On Friday, 16 December 2011, the United Nations University Institute for Sustainability and Peace (UNU-ISP) and the Japan Foundation for UNU (jfUNU) held a symposium focused on “Human Security — Towards New Development” at UNU Headquarters in Tokyo. The symposium was attended by students from UNU-ISP and other universities in Japan, and by jfUNU’s supporting members.
Prof. Jun Matsukuma from the Graduate School of Tokyo University of Foreign Studies opened the symposium with as keynote speech titled “Human Security and Its Concept for International Law”. He emphasized the importance of human security in domestic and ethnic conflicts with reference to racial, religious and cultural differencess, noting that improvement of a UN-centered global cooperation system is essential to mainstreaming the human security concept in UN activities.
In the following panel discussion Prof. Vesselin Popovski of UNU-ISP remarked that “the poorest of all people are usually affected worst by natural disasters”. He emphasized the importance of good governance and the establishment of adequate warning systems in countries threatened by natural disasters.
In the wake of such natural disasters as the Great Tohoku Earthquake (March 2011) and Hurricane Katrina (2005), Prof. Popovski also sees the vulnerability of developed countries in the same way as that of developing countries. He discussed how the human security concept has evolved to include human insecurity from natural disasters, which affects people in developing and developed countries alike.
The role of the military as security guarantors has also evolved, with military forces playing a more important role nowadays. There is a developing duty to provide persons affected by natural disaster with not only first-aid and also long-term security. The number of victims of natural disasters outnumbers the number of victims of conflict — it would take 316 years of war in Afghanistan to match the loss of life that occurred during and after the 2010 Haiti earthquake.
The United Nations has the responsibility to coordinate and undertake recovery efforts as well as to build up resilience before natural disasters strike.
Prof. Daisaku Higashi of the University of Tokyo emphasized in changes in the international perspective of the peacebuilding process. After the end of the cold war in 1989, the UN Security Council started to create resolutions that mobilized the international community to support the building new democratic governments in post-conflict states. In the first ten years, peacebuilding efforts were mainly conducted within the UN framework. In rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan, however, the US tried to lead the peacebuilding process. That effort demonstrated a lot of lessons for the future peacebuilding efforts: the need for inclusiveness and the robust roles of the international organizations, such as the UN, as a credible third party. The UN will be challenged by the future peacebuilding activities, especially in the Middle East due to the so-called “Arab Spring”.
The chair of the symposium, Prof. Miki Sugimura of Sophia University, subsequently noted that education plays a crucial role and is a vital factor of long-term human security.
Prof. Higashi agreed, adding that a smart concept for rebuilding is essential and plays a crucial role. Soon after the earthquake, he visited Tohoku and saw the hardships faced by the local people, but also the potential for building up renewable energy in the region. Installing wind turbines offshore and solar panels inland in Tohoku would open up opportunities for local government to become actively involved in shaping the structure of new communities.
In the symposium’s conclusion, Prof. Popovski pointed out the necessity of having a holistic view of the interconnection of natural disasters, human security and peacebuilding processes. He appealed to the UNU/jfUNU Fellows to develop this view in their further studies.