law, they often can’t even find social or NGO support.
With discriminatory targeting driven by gender and sexuality worsening in much of the world, some scholars have come to consider these persecutions as amounting to crimes against humanity– as they are systematic, planned, and exercised against primarily civilian populations.
Notable examples of systematic abuses to LGBTQI+ populations continue to arise. Queer Afghans have been targets of increasingly severe attacks since 2021, in the wake of the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. While same-sex relations were criminalized even before the Taliban took control, the situation has notably worsened. According to a report by Human Rights Watch and OutRight Action International, LGBT Afghans have been threatened, sexually assaulted, attacked, and often been forced to flee as refugees. In some cases, family members themselves that support the Taliban have become threats to their safety. Nevertheless, obtaining testimonies remains complicated and there is no accurate estimate of the scale of attacks currently targeting LGBT people in the country.
While Afghanistan may be one of the cases that has received the most coverage, similar abuses have been reported in Iraq, Syria, Colombia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among others. In Syria, the Assad regime has continued to progressively exacerbate its persecution and abuse of LGBTQI+ persons, or those considered to be so. This has been exemplified by reports of sexual violence – including rape, forced stripping, and cavity examinations – threats, severe assault, extortion, kidnapping, and killings by both the state and rebel militias. Even localized conflicts may severely affect the attitude of entire states toward the queer community – in Ukraine, Russian-influenced anti-homosexuality policies and attitudes proliferated since 2014, with the advent of conflict in the Donbas, and negatively affected the lives of LGBTQI+ persons in Kyiv. In this line, we need to consider not only wars, but other severe conflicts as sources of victimization. For example, LGBTQI+ persons – especially trans women – have been recognized as more vulnerable to violence both by armed militias and organized crime across Central America. As such, queer populations stand at the intersection of exacerbated vulnerability and reduced social or institutional support, especially in situations of conflict or protracted human security crises.
While LGBTQI+ people are not the only collective facing increased risks to their human security, the lack of attention paid to their protection, as well as their exclusion from most policy and research efforts on international security, have led their needs and vulnerabilities to be marginalized in humanitarian responses and social assistance during violent conflict.
There is an urgency to recognize the dire situation of queer populations in modern conflict and develop a policy architecture that is able to ensure their protection at an international level. As it stands, the recognition of LGBTQI+ experiences is often absent from even from the most seismic of security crises, and unless that changes we will continue to fail in efforts to holistically protect human rights.
Authors: Esther Brito Ruiz, Ludovica Brambilla, Reka Szabo
Note: due to the rapidly developing situation in Ukraine, we clarify that the information included in this article is actualized up until the date of the 23rd of February, and primarily covers the human security scenario prior to the evolving Russian invasion.
The escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, triggered in the spring of 2021 with the beginning of a progressive massing of thousands of Russian military and equipment near the border with Ukraine, marked the early months of 2022. As of the last few days, the ongoing invasion of Ukraine has triggered a geopolitical crisis dividing major international players and raising concerns for the security balance of Eastern Europe.
These developments raise questions on the impact of the conflict's dynamics on civilians, who have been suffering the consequences of instability for years. This article will set aside political and military analysis to disclose how the crisis has been playing out at the local level in Eastern Ukraine, particularly, its effect on the civilian populations of the non-government-controlled areas (NGCA) of Donetsk and Luhansk prior to the invasion. A comprehensive review is beyond the scope of this piece, but we present some core human security dynamics sometimes excluded from mainstream coverage, many of which were further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Civilian casualties and threats to fundamental rights
Since 2014, civilians in the Donbas have been directly affected by the Russo-Ukrainian conflict and have often been victims of war crimesby both Russian-backed separatist armed groups and Ukrainian forces. The region is characterized by one of the highest concentrations of armed actors in the world - as such, unexploded ordnance (UXO) and explosive remnants of war (ERW) are as much a cause of civilian casualties as active hostilities. Between 2014 and 2019 for example, “over 1,000 individuals were known to be killed by land mines or other explosives”. Estimates of the conflict in July 2021 already registered at least 3,393 deaths within civilian populations and more than 7,000 injured.
