Securitisation and its impact on human rights and human security. Introduction to the volume of the Global campus on human rights journal.


We are academics who want to change the world.

Schhrbanen Tadjbaakhsh and Anuradha Cherby.

Human security: concepts and implications. London: Routledge, 2006, p. 6.

No, this volume is not a Manifesto. If I start the introduction with this provocative statement, it’s because it summarizes our double aim: theoretical and normative. We have the advantage of not being security scholars. We do belong neither to the classic, nor to the new security conceptions. We do quote and share definitions and insights of the Copenhagen school, but do not subscribe to it, nor to its numerous critics. We critically question the securitarian paradigm through the assumed normative lenses of human rights and human security. We understand the critic in a Foucauldian sense as constructing a field of facts, practices and reflections that pose problems to politics and policies.

Krasteva, Anna (2017) Editorial of special focus: Securitisation and its impact on human rights and human security.- Global Campus of Human Rights Journal, Issue 1.2.

Why and how – these are the two major lines of the problematization of securitization. Which are the reasons for the transformation of the securitisation into a hegemonic discourse and policy, which are the conditions that made this fundamental change possible and the factors that catalyze and accelerate it? How does securitization affect human lives and human rights is the major focus of the present study. Human rights are not only the normative ‘measure’ to assess securitization, but also to examine the capacity of civil society to produce alternative discourses and mobilize resistance through various forms of civic activism, mobilisations, and popular protest. The two lines of research – securitization and civic resistance – are not structured separately in the volume, and are interwoven in various case studies.

 From securitisation as panic politics to the normalization and hegemonization of securitisation

 Hegemonization of securitization

How is a phenomenon defined as a security phenomenon? (Buzan, Waever  and de Wilde. 1998, Balzach 2016), who or what is being secured and from what (Abrahamsen 2005, p. 57-8). Securitisation occurs when an issue “is presented as an existential threat, requiring emergency measures and justifying actions outside the normal bounds of political procedure” (Buzan et al., 1998, 23-24). By portraying an issue as a security one, it removes the issue from ordinary politics to emergency politics or ‘panic politics’ where it can be dealt with outside the sphere of the rule of law. The constructivist understanding of the very nature of the securitarian fact is crucial for our study. Our interest is concentrated in two directions: the securitarian turn as the transition from security policy as one public policy among others to its dominant, hegemonic role; the redefinition of the political by the securitarian turn.

The African case illustrates eloquently the securitarian turn: “First, during the Cold War era Africa was inserted into the Cold War politics to fight proxy wars for either the West or the East. As a result, the big powers overlooked human rights and democratic concerns on the continent and focused on promoting their security interests by propping dictatorial and predatory regimes to do their bidding. The declaration of the “War on Terror” has moved the focus toward a “risk/fear/threat” project. In response, most African leaders have adeptly exploited this new environment to their advantage by shrinking the political space and criminalising dissent.  The securitised environment has done little to solve many of Africa’s development problems. Rather, we see the rollback of advances made in human rights, democracy and respect for rule of law.” (Kwando Appiagyei-Atua, Tresor Makanya Muhindo, Iruebafa Oykhirome, Estella Kansiime Kebachweri, Stephen Buabeng-Baidoo) Several theoretical lessons could be learnt from the African study. The source of securitization can be different, even opposite – ‘from outside’ and ‘within’ – the outcomes and implications are similar and equally negative. The security agenda dominates all other priorities, including development, and thus establishes as hegemonic. Human rights, democracy, rule of law are marginalized. These trends have a larger validity and the study identifies different expressions in various geopolitical regions – from the Balkans to Asia Pacific, from Latin America to the Arab region.

Hegemonizing securitisation establishes itself as the new anti-pluralist ideology.  It is anti-pluralist in two fundamental ways. All other policies – migration, integration, labor, etc. – tend to be more and more subordinated to the dominant securitarian logic. The classic ideologies – liberalism, conservatism, socialism, etc. – coexist peacefully as alternative worldviews and political values. The hegemonization of securitization undermines the ideological pluralism and transforms the very way politics is perceived, understood and managed. The state of emergency and the extraordinary measures lead to the ”the vicious circle by which the exceptional measures attempting to justify the protection of democratic rule are the same that lead to its ruin (Agamben 2005 in Diego Lopez). The renaissance of Carl Schmitt’s (2007) conception of the political testifies of the triple turn: the understanding of politics as politics of enemies; the overproduction of enemies as security threats; the multiplication and strengthening of the borders between ‘friends’ and ‘enemies’, conceptualized in the triad Bordering-Othering-Ordering (Houtum and Naerssen 2002).

