5. The principle of governance and human security

The misguided exercise of authority prevents a society working towards the common good. Abuse of power, corruption and bribery instill a culture of fear and individual gain at the expense of others. They destroy trust in governance processes, stifle development and the pursuit of justice. They can increase the inequity and accelerate the environmental destruction that future generations will be burdened with. For these reasons, sound governance must be based upon respect for the rule of law, democracy, political accountability, government flexibility and responsiveness to its citizens. These factors increase human security, and help bring freedom from fear and freedom from want. They also help avoid armed conflicts and to resolve peacefully those that arise: democracies almost never go to war against each other. 


Best laws and policies, inter alia, should help responsible authorities to adopt democratic and transparent decision-making procedures and financial accountability; to take effective measures to combat official or other corruption; to respect the principle of due process in their procedures and to observe the rule of law and human rights. The coin has two sides, though. Best laws and policies will also recognize that non-state actors should be subject to internal democratic governance and to effective accountability, and encourage responsible corporate behaviour and investment among private actors. Furthermore, it is fundamental for human security to promote the prevention and peaceful resolution of conflicts, so that humanity can live in freedom from need, and freedom from fear. And have freedom to act on one’s own behalf. The role of women is of especial importance.

Download CISDL draft legal working paper on good governance

Download CISDL legal working paper on the 7 Future Justice principles 


This principle is already widely recognized in international law or practice. For example:

Convention against Corruption

“Concerned about the seriousness of problems and threats posed by corruption to the stability and security of societies, undermining the institutions and values of democracy, ethical values and justice and jeopardizing sustainable development and the rule of law,…

Bearing also in mind the principles of proper management of public affairs and public property, fairness, responsibility and equality before the law and the need to safeguard integrity and to foster a culture of rejection of corruption,…

1. Each State Party shall, in accordance with the fundamental principles of its legal system, develop and implement or maintain effective, coordinated anti-corruption policies that promote the participation of society and reflect the principles of the rule of law, proper management of public affairs and public property, integrity, transparency and accountability.”

Preamble and Article 5.1, UN Convention against Corruption, 2004

Human Rights Commission

“Emphasizing that the strengthening of good governance at the national level, including through the building of effective and accountable institutions for promoting growth and sustainable human development, is a continuous process for all Governments regardless of the level of development of the countries concerned,

Noting the growing recognition of the importance of good governance in the promotion of human rights, and in particular in the United Nations Millennium Declaration…

Noting also that good governance practices necessarily vary according to the particular circumstances and needs of different societies, and that the responsibility for determining and implementing such practices, based on transparency and accountability, and for creating and maintaining an enabling environment conducive to the enjoyment of all human rights at the national level, rests with the State concerned”

Preamble, Commission on Human Rights resolution 2001/72
on the Role of Good Governance in the Promotion of Human Rights, 2001

Millennium Declaration

“6. We consider certain fundamental values to be essential to international relations in the twenty-first century. These include:

• Freedom. Men and women have the right to live their lives and raise their children in dignity, free from hunger and from the fear of violence, oppression or injustice. Democratic and participatory governance based on the will of the people best assures these rights.”

Paragraph 6, Millennium Declaration, 2000

Security Council

“Expressing concern that civilians, particularly women and children, account for the vast majority of those adversely affected by armed conflict, including as refugees and internally displaced persons, and increasingly are targeted by combatants and armed elements, and recognizing the consequent impact this has on durable peace and reconciliation,

Reaffirming the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building, and stressing the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security, and the need to increase their role in decision-making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution,
1. Urges Member States to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict;”

Preamble and paragraph 1, Security Council Resolution 1325, 2000

Questions and resources

The 3 questions below can be used to focus upon this principle, and to test the action of any law or policy:
5.1 Does the law/policy establish adequate institutions to ensure transparent, prompt, effective and fair implementation of its provisions?

5.2 Does it promote peaceful resolution of conflict, and help to ensure that human beings are able to live in freedom from fear, and freedom from want?

5.3 Does the law/policy include provisions to ensure that its intentions are not thwarted by corruption, bribery or unethical conduct, and provide appropriate penalties for abuse of rights, or for mis-implementation?

  • The UNDP’s Democratic Governance Practice supports national processes of democratic transitions, focusing on policy advice and technical support; strengthening capacity of institutions and individuals; advocacy, communications, and public information; promoting and brokering dialogue; and knowledge networking and sharing of good practices.
  • This 2007 report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights aims to help fill the gap between human rights standards and principles and their implementation through governance interventions.

The report takes its human rights standards from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its definition of good governance as the exercise of authority through political and institutional processes that are transparent and accountable, and that encourage public participation. It provides 21 examples of how a variety of social and institutional actors, ranging from women’s and minority groups to the media, civil society and State agencies, have carried out reforms in four areas: democratic institutions, the delivery of State services, the rule of law and anti-corruption measures.

  • This 2007 handbook on democratic dialogue, sponsored by International IDEA, the United Nations Development Programme, the Organization of American States and the Canadian International Development Agency, provides options and methods on how to design, start, convene, conduct, monitor and evaluate an open, sustained and flexible dialogue process that can be used to achieve consensus or prevent conflict as a complement to, though not a replacement for, democratic institutions such as legislatures, political parties and government bodies.

Written for decision-makers, dialogue promoters and process experts, and drawing on the experience of the sponsors, as well as the experience of 13 other organisations engaged in promoting and organizing dialogue processes, the handbook seeks to provide:

  • a resource for thinking about how to address a particular problem or bring about a desired change;
  • an overview of the subject of democratic dialogue;
  • criteria for judging when dialogue is an appropriate approach;
  • a link to the experience and wisdom of practitioners who have taken that route before; and
  • a reference work, to which practitioners can return as needed to find inspiration, guidance and indications of additional resources on specific topics.
  • The UN Trust Fund for Human Security has produced a 2009 guide for practitioners wishing to integrate human security into their work.

The handbook provides an overview of the human security concept which brings together the ‘human elements’ of security, rights and development in order to address various types of security threats and which displays 5 characteristics: people-centered; multi-sectoral; comprehensive; context-specific; and prevention-oriented. The concept is outlined as an operational tool for analysis, explanation and programming and of its operational impact is described, along with tools for applying the concept, including a step-by-step strategy for developing, implementing and evaluating human security programmes and projects, as well as case studies in post-conflict situations and food insecure scenarios.

  • This 2003 report from the Commission for Human Security outlines strategies and policies to bring about a paradigm shift in security policy, from the security of the State towards security of people.

It suggests doing so through two general strategies: protection, to shield people from dangers, through developing norms, processes and institutions that systematically address insecurities; and empowerment, enabling people to develop their potential and become full participants in decision-making.

The Commission arrived at policy conclusions in 10 areas:

  1. Protecting people in violent conflict
  2. Protecting people from the proliferation of arms
  3. Supporting the security of people on the move
  4. Establishing human security transition funds for post-conflict situations
  5. Encouraging fair trade and markets to benefit the extreme poor
  6. Working to provide minimum living standards everywhere
  7. According higher priority to ensuring universal access to basic health care
  8. Developing an efficient and equitable global system for patent rights
  9. Empowering all people with universal basic education
  10. Clarifying the need for a global human identity while respecting the freedom of individuals to have diverse identities and affiliations.
  • The Human Security Report Project provides a research and information database which may be of use to policy-makers, and develops and maintains a growing number of human security-related e-resources.