Moreover, arms fire and shelling have also caused serious damage to civilian housing and infrastructure, endangering the population by limiting access to water, food, schools, and health services. The Covid-19 pandemic further deteriorated the situation and intensified the need for humanitarian in the region. In fact, even before the escalation of the conflict in 2022, it was calculated that at least 3,4 million peopleneeded humanitarian aid in Eastern Ukraine as the result of the six years of conflict, coupled with the effects of the health crisis. These individuals and families suffer from physical and mental issues related to violence and from the indirect effects of the conflict and pandemic on the economy and their living standards.
The situation regarding political rights and civil liberties is well depicted by the 2020 and 2021 Freedom House reports. The 2021 report on government-controlled Ukraine explores how attempts to maintain democracy are hindered by resistance to crucial reforms, endemic corruption and limited freedom of expression due to an increasing number of attacks against activists and journalists.
The situation drastically worsens in the Eastern Donbas, where authority is in the hands of the People’s Republic of Donestk and Luhansk. These administrations rose to power in 2018 through what are considered to have been deeply fraudulent elections. Associational rights are severely compromised, even organizations politically allied to the ruling leadership are banned. The control over the population’s right to freedom of thought is implemented through a complex system of influence by Russia and adomination of public local institutions and media by people close to the separatist leadership. Furthermore, it has been noted that pro-Ukrainian advocates face non-transparent trials and long prison sentences. In this line, detainees often appear to face torture and psychological abuse. Members of minorities are effectively victims of unpunished persecutions and the justice system seems to lack any mechanism to prevent and punish the crimes reported during the conflicts.
Covid-19 has complicated a situation already dramatic for internally displaced persons (IDP). Since 2014, a “contact line” separates areas controlled by the Ukrainian government and those under Russian influence, dividing families and communities that have been dangerously crossing the border. These people often reside in poor settlements close by, where Ukraine’s social services struggle to provide assistance. As of 2020, the conflict had caused around 734,000 IDPs.
In the last two years, arbitrary pandemic-related travel restrictions have been severely limiting access to healthcare, basic services, and income - further separating families. The closing of crossing points in March 2020 affected thousands of civilians that would usually cross the line to receive their pensions and humanitarian assistance.
The toll of the conflict in Eastern Ukraine on children has been extremely high in the last years. Hundreds of schools were damaged during the fights, which made proper education impossible. In Russian-controlled territories, not only physical threats are present. The identities of Ukrainian children are endangered as well. In the Donbas region, children do not have Ukrainian classes anymore and the language can be learnt solely as a subject for an hour per week. Textbooks in Russian were transported to the schools by the Russian ‘humanitarian’ convoys, and teachers have to use the Russian grading system.
History also has to be taught in a way favoring the Russian side and depicting the occupation of Crimea and the Donetsk and Luhansk regions as a legitimate move by Russia. Because of the linguistic differences, Ukrainian students have difficulties when it comes to admissions in any higher education systems, either in Russia or in Ukraine. In the latter case, the different way of learning history also makes it more challenging for Ukrainians from the occupied territories to perform well in state tests. Furthermore, border crossing, in order to be able to participate in such tests or enroll at universities in the Ukrainian territory, can be restricted and dangerous.
The progression of gendered violence and discrimination against the LGBT+ community (H2)
Since the beginning of 2021, Ukrainian civil society groups have denounced a noted increase in attacks against LGBT+ and women’s rights activists. Attacks and threats have mainly been carried out by far-right groups, but opposition from religious organizations has also been on the rise. This is part of a broader regression of LGBT+ and women’s rights across Eastern Europe but has been tied in Ukraine to nationalization discourse in line with Russian political ideas.
On one hand, domestic violence in Ukraine has remained “widespread, under-reported, and ineffectively addressed”, and has been worsening as the conflict in eastern Ukraine advances. Systemic flaws in protection mechanisms have been exacerbated by political and social tensions, and Amnesty International event referred to it as an epidemic of domestic and sexual violence against women. There is a potential for increased gender-based violence to derive from the mobilization of military personnel in the area and few protections in place to mitigate the rising abuse.
