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Appendix 2C. The human security approach to direct and structural violence


I. Introduction

II. Human security provision as a response to direct and structural violence in society

III. Violence and human insecurity 

IV. The human security approach as an analytical framework to address violence

V. Conclusions 


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Human suffering on an individual level and conflict and violence on communal, regional and international levels can be significantly reduced if individuals and communities feel secure and protected from the threats that emanate from direct and structural violence—that is, if their basic human security is guaranteed. In contrast, violation of the basic human needs of individuals and communities leads to human suffering and social and communal deterioration, and therefore to more violence in its direct and structural manifestations. This, in turn, perpetuates the frustration of human needs. Breaking this cyclical relationship hinges on the ability to reduce or avoid violence and thus provide human security.


The concept of human security is much debated and has been given varying definitions by scholars and governments alike. ‘Human security threats’ are identified here as those that threaten the lives of individuals and communities through direct and structural violence. This approach is manageable both in research and in practice. Although it covers threats posed by both direct and structural violence, the approach applies an impact threshold requiring violence to be life-threatening to individuals and communities. The mere avoidance of direct and structural violence does not satisfy the full range of requirements for positive peace, broad human security provision and the satisfaction of the complete hierarchy of human needs. Yet it offers a manageable definition that links population security with national security, structural violence with direct violence, and accountability for human insecurity with responsibility for the provision of human security.


Opting for direct and structural violence as interdependent core variables in human security analysis and provision offers opportunities to address the most crucial threats to populations and to prepare the grounds for the most effective mitigation mechanisms. Human insecurity mitigation requires:


  • population- and context-specific threat and violence identification and analysis;
  • threat-, context- and actor-specific designs of preventive and response measures;
  • targeted prevention of direct and structural violence through multi-actor strategies; and
  • monitoring and assessment of threat levels and of the implementation of mitigation and adaptation measures.


While such a systematic approach is relevant in the presence of structural violence—which is not always easy to recognize and where the identification of responsible causes and actors are a challenge at best—attention must be paid to the role of armed violence and its potential for escalating existing and creating new waves of direct and structural violence.



Dr Albrecht Schnabel (Germany) is a Senior Research Fellow at swisspeace and a Lecturer in International Organizations and Conflict Management at the University of Bern Institute of Political Science.