II.        Conceptual framework:  citizen security


18.              For the purpose of this report, it is pertinent to define the specific concept of citizen security, as the definition is an essential prerequisite for determining the scope of the obligations incumbent upon the members States under the relevant instruments of international human rights law.  The right to security from crime or interpersonal or social violence is not expressly protected under the international system of human rights law.[12]  However, the right to such protection can be inferred from the obligation of the State to guarantee the security of the individual, as set forth in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:  “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”; Article 1 of the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man: “Every human being has the right to life, liberty and the security of his person”; Article 7 of the American Convention on Human Rights: “Every person has the right to personal liberty and security”; and Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: “Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person”.  Nevertheless, the Commission considers that the current basis of the obligations incumbent upon States is a normative core demanding the protection of rights particularly vulnerable to criminal or violent acts that citizen security policies are intended to prevent and control.  This group of rights includes the right to life, the right to physical integrity, the right to freedom, the right to due process and the right to the use and enjoyment of one’s property, without prejudice to other rights that will be specifically examined in the body of this report.


19.              At the meetings of experts and working meetings held during the sub-regional consultations in the preparation of this report, one point that came up repeatedly was the fact that in both political and academic circles in the Americas different concepts are used when discussing the same topic –protecting and ensuring human rights against crime and violence.[13]  In some cases the definition used is very expansive and includes measures to ensure other human rights (such as the right to education, the right to health, the right to social security, the right to work, and others), whereas in other cases a narrower definition is used that refers only to interventions by the police forces and, perhaps, the judicial system.  At times different concepts are used interchangeably, such as “citizen security,” “human security” or “democratic security.”  Technically speaking, this creates an imprecise conceptual framework for defining the human rights standards at issue.


20.              When considering the premises of this conceptual definition, the Commission has indicated: 


Security has always been one of the States’ main functions.  Undoubtedly, as authoritarian States transitioned into democratic States, the concept of security evolved.  In the past, the concept of security meant maintaining order, as an expression of the power and supremacy of the State.  Today, democratic States are espousing law enforcement models that encourage citizen participation and that are premised on the principle that the protection of citizens by law enforcement must be respectful of the institution, the laws and basic rights.  Thus, from the standpoint of human rights, when we speak of security today, we are not just talking about fighting crime; instead we are talking about how to create an environment conducive to peaceful coexistence.  And so, the concept of security must place greater emphasis on activities to prevent and control the factors that generate violence and insecurity, rather than purely repressive or reactive behaviors to consummated acts.[14] 


This ever-present connection between the security of persons and democratic coexistence is a theme that runs throughout this report.  Crime is only one of the many forms of violence that people living in the region experience today (more specifically, crime refers only to the types of violence described in the criminal law systems).  This necessitates a comprehensive approach to the problem under study.  That comprehensive approach will produce prevention and control activities of a different kind, whose execution will involve different actors, from both the public sector and civil society.


21.              In this sense, and for the purpose of this report, the concept of citizen security is the one that best lends itself to addressing the problems of crime and violence from a human rights perspective.  In lieu of concepts such as “public security”, “internal security” or “public order,” it represents an uncontroversial move towards an approach that focuses on building a stronger democratic citizenry, while making clear that the central objective of the policies established is the human person, and not the security of the State or a given political system.  The expression citizen security emerged, for the most part, as a concept in Latin America, as governments made the transition to democracy, as a way to distinguish the concept of security under a democracy from the notion of security under the earlier authoritarian regimes.  In the latter case, the concept of security was associated with concepts like “national security”, “internal security” or “public security”, all of which refer specifically to the security of the State.  Under democratic regimes, the concept of security against the threat of crime or violence is associated with “citizen security” and is used to refer to the paramount security of individuals and social groups.  By contrast to other concepts used in the region, namely “urban security” or “safe city”, citizen security refers to the security of all persons and groups, both urban and rural.  Nevertheless, it is worth highlighting that the concept of “public security” is still widely used in the United States and Canada to also refer to the security of the individuals and groups who make up society.  By contrast, as noted above, in Latin America the very same expression, “public security”, refers to a different concept altogether, alluding to the security built by the State or, on occasion, the security of the State.