On the other hand, the LGBT+ community in Ukraine - especially nearing the Russian and Bielorussian borders - has been in high alert. Attacks against young transgender individuals have been reported with noted violence. These crimes tend to recieve little support from police, and perpetrators face few or no charges. At a broader level, draft laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity elements more firmly in hate crime law have been pushed back against.
Activists fear that continued Russian aggressions and the progression of the invasion will lead the situation to further deteriorate, with LGBT+ and women’s rights regressing further.
As the situation in Ukraine continues to escalate, we can expect worsening conditions for human security across the country. Continued mass displacements, evolving conditions of gender and homophobic violence, and the interruption of basic freedoms and education will undoubtedly have severe impacts on the lives and future of the Ukrainian people.
By: Arslan Sheikh, Esther Brito Ruiz and Reka Szabo.
Human security is conditioned by a variety of external factors - like war or famine - and personal characteristics - such as gender, ethnic identity, or sexuality. These intersecting realities lead to rapidly evolving patterns of threats to human dignity across the globe. Indeed, humanitarian crises or large scale natural disasters serve to reconfigure the lives of those affected and exacerbate already existing social vulnerabilities. In this line, it becomes important to explore how recent political and social developments have notably worsened the conditions of one particular collective of people: migrants.
Recent estimates suggest that over 281 million people are migrants - amounting to about 3.6 % of the global population. Yet in spite of the significant increases in people flows across national boundaries, migrant groups continue to be politically, socially, and economically targeted and discriminated against. Migrant communities routinely face difficulties in accessing basic services and often see their identities become instrumentalized for political propaganda. As those seeking refuge, fleeing violence, or attempting to find a better future are confronted with rising political polarisation, stricter border control, and worsening social protections. We must reflect on the barriers to movement that affect this collective and the trends that have come to act as drivers of migration flows. Only then can we understand the severity of the conditions migrants face today.
Economic trends are significant drivers of migration today. Economic divergence has been growing between countries, highly impacted by the global recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Available instruments of developing economies aiming at tackling such challenges are much more limited than the ones of advanced economies, which leads to a bifurcated economic recovery. Another longer lasting global challenge to be faced is climate change. Similarly to the pandemic, it impacts countries unevenly: some are going to be more resilient thanks to their more fortunate economic situation and/or geographical location than others.
Adaptation to climate-related changes are going to have socio-economic consequences for individuals. Unskilled workers, for instance, are going to be vulnerable to industrial transformations — for instance, in carbon-intensive, heavy industries—, and may decide to migrate to countries in which their skills can still be used, in the hope of opportunities of economic advancement.
Climate change and countries’ various responses to it can cause not solely voluntary economic migration in the future, but also large-scale involuntary migration. This falls into the category of societal global risk, influencing numerous countries and industries negatively. Climate action failure is one of the potentially damaging risks that are going to contribute to involuntary migration on a global scale. Extreme weather, biodiversity loss, livelihood crises, and social cohesion erosion are also listed by the latest Global Risks Report of the World Economic Forum. Climate action failure and extreme weather are the most influential factors.
Climate change contributes to natural disasters, too. Because of such disasters, internal and cross-border displacement is going to occur. Interestingly, it is not necessarily the direct effects of such disasters that are going to affect migration, but the worsening economic conditions they will cause. This means that links between migration and disasters caused by the accelerating climate change are rather indirect, manifesting in migration caused by decreasing incomes, worsening livelihood opportunities, and changes in food security.
Violence, conflict and persecution are still going to play a role in the future when it comes to migration or displacement, however, data on recent trends indicate that disaster related internal displacement is more common, and, at the same time, more volatile than internal displacement related to the previously mentioned factors.
Another factor to take into account when observing voluntary or involuntary migration, is the lack of possibility to migrate, caused by environmental change. People without assets to move can be trapped in certain areas, which can lead to more defenselessness against environmental change. Meanwhile, these trends are further creating many barriers to migration which need to be addressed simultaneously.