Liquefaction of securitization

Securitization is the rhetorical strategy of presenting certain issues as security threats in opposition to others (Buzan, Waever and de Wilde 1998). Securitization as speech act is the most problematized and contested concept (McDonald 2008, Bigo 2002). We do not enter the bipolar theoretical controversy and prefer to interpret it from a different angle: we understand security becoming a speech act as theoretical metaphor marking the transition from ‘ontlological’ to ‘liquid’ securitization. Surveillance is the conceptual and political prism for understanding the liquefaction of securitization.

Wiebke Lamer examines the interlinkages between securitisation and surveillance in the European context, and argues that the “implementation of mass surveillance measures in Europe shows that the continent is drifting into a permanent state of securitisation that threatens not only certain human rights, but the very foundation of democratic societies by permanently altering state-society relations.” The surveillance case study illustrates three facets of the transition from ‘ontological’ to ‘liquid’ securitization: the changing object of the security threats; the ‘normalization’ of securitization; the disempowerment of citizens.

The ‘ontological’ securitization focuses on hard risks and ‘objective’ threats – wars, war on terror, wars on drugs: “In 2016, the war on drugs in Mexico became the second most lethal conflict in the world (only surpassed by Syria)” (Diego Lopez). It is characterized by the domination of the most archaic and the most ontological challenge to security – war. The new security threats like terrorism and war on drugs are also ‘translated’ into the language of war. In the new epoch of the liquid securitization everybody could be declared enemy, everything could be transformed into a security threat, and hence the surveillance is becoming more and more comprehensive and ‘en masse’, from one side, and accepted, from another side. The changing object of the security threats leads to the normalization of securitization, to the shift from state of emergency to the normalization of the exceptional, from ‘panic politics’ to the nexus securitization – surveillance and the transition from the “rule of law” towards the “rule by law” (Treguer, 2016, p.7). Previously illegal surveillance practices are increasingly legalized. “Over time, and repeated often enough, this can create a “new normal” (Tarrow, 2015, 165-166, Lemer). Security is routinized rather than narrowed down to a specific thread that enables emergency measures (Mc Donalds 2008, p.570).

“If you can’t plan in private, you can’t act in public”, Brad Smith, Microsoft’s President, sums the paradox of the surveillance society. “People who are watched or who think that they are being watched behave differently from their unwatched selves; they exercise self-control and self-censorship.” (Wiebke Lemer). The permanent state of securitization threatens the foundation of democratic societies – the civic agency and the sphere of its activity.

The disempowerment of citizens takes a variety of forms: decreasing capacity of deconstructing the securitization discourses because of lack of imagination for better alternatives for safeguarding human rights while employing surveillance technologies (Dencik and Cable, 2017, p. 778).

More securitization – less security

The more securitised the governmental policy – the less security for the citizens. The study exemplifies this paradox by a variety of cases. Sos Avetisyan, Vahan Abrahamyan, Marianna Chobanyan, Kostantyn Lyabuk and Walanga Nabi provide evidence that the better funded the police in Armenia, the more crime in the country, and conclude that the enhancement and militarization of police forces is the major challenge to human security.

Two social groups need special protection – vulnerable communities and the activists acting and fighting for the right of all to have rights. The study demonstrates a paradoxical phenomenon: instead of becoming a privileged target of protection, they are among the most securitized targets.

Eunha Kim, Jean Dinco, Louise Suamen, Mike Hayes, Tilman Papsch   analyze the impact of securitization on four marginalized groups in Asia Pacific: the abused children, the trafficked women refugees, the killed human rights defenders, and the harassed lesbian, gays and transgender. “It is difficult to see how the four groups who are attacked by security measures could realistically be conceived as threats given their relative lack of power. Rather, the conclusion must be made that they are attacked through securitization precisely because of their disempowerment” (Eunha Kim, Jean Dinco, Louise Suamen, Mike Hayes, Tilman Papsch). Attacking the most vulnerable, instead of protecting them is the first paradox the authors address. The second is the use of illegal or quasi-judicial measures by democratic States: vigilante extra-judicial executions in the Philippines, religious groups’ homophobia in Indonesia, the physical and sexual abuse of children by State security officers in the Philippines.

