Four Concepts of Security – A Human Rights Perspective

Human Rights Law Review, Vol. 13(1), p. 1-23, 2013

21 Pages Posted: 17 Apr 2017

Date Written: January 01, 2013


This article discusses how security must be understood from a human rights perspective. It is submitted that human rights law — i.e. classic civil human rights — in fact presupposes four different concepts of security: international security; negative individual security against the state; security as justification to limit human rights; and positive state obligation to offer security to individuals against other individuals. These concepts are explained, discussed and criticised individually and in combination. Reasons are given why several of the concepts insufficiently substantiate what security encompasses: not all concepts are mutually reinforcing; in some cases they even undermine each other. This implies that international human rights law fails to provide a comprehensive, balanced view of what security means from a human rights perspective. As a result, human rights law offers less substance and direction to the security discourse than it potentially should be able to; and, moreover, this is harmful to the capacity of human rights to protect the individual. Throughout the article suggestions are made to remedy these weaknesses.

Keywords: Security, Human Rights, Positive Obligations, Criminal Justice

Suggested Citation

van Kempen, Piet Hein, Four Concepts of Security – A Human Rights Perspective (January 01, 2013). Human Rights Law Review, Vol. 13(1), p. 1-23, 2013. Available at SSRN:

Piet Hein Van Kempen (Contact Author)

Radboud University Nijmegen ( email )

Faculty of Law
PO Box 9049
Nijmegen, 6500 KK


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