Contemporary barriers to Migration
The barriers to migration are very complex, interlinked, and multifold. The recentGlobal Risks Report 2022 by World Economic Forum has identified several contemporary barriers to migration which include national level barriers, such as the movement restrictions related to the COVID-19, financial pressures in advanced economies, and greater focus on domestic priorities. The report has also identified three potential barriers to the cross-border migration; which include post-pandemic effects on international mobility, future employment trends, and increased national interest postures of several countries.
Movement restrictions because of the COVID-19 have interrupted several migration flows. These restrictions are temporary, but as the post-pandemic economic rebound demands more labour, creating furtheropportunities for migrants, Western policymakers need to be prepared to address a new influx of migrants and be able to explain to their residents why welcoming this labour forcewould not diminish their employment opportunities, as well as why certain post-pandemic employment opportunities would need a migrant labour force to fulfil them. Failure to do so may cause further rise in anti-immigrant sentiments in resident populations.
National interest postures are increasingly becoming a world-wide phenomena where nations are actively reframing their migration policies to exclude migrants from basic financial and healthcare services, asChile and Peru have done recently. Another such example are the restrictive policies of the United Kingdom andUSA, which originally were implemented because of public health concerns, but have sustained and are causing a decline in the issuance of visas to migrants.
Apart from these issues, the nature of public discourse anddisinformation campaigns are making the migration issue worse. Migration has increasingly become a controversial issue in Western countries, generating right-wing and nationalist reactions. The media has played a very important role in this by ‘normalizing discriminatory labels used to describe migrants’, whereas disinformationcampaigns against migrants portray them as a threat to public health, security, and the economy of host countries are fuellinghate speech andviolence against them. These two issues make a crucial impact on the voting behaviours of host countries and the governments they choose to elect, who usually have an anti-migrant stance when framing and implementing the migration policies in their respective countries.
The worsening socio-economic conditions and global trends we have explored have served to notably increase the risks migrants face. Whether it be to emergency displacements, worsening social retribution, or economic push and pull factors, migration is not only becoming a more pronounced phenomenon, but one subject to expanding threats to human dignity.
As the world reopens its borders and struggles to manage the after-effects of a global pandemic, policy and assistance efforts need to look towards the plight migrants face and provide the resources, social networks, and institutional support necessary to protect the human security of one of the world's most politicised collectives.
By: Esther Brito Ruiz, Ludovica Brambilla, Arslan Sheikh and Reka Szabo.
Recently, unmarked graves of hundreds of Indigenous children were discovered in various locations in Western Canada, in the territory of residential schools. These schools operated between the end of the 19th century until 1996, and were mostly run by the Catholic Church. The official number of Indigenous children who died in these schools because of mistreatment is 4120, but it is claimed that the actual number could be much larger.
Evidence from various studies prove that approximately 150,000 indigenous children were subject to forceful assimilation in these institutions, after having been separated from their families. Physical, psychological, and sexual abuse were among the practicesused in these schools. The high death rate of Indigenous students can be connected to the extremely bad conditions of the schools— such as poor nutrition, the lack of nurses or the inadequate construction or use of the buildings — and to the lack of proper medical treatment provided to indigenous children, among other inhuman practices. The leading cause of death was tuberculosis, easily caught by malnourished children.
The practices of the residential schools have been described as a genocide by several scholars. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, after having examined testimonies from thousands of survivors, also announced that these acts are to be classified as cultural genocide against Indigenous people.
After the discovery of the graves, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau guaranteed financial aid and support to the Indigenous communities in Canada. Furthermore, an initiative of the Survivors of the Mohawk Institute at Six Nations of the Grand River — a large reserve in Canada — aimed at uncovering more details about the dark legacy of the schools’ past with a death and criminal investigation. Questions still remain about the responsibility, the accountability, and the compensation, regarding the Canadian state and the Catholic Church.
However, the discrimination of indigenous communties in Canadais not solely a past phenomenon - according to some studies ongendered violence and on the unequal treatment of indigenous people in Canada, Indigenous minorities still face a very different set of circumstances compared to the majority society. We must also consider that the controversy surrounding the Canadian case is not a localized issue, but the latest in a global movement of recognition and redress led by indigenous communities.