From Asia Pacific to the Balkans, Africa and the post-soviet space, the human rights defenders are among the most securitized groups.  Anna Krasteva and Nebosha Vladiljavjevic observe that in Southeastern Europe civic and human rights activists are systematically targeted by policies and practices of Othering and Ordering, constructed as traitors to national identity and cohesion. The actors of humanitarian activism are ridiculed as promoters of failed multiculturalism and marginalized in the public space. Diego Lopez concludes that “in Latin America today criminalization of human rights defenders is the backlash of bringing complaints against public officials in cases of corruption, or in the context of the investigation of serious violations of human rights, or of international humanitarian law in the context of internal armed conflicts or past democratic collapses”.

If security risks/threats did not exist, securitizing agents would have invented them

Sartre said that if Jews did not exist, anti-Semitism would have invented them. If I paraphrase Sartre, it is to emphasize that securitizing agents need security threats in the same intense political and symbolic way as anti-Semitism needs Jews.

The transition from the classic security policy to normalization and hegemonization of securitization is paved by the reversal of the political logic and causality: security is not introduced in response to a threat, but rather a threat is created to justify the security (Eunha Kim, Jean Dinco, Louise Suamen, Mike Hayes, Tilman Papsch). The Asian Pacific case illustrates this major conclusion of the study by the changing nature of legislation and policies: the laws during the Cold War or Colonialism are conceived as a response to the threats of communism or self-determination. However, at the end of Colonialism or the Cold War, rather than considering the end of the threat and thus deleting the laws, States went through a process of inventing new existential threats to justify these laws.

The reversed logic of securitization impacts the beneficiaries: instead of the State protecting the citizens, the elites start protecting themselves: “Despite all the funding and serious aid from OSCE, the Armenian police have chiefly been focused on ensuring regime survival rather than public order and fighting crime” (Sos Avetisyan, Vahan Abrahamyan, Marianna Chobanyan, Kostantyn Lyabuk and Walanga Nabi).  The triad overporduction of threats – authoritarian leaders and elites – undemocratic regimes constitutes the vicious circle of the hegemonized securitization. The post-soviet case illustrates how securitization techniques are mobilized by (semi)authoritarian leaders to ensure regime endurance. The Western Balkan case examines the populist misuses of security threats and the passage of the populist, nationalist and authoritarian politics from the periphery of the political scene to the mainstream.

Are emancipatory alternatives to hegemonized securitization possible?

‘No emancipatory alternative, no critical security studies’ – Nik Hynek and David Chandler (2013) emphasize that a fundamental aim of critical security studies is to elaborate alternatives to securitization. The authors of the present issue develop them in two perspectives – human security and active citizenship, both emancipated from the securitized state.

Human security as human rights in the epoch of hegemonic securitisation

Securitisation means securitisation. Today tautological statements make headlines.[1] If I paraphrase Teresa May, it is for emphasizing that the hegemonisation of securitisation aims at delegitimizing the alternative discourses, especially the normative ones like human rights. The choice of human security as a key concept of our study of securitisation is substantiated by three arguments: the need to adequately develop the language of human rights in the time of securitization; the critical implementation of the concepts to test and verify its sphere of validity; to set normative standards to security policies.

Human security is the ‘translation’ of human rights in the context of hegemonic securitarian discourse. Human rights are the normative discourse of the ‘end of history’, of the non-contested legitimacy of liberal democracy, of globalization of democratization. Today, securitisation, mainstreaming of populism, elected authoritarianism and illiberal democracies are the new game in town. For a normative discourse to be accepted in the new political arena of hegemonic securitisation, it should incorporate ‘security’ in the main message. “Human security, in its broadest sense, embraces far more than the absence of violent conflict. It encompasses human rights, good governance, access to education and health care and ensuring that each individual has opportunities and choices to fulfill his or her potential. Every step in this direction is also a steep towards reducing poverty, achieving economic growth and preventing conflict. Freedom from want, freedom from fear, and the freedom of future generations to inherit a healthy natural environment – these are the interrelated building blocks of human – and therefore national – security.” (Annan 2000)

Human security conceptualizes our approach to security from below, bottom up, from the perspective of citizens: “Security is not about how a threat is conceived by a State, nor about the capacity and legitimacy of the security forces, but it is about the people who suffer the consequences” (Eunha Kim, Jean Dinco, Louise Suamen, Mike Hayes, Tilman Papsch).

