Volume 18 Number 5
No Bread Without Peace
01 October 2005

Paul Williams discovers that security is not just a military issue.

Just how riveting, I wondered, would I find a conference with the term ‘human security’ right up there in the title? What did it mean anyway? And what sort of issues would we be dealing with? It soon became apparent that the issues were astonishingly wide-ranging, highly relevant and all urgent. The actual title of the conference was ‘Good Governance for Advancing Human Security’. ‘Human security’, I discovered, tops the internet reference league table and has been called ‘the largest topic of the 21st century’.

One definition came from Dr Rama Mani, who is based at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy as Director of its ‘New Issues in Security’ course. ‘It puts human beings at the centre of security,’ explained Mani, ‘and recognizes that the sources of insecurity go beyond state and military security to encompass development, environment and human rights.’

As the conference proceeded, many aspects of the hybrid term revealed themselves—issues of security for countries facing civil war, rebellion, dictatorship, occupation or in transition; food security; job security; security for indigenous or minority peoples; access to health and education. The list goes on.... In her address to the conference Mani said she had been ‘a committed servant of freedom from want’ since her childhood in Bombay, even though she now worked more in the field of security. ‘I started with addressing the needs of want and poverty,’ she explained, ‘But then I saw I needed to look at the factors underlying conflict— because it kept erupting and undoing the good work.’ Development, human rights and security were inextricably bound together.

The real enemies to be overcome, she asserted, were the forces of greed—personal, corporate, national and international. ‘Greed has been sanitized, legalized and glorified,’ she said. ‘It has come to be accepted as the bedrock of economic systems, but it ought to be criminalized and shown up for what it is and what it does.’ It invariably led to conflict, the commonest cause of which was ‘deep-festering grievances from unmet needs’.

Another source of much of the violence we were witnessing today was reaction to humiliation, suggested Dr Aleya El Bindari-Hammad (see Guest Column). A former Executive Director (number two) at the World Health Organization, she is now Secretary General of the Women Defending Peace Coalition in Geneva. Humiliation, she said, had been described as ‘the nuclear bomb of feelings’.

‘Shame not dealt with and fear not faced are a highly combustible combination,’ said Dr Barry Hart, Associate Professor of Trauma and Conflict Studies at the Eastern Mennonite University in the US. Acknowledging and naming fears was the first essential step on the road to being free from them. All speakers stressed that pardon and forgiveness were essential to healing. ‘Hurts not transformed will be transferred’ were words that clearly resonated with many.

So why is good governance so important? Because without it the best-laid plans to bring improvement fail. The conference invitation quoted UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, ‘Good governance is the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development.’

At her desk in the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs in New York, Nigerian Ahunna Eziakonwa is very conscious of this. She is Head of the ‘Africa 2’ section, which covers a wide swathe of countries from West Africa across to Somalia and Sudan. ‘I walk into my office each morning without knowing what new crisis may have arisen—from food shortages to a coup in one of the countries,’ she told the conference.

In her keynote address Eziakonwa, who emphasized how her earlier experiences at Caux had helped her find an international vision, laid out a wide perspective of what ‘good governance’ meant. It certainly included the family, where the way things were run and relationships were handled had such an effect on how young people acted. And the community, which could be the office staff, or any organization, club, charity, business or public body large or small. ‘When people sense they are respected, needed and listened to they feel secure,’ she said.

At government level, she continued, good governance was all-important both for security and development. When minorities were not respected, when ordinary people were not empowered to improve their lives, when there was bureaucracy and wide-spread corruption, everything stood still. ‘Illegitimate governments have to buy legitimacy,’ she went on. ‘They have to make harmful deals and concessions, especially to ethnic groups, to buy support. This only creates further weakness and division.’ At the UN, she said, bureaucracy often came in the way of a quick response.

Rama Mani also named corruption, alongside complacency and complicity, as factors making for bad governance. The corner stones for good governance, she suggested, were responsibility, accountability and compassion. An example of what was being done at a national level to further human security was provided by Dr Michael Ambühl, Switzerland’s State Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Dr Ambühl, who was giving a Caux Lecture, illustrated in detail how a small country could invest in peace-building, extending human rights and strengthening international law. ‘To be secure at home Switzerland has to respond to conflict abroad and promote peace,’ he said.

The country’s long tradition of neutrality enabled it to be seen as an ‘honest broker’. As such it had facilitated dialogues between opposing sides in Sudan, Colombia, Sri Lanka, Kosovo and the Middle East. One Swiss expert, Professor Alain Sigg of Geneva University, spoke about the problems faced by countries emerging from conflict and ways to deal with them.

The conference was also enriched by the participation of those attending the Global Indigenous Dialogue, which was held concurrently at Caux. It included delegates from the Cree nation in Canada, the Sami people of Sweden, the Nagas of North- East India and an Aboriginal folk singer from Australia.

Lewis Cardinal from the Cree nation made a powerful plea for the ‘dignity, survival and human rights’ of the world’s 300 million indigenous people spread across 70 countries. It became clear that individuals had a part to play as well as governments and large organizations. Many left with a heightened awareness of where the needs were in their families, communities and countries and equipped with an action plan to begin to make a difference.