The Global Context for Indigenous Rights
Currently, there are 370 million Indigenous people around the world, spanning over 90 countries, 5,000 communities, and 4,000 languages. As such, the struggle of the indigenous movement is not an ancient issue, but a current and contemporary human security challenge. While there has been progress – most notably marked by the 2007 United Nations’ Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (ratified by 143 countries) – indigenous abuses are still erased and forgotten, as we have mentioned in the case of Canadian residential schools.
The legacy of indigenous communities has been marked by a rich history and vital contributions to our culture and environment (for example, in safeguarding 80% of global biodiversity) – however, it has also been defined by horrific atrocities. Well-known is the case of Native American communities, numbering over 10 million before European colonization, and decimated to under 300.000 by the 1900s. Indigenous peoples continue to face continuous and pervasive human rights abuses – ranging from assimilation policies, to land dispossession, the criminalization of protest, or abuses by armed forces. These abuses extend globally – having worsened in recent years and in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic – and most severely affect communities defending their rights and lands. This has led to intergenerational trauma in many indigenous communities. Today, the most prominent topic in discussions and advocacy within indigenous communities remains the issue of land rights and the resources they harbor.
Indigenous Peoples and Natural Resources
Indigenous Peoples have a special relationship with natural resources. But from the times of colonisation to the present day, theirrights over these resources have been continuously violated. Even though they make up five-percent of the world’s population, they account for about fifteen-percent of the extreme poor. The major cause of this discrepancy owes to the history of colonisation, subjugation, and oppression. They regularly lack formal recognition over their lands and other natural resources, and are often last to get public investments, access to justice, political participation, and face various obstacles to partake in the formal economy.
Around a quarter of all land outside Antarctica belongs to Indigenous Peoples. But much of this land occupied by them is undercustomary ownership, and most of the governments all over the world acknowledge only a small percentage of this land as lawfully belonging to Indigenous Peoples. The unstable land tenancy is a cause of conflict, environmental degradation, and inadequate economic and social development. This endangers Indigenous Peoples’ culture and knowledge systems both of which have an extremely valuable contribution in maintaining ecological integrity and conserving nature and biodiversity.
As per World Bank, ‘’Improving security of land tenure, strengthening governance, promoting public investments in quality and culturally appropriate service provision, and supporting indigenous systems for resilience livelihoods are critical to reducing the multidimensional aspects of poverty while contributing to the SDGs.’’
The crucial role of social movements
It appears that legal frameworks for the protection of Indigenous People’s rights have been established, but land rights are not yet addressed by state actors and international organizations. Often, aboriginal communities lament a pattern of broken promises and a series of failures within development projects that have been promoted by such actors. This is due in part to the difficulty in questioning the power relations within the structure in which they operate. What is also elided by the mainstream narrative, are the continuities between the colonial past and the present. A postcolonial perspective on the matter has been proposed by many indigenous scholars that investigate colonial legacies to explain the nowadays imbalances between indigenous people and the broader society. Inequities are evident in regard to the land and resources issues but encompass almost every aspect of society, most notably healthcare. A postcolonial approach has been put into practice by many social movements, activists, and advocates for Indigenous People’s rights. Protests and movements, like Idle No More in Canada, emerge from the aboriginal communities and amplify their voices in the many arenas in which decisions are made. They represent the opportunity to contrast the structural violence they face, through ‘grassroots’ discourses around their conditions and demands and cooperations with governments and international actors. In response to the recent discovery of yet another atrocity committed in the residential ‘schools’, Idle No More has asked to cancel Canada Day to ultimately acknowledge the legacy of settler colonialism and violence in Canada’s history; Fifty municipalities have accepted the proposal out of respect and justice.
The Canadian case serves to illustrate what remains an evolving redress and human rights struggle for indigenous communities around the world. Indigenous human security continues to be precarious in most states, and despite the increasing recognition of these transnational advocacy movements, much remains to be done. As states seek to fulfil their obligations to ensure the wellbeing of their communities, a renewed focus must be placed on the recognition of indigenous peoples and their voices as rightful custodians of their land, resources, and culture. If the promises of a post-colonial global order are to be realized, it is indigenous communities that will define and lead the way to achieving it.