The second perspective of our constructive problematization of the human security concept is to test it in different contexts. “The Belarusian case is especially interesting as it testifies against the optimistic assumptions that human development and human security are mutually reinforcing. Belarus has the highest HDI in the post-Soviet space and literally is knocking at the basket of “Very High Human Development. The achievements in economic security, accessible healthcare and education wrapped in President Alexander Lukashenko’s socially-oriented economy building (Belta 2017) is willfully opposed to civil-political freedoms” (Sos Avetisyan, Vahan Abrahamyan, Marianna Chobanyan, Kostantyn Lyabuk and Walanga Nabi).

The third dimension is the citizens’ empowerment through human security as normative standard: “The shift in focus from the State to the individual affirms the recognition of the latter as possessing legal personality in international law, unlike previously where they could only act on the international plane through their States, as enunciated in the concept of diplomatic protection. Through this extension of legal personality in international law, the individual is equipped to bring action against his/her own State as well as other States” (Kwando Appiagyei-Atua, Tresor Makunya Muhindo, Iruebafa Oyakhirome, Estella Kansiime Kebachweri, Stephen Buabeng-Baidoo).

Citizenship – emancipated from the securitized State

A second perspective of the citizens’ empowerment for civic resistance to securitization is through the concept of citizenship. The study unfolds in two steps. The first is the critical deconstruction of the concept of audience in the securitisation theory: “the audience does more than merely sanctioning a securitizing move. The audience can actually fulfill different functions, namely, providing moral support and supplying the securitizing actor with a formal mandate (such as a vote by the legislature), without which no policy to address the threat would be possible” (Balzacq et al., 2015, p. 500). The authors of the present study do not subscribe to this homogenized understanding of audience for two reasons: it transforms the citizenry into passive spectators of securitization; it undermines the capacity of civic resistance to hegemonised securitization. The active understanding of citizens in their capacity of imagine and create alternatives is conceptualized through citizenship and studied comparatively by distinguishing contestatory and solidary citizenships (Anna Krasteva).


Seventeen countries, seven geopolitical regions – Latin America, Western Europe, Southeastern Europe – both Western and Eastern Balkans,  Africa, Asia Pacific, Arab region – the coverage is global, any hunger for geopolitical diversity is generously satisfied.

“Just as security has to be understood as a process of securitization/insecuritization/

desecuritization, so has freedom to be understood as a process of freedomization/

unfreedomization and defreedomization” (Bigo, 2006, 38). The authors of the human security volume share the dynamic logic of hegemonization of securitization, but opt for refreedomization, for the empowerment of human rights defendants and active citizens for deconstructing and resisting securitization, for imagining alternative discourses and policies. Because we are also academic aspiring to change the world.

Abrahamsen, R.  2005  ‘Blair’s Africa: The Politics of Securitization and Fear’  Alternatives 55.

Agamben, Giorgio. 2005. State of exception. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Annan K ‘Secretary-General salutes International Workshop on Human Security in Mongolia’ Press Release SG/SM/7382,  8 May 2000.

Balzacq, Thierry. 2016. Theories de securite. Les approaches critiques. Paris: Les Presses de Sciences Po.

Balzacq,T., Leonard S. & Ruzicka J. 2015. ‘Securitization’ revisited: theory and cases. International Relations, 30, 494-531.

Bigo, Didier. 2006. Liberty, whose Liberty? The Hague Programme and the Conception of freedom. In: Balzacq, T. & Carrrera, S. (eds.) Security Versus Freedom? A Challenge for Europe’s Future. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Bigo, Didier. 2002. Security and Immigration: Toward a Critique of the Governmentality of Unease, Alternatives: Global, Local, Political, 27 (1)

Buzan, Barry, Waever, Ole and de Wilde. 1998. Security: A New Framework for Analysis. Lynne Rienner Publishers Inc. London.

Denic, L. & Cable, J. 2017. The Advent of Surveillance Realism: Public Opinion and Activist Responses to the Snowden Leaks. International Journal of Communication, 11, 763-781.

Houtum, van H. and Naerssen, T. van. 2002. “Bordering, ordering and othering”  Tijdschrift voor economische en sociale geografie,  vol. 93, issue 2, pp. 125 – 136.

Hynek, Nik and Chandler, David. 2013. “No emancipatory alternative, no critical security studies” Critical security studies 1(1)

McDonald, Matt. 2008. Securitization and the construction of security. Glasgow, Sage.

Tadjbakhsh, Schhrbanen & Cherby, Anuradha. 2006. Human security: concepts and implications. London: Routledge.

Schmitt, Carl. 2007. The concept of the political. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Tarrow, S. 2015. War, States, and Contention: A Comparative Historical Study, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press.


[1] Teresa May : “Brexit means Brexit”

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