Shifting the center of security concerns to humanity

“In the past I used to look at the security sector as an enemy, because I was a victim of the violence by security guards. I had guns pointed by soldiers to my head. I could only sleep with the lights on because I had always nightmares and still felt the guns at my head,” Maria Ida “Deng” Giguiento, a peacebuilding activist and trainer at Mindanao Peacebuilding Institute (MPI), began her presentation at the CRCS-ICRS Wednesday Forum on October 11, 2017, by telling her traumatic experience in Cotabato City, Philippines, in the 1980s.

Since that time, many peacebuilding activists including Deng have advocated for a paradigm shift of old notion of national security to human centered security where civilians should be placed at the center of concerns.

The year 2005 was a start for Deng to make reconciliation with the security sector because for the first time MPI accepted a soldier as student in her class. Since she had a profound traumatic experience with soldiers, initially she tried to refuse the soldier due to her suspicion of his motives. But Deng eventually conceded to accept the soldier in her class as Deng thought that the security sector was part of the problem and but it can and should be part of the solution too. She used this moment to start rethinking activists’ relationship with the security sector in reforming national security paradigm in the Philippines.

In her presentation, Deng clarified the understanding of basic terms in the field of activism for security. Deng introduced the definition of “sectors” as task or operational areas that are functionally distinct from each other and usually divided into 3 major fields: social, political, and economic. She defined “stakeholders” as individuals or groups that have a “stake” or an interest in given issues that may affect or be affected by the others. The stakeholders include government agencies, security sector, business sector, non-state armed groups, civil society and media, and the civilian population. But still often, the civilian population are often left out of the table.

Deng argued that the civilians must be involved in the process of deciding matters on security as they themselves are the concern of security and are maybe the most affected by the stakeholders decision.

Deng further explained that the state security is very prone to use violence because it uses defeat mechanisms more than stability mechanisms. (She stated that stability mechanism is an “NGO word”, yet, despite insufficient, this term is an improvement.) She clarified that the ideal state security approaches come only through a balance between diplomacy, development, and defense, but the fact of the matter is that the state security often uses disintegration and isolation approaches to defeat the enemy. A paradigm shift on what should be the central concern is therefore necessary: from defeating the enemy to peace and stability; from national security to human security. The proper referent for security should be the individual rather than the state.

The United Nations Development Programme in its 1994 report defines human centered security as ensuring peoples’ “freedom from want”, “freedom from fear” and “freedom to live in dignity”. The UN’s Human Security Unit also defines the five principles of human security, namely:

  1. People-centered, i.e. focusing on the safety and protection of individuals, communities, and their global environment.
  2. Comprehensive, i.e. “freedom from fear”, “freedom from want” and “freedom to live in dignity.”
  3. Multi-sectoral, i.e. addressing a range of interdependent global and local threats, insecurities and vulnerabilities in security, development and human rights.
  4. Context-specific, i.e. local dimensions of global threats are unique and require context-specific assessment and planning.
  5. Prevention-oriented, i.e. conflict prevention and peacebuilding strategies aim for sustainable solutions to address.

In response to a question from the forum participant on resolving conflicts over religious identity, Deng responded by holding a book vertically and asking the participants to stand on different sides of the room and say what they saw from the book from different angles. By this, she attempted to convey that everyone has their own part of truth due to their different position and way of looking. Conflict will be hard to resolve if each side insists on their own partial truth while denying the other sides’ truth.

Therefore, looking from the other sides’ perspective is crucial in any attempt of conflict resolution. The way to do it is by asking, listening, and understanding first and by avoiding prejudices and postponing judgment. This is maybe a simple task, yet many do not want to do it due to fears of losing identity, leaving comfort zones, facing in-group pressure, being accused of betrayal, or encountering the unknown. There is something reasonable about these fears, but tackling them is necessary if we want to build bridges across differences that have brought about conflicts.

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