Authors: Esther Brito Ruiz, Arslan Sheikh and Ludovica Brambilla
The last two years have been the site of unexpected human security crises - ranging from a global pandemic to the collapse of states. South Asia particularly has been subjected to important crises that have echoed across the region and had global consequences. Maybe the two most significant of these crises have been the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and the enduring crises in Kashmir. Both these situations have seen human security determine the broader trajectory of national security, and can serve as examples of why to promote any kind of stability, the wellbeing of the people must come first.
Afghanistan: the consequences of setting human security aside
The Afghanistan crisis clearly represents the consequence of failing to centralize and protect human security. In the wake of the United States’ invasion of Afghanistan, which was originally deployed under the justification of anti-terrorist efforts – seeking the capture of Bin Laden and the countering of Al Qaeda – little good has remained after the end to two decades of occupation and trillions of dollars of investment. With the Taliban back in power and a looming humanitarian catastrophe – in the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres – this crisis is one of the most severe threats to human security today.
But the real impact we can expect on the lives of Afghans remains multifaceted. Firstly, we have seen the weeks since the US withdrawal marked by a resurgence of terrorism in the state - as evidenced by the Daesh-K August 26 attack on the Kabul airport. Secondly, as a result of the war and widespread violence, the country now has over four million Internally Displaced People (IDPs), contending not only with overcrowded camps and a lack of access to basic services - like clean water - but also with the increase of COVID-19 cases. Afghans are facing a possible famine, collapsing health services, and a paralyzed economy in the wake of the seizing of most of the country’s reserves. In fact, the country’s Central Bank has been expelled from the international banking system and refused access to both the states’ foreign reserves and any international credit and assets assistance – including that which it had been previously granted to combat the rise of COVID. As a result of this economic paralysis, prices of food and essential goods have experienced an exponential rise and most financial services and banks have been left unable to operate or provide money to residents. This compromises the survival of local populations – especially those already most vulnerable. As this situation worsens, over 40% of the Afghan population faces acute food insecurity. Beyond these circumstances, the behaviour itself from Taliban authorities is a core threat to the rights and security of its citizens – especially for women and minorities. Massacres of ethnic and religious minorities – specifically of Hazara men in recent weeks – and retribution killings to collaborators of the US army set a worrying precedent to what opposition groups will experience in coming months, as the Taliban secure their rule and repress revolts. Indeed, Deborah Lyons, the Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), has affirmed that “the lives of millions of Afghans will depend on how the Taliban choose to govern”. With little response from recent UN Human Rights Council sessions and assistance on the ground from United Nations agencies and aid organizations being scaled back due to security concerns, prospects are not positive.
The severe human crisis in Afghanistan we see today is aconsequence of an erroneous and militaristic view of what national security and peace requires. Peace begins with the security not of broad governments or the promotion of abstract values, but with the security of the people – established and maintained through access to the basic tenants of a dignified life; including education, food, healthcare, and jobs. By choosing not to center human security, the US acted more as an empire than as an ally for the Afghan people - and in their retreat, little care has been given to the wellbeing of locals and the crises left behind for them to endure. We can wonder what the situation would be today if the focus of the international community’s involvement in this state was for its communities to thrive – rather than the imposition of strategic goals for external parties. In the words ofIbrahim Al Marashi, “America’s failure to address human security ended up harming its national security”.
With the world facing one of the worst humanitarian crises of the last decades, Afghanistan’s people have been left to contend with the human crisis of a pandemic and a state collapse simultaneously. While proposals toextend the UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) have been put forth, the likelihood of this engagement in the long term is minimal. Afghanistan now faces a human security crisis in almost every of its expressions - combining a political and economic crisis, a compromised food and healthcare system, and personal and communal threats to life. The way this crisis develops over the next few months will profoundly impact not only Afghans and their future, but the trajectory of all of South Asia.
Kashmir: the forgotten crisis of water security
Water Security is sometimes considered the most important component of human security - since the very basic survival of life is dependent on it. Additionally, water insecurity effectively compromises all other expressions of human security; thus putting the very continued existence of human communities at grave risk. Despite this, it has often become sidelined in conversations regarding international security and humanitarian crises. Specifically, thewater-security nexus over transboundary river basins among riparian countries is a growing concern, which will need to be dealt with increased urgency in the wake of the escalating consequences of climate change.
Among such various transboundary river basins, theIndus River Basin (IRB) in South Asia represents a peculiar case. The IRB flows through the erstwhile princely State of Jammu and Kashmir, which is now divided through aLine-of-Control - a de facto border between India and Pakistan. While this area has a relatively successful water management framework - in the form ofIndus Water Treaty - there is no institutional and legal framework which addresses the effects of climate change on water availability in the IRB. This is a delicate situation, as the IRB has become the second ‘most overstressed aquifer’ in the world because of the area’s growing population and the developmentpressures of both shoreline countries.
The issue of water security in the region is a potential future source of state conflict and a prime human security issue. The territorial conflict over the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir has led India and Pakistan into three conventional wars in 1947, 1965 and 1999 respectively. Both these countries have built major dam infrastructures on the IRB for irrigation and hydroelectricity. In India, it is one of the two main river systems supporting the country’s water deficient areas of the north-west. In fact, according to NITI Aayog, a public policy think-tank of the Government of India, “India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history, with around six-hundred million people facing high to extreme water stress and about two-hundred thousand people dying every year due to inadequate access to safe water’’. However, even this report mentions no data on water management and composition of the Union Territory of Jammu & Kashmir - still a delicately trodden political issue. In turn, Pakistan is exclusively dependent on IRB for irrigation and hydropower. Thus, this basin represents a vital source for their national food, water, and energy security. This dependency is worsened by the severe water shortages and declining water per capita availability that Pakistan has been facing in recent years. As such, hydro-politics over the IRB have put the growing population of both countries at an extreme risk - both in terms of human security and with regards to broader state conflict. With the perennial tensions between India and Pakistan, and the frequent indication of IRB being used as a geopolitical weapon, the water security of South Asia’s most populated region remains an imminent threat.
Both the cases presented evidence a simple truth - security, at any level, lays its foundations on the wellbeing of the people. In the absence of this, there can be no sense of stability or continuity. Afghanistan and Kashmir serve to remind us that even with vested national security interests, state and military involvement, and capital investment, those endeavours that forgo human security will eventually face violence, conflict, and possible internal collapse.
By: Ludovica Brambilla, Arslan Sheikh and Esther Brito Ruiz
The Urban World
The world is becoming increasingly urban. For the first time in history, most of the world population resides in cities – and the challenges of human security have evolved accordingly. Human security is generally considered to encompass economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community, and political security. In line with urbanization, issues of lack of access to health or education centers have tended to decrease, but problems associated with social stratification, urban segregation, and unaffordability have become more prominent. Nowhere is this more evident – or pressing – in modern cities than in the primordial problem of access to housing.
As city centers become denser, competition for space has becomes fiercer and through it the struggle for housing supply and conditions of tenant protection worsens. This drives up prices, making housing unaffordable for many. In turn, this acts as a facilitator of socio-economic segregation and a core driver of urban inequality. In the world’s megacities – those with more than 10 million inhabitants – this has often become especially dire. Currently, 20% of the world population – about 1.6 billion people – lack access to adequate housing. While not often discussed in political science, access to housingstands as a foundational element – and a precondition for – human security.
Human Security Implications of Housing
The local governments of different countries are trying to implement innovative solutions to tackle the housing problem ranging from mandatory social housing quotas in Helsinki to creating backyard homes in Los Angeles. However, when these initiatives are unsuccessful in managing the problem, housing creates multilevel human security crises. These often include the proliferation of slums, the advance of gentrification, and both increased evictions and homelessness. With the COVID-19 pandemic driving forth a new global housing crisis and compromising the economic security of millions, we see the fault lines within our cities and societies widen further.
Slums are mainly the product of unplanned urbanization and can represent the most common form of housing in many expanding cities of the developing world – such as Kibera, New Delhi, Mumbai, or Manila. They are a form of informal housing – often illegal – which can be defined as having the following characteristics: unsafe or inadequate infrastructure; overcrowding; limited or no access to basic services – such as running water or electricity; and no secure tenure, due to having no land-rights on the property.
Slums emerge and continue to proliferate in less developed countries due to the the inability to meet the demands of a growing population; nearly about one billion people occupy slums. The key challenge of slums is their large size and magnitude. The total number of slum inhabitants has grown, even as the proportion of slum population has declined. The people living in worst slum conditions are found in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia – regions with a low Human Development Index and persistent poverty challenges. Asian cities host sixty-one percent of the global slum population, with India and China alone having 153 and 171 million slum dwellers respectively. The causes of concern for slum dwellers are manifold. They not only are at risk of being the victims of forceful evictions, but are also prone to various environmental risks such as steep slopes, river and canal beds, marshes and near polluted areas like garbage dumps. Besides that, they often lack the conditions required to live a dignified life. The low-income residents living in slums are also displaced from their neighborhood because of gentrification.
Gentrification underlines the ocial and economic divisions that exists within the world'cities. It is a powerful force capable of mutating cities and bringing new private and public capital and services into neighborhoods that have suffered from prolonged disinvestments. But gentrification strongly differs from urban renewal, in fact, the rising of property value and the lack of affordable housing cause exclusionary displacement. The pandemic has further exposed and worsened these dynamics which has ultimately led to the displacement of low-income and minority residents.
As a result, the long-term residents that have created the unique social fabric of the neighborhood are forced to move. Minority groups are most often damaged by this process. For instance, in large American cites, displacement of minorities has followed gentrification and impacted significant percentages of black and hispanic residents that can no longer benefit from the new services that come with new local investments. This results in the erosion of the social networks on which families rely on, fostering isolation. As areas have gentrified, low-income families face severe housing crises which sometimes even push them into homelessness. More often, poorer residents move on the fringes of cities further increasing pockets of poverty, urban decay and ultimately, segregation.
Once we recognize the impacts of gentrification on social justice and human security, we cannot separate this problem from the urge of adequate policies. The possible solutions lay on rent control policies and progressive land tax combined with the restriction of predatorial investment schemes that can prevent evictions and homelessness.
Evictions & Homelessness
As mentioned, dynamics like gentrification can drive forced evictions, which only increases in times of crisis. In 2020, the UN's special rapporteur on the right to housing issued an official call to governments requesting they halt all evictions until the end of the pandemic. That year, in the United States alone around 30 to 40 million people were identified to be facing or at risk of eviction. Similar trends and forced evictions manifested globally – with cases in South African, Brazil and Kenya being notable. The fear of eviction threatens core rights of urban residents and reflects trends of social disparities – affecting LGBT+ youth, mono-parental families, and people of color disproportionately. When eviction occurs, it often implies the loss of access to other basic services.
Derived from evictions and urban inequality is homelessness. This phenomenon is conditioned by issues as varied as racism and discrimination, gendered violence, and mental health, among others. Currently, around 2% of the global population is homeless – which is set to continue to increase in line with urbanization. Homelessness is an expression of failures in governance and has turned into a global human rights crisis. It is important to note that local governments can worsen the crisis by taking stances of criminalization or imposing harsh conditions that seek to drive the homeless away to other areas. A visible example of these policies is the installation of hostile architecture. By virtue of an absence of housing, homelessness compromises every aspect of human security.
To address the issue of housing insecurity, political leaders should look beyond the affordability of basic shelters. Instead, possible solutions need to focus on improving services in critical neighborhoods, taking advantage of public land to build new social housing in parts of the city suffering under market pressure. In order to get to a new reality of accessible, inclusive and sustainable cities, a strong collaboration between the public-private and nonprofit sectors is needed. Effective solutions also require the inclusion of representative local social actors and community-based organizations in decision-making processes, which will be fundamental in preserving and enhancing the city’s cultural identity. There exist viable solutions, what remains wanting is the political will for implementation.
Dr Simon Rushton (Sheffield University, Chatham House) discusses politics of human security and global health in relation to globalisation, state self interest during the COVID-19 crisis, and international cooperation.