22.              In recent years, the input of the academia and specialized international organizations has allowed a more precise approach to the concept of citizen security, distinguishing it from the concept of “human security” that evolved over the last fifteen years, basically as a result of the work done under the United Nations Development Program.[15]  Human security refers to “one of the means or conditions for human development, which in turn is defined as the process that opens up an individual’s options… [which] range from enjoying a long and healthy life, access to the knowledge and resources needed to achieve a decent standard of living, to enjoyment of political, economic and social freedoms.”[16]  In this construct, citizen security is strictly a dimension of human security, because it is conceived as being


the social situation in which all persons are free to enjoy their fundamental rights and public institutions have sufficient capacity, against a backdrop of the rule of law, to guarantee the exercise of those rights and respond efficiently when they are violated (…) Thus, the citizenry is the principal focus of the State’s protection.  Summing up, citizen security becomes a necessary –albeit not sufficient- condition of human security that in the end is the ultimate guarantee of human development.  Therefore, institutional interventions to prevent and control violence and crime (citizen security policies) can be regarded as an indirect but nonetheless significant opportunity: first, to, buttress sustainable economic development; second, to strengthen democratic governance and the observance of human rights.[17]


23.              In recent years conceptual developments bring us closer to a concept of citizen security from the perspective of human rights.  The concept of citizen security involves those rights to which all members of a society are entitled, so that they are able to live their daily lives with as little threat as possible to their personal security, their civic rights and their right to the use and enjoyment of their property; on the other hand, citizen security problems occur when a State’s failure to discharge, either in whole or in part, its function of providing protection against crime and social violence becomes a generalized situation, which means that the basic relationship between those governing and the governed has broken down.[18]


24.              On the other hand, the activity of the security forces lawfully directed toward the protection of the population is fundamental in achieving the common good in a democratic society.  At the same time the abuse of police authority in the urban setting constitutes a high risk factor for the enforcement of individual liberty and security.  Human rights as limits on the arbitrary exercise of authority constitute an essential safeguard for the security of the public in preventing the State’s lawful measures, enacted in order to protect general security, from being used to suppress rights.  Therefore, the respect for, and the correct interpretation and application of, the guarantees established in the American Convention must serve as a guide to the member states in order to steer the activities of the security forces towards a respect for human rights.[19]  In the light of these elements, this report identifies the obligations undertaken by member states with respect to human rights and their connection with the implementation of measures required to prevent conduct that affects citizen security.

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[12] This generalization notwithstanding, in the specific case of the regional provisions that comprise the framework for protecting and guaranteeing women’s human rights, the right to live free from violence is expressly recognized in Article 3 of the Convention of Belém do Pará, which provides the following: "Every woman has the right to be free from violence in both the public and private spheres. "

[13] At the second meeting of experts, held in Bogota, Colombia on September 18, 2008, reference was made " (…) to the need to determine whether there is a specific human right to security from violence and crime or whether, when attributing source, one should look to a combination of rights that can be violated in situations of citizen insecurity. "

[14] Presentation of the Executive Secretary of the IACHR before the Special Working Group for the Preparation of the First Meeting of Ministers in the Area of Public Security in the Americas, Washington, DC, June 20, 2008.

[15] In its 1994 Human Development Report, the UNDP defines the two main components of human security: "freedom from fear and freedom from want."  Human security, then, is "safety from chronic threats such as hunger, disease and repression," and "protection from sudden and hurtful disruptions in the patterns of daily life –whether in homes, in jobs or in communities."  The 1994 World Development Report defines the four elements of human security as: (1) universal; (2) interdependent; (3) people-centered and (4) easier to ensure through early prevention than later intervention.  Available at

[16] See UNDP, Guía de Evaluación de la Seguridad Ciudadana en América Latina y El Caribe, Regional Services Centre for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2006.

[17] UNDP, Human Development Report 1994, available at  The Report on Human Development for Central America 2009-2010 establishes that “without ignoring the importance of other dimensions of human security, five features give citizen security special relevance, urgency and importance.  In the first place, it can be said that citizen security is based on human security (...).  In the second place, citizen security is the main form of human security (…).  Consequently, and in the third place, citizen security guarantees fundamental human rights.  In the fourth place (…) safety from crime is an essential component of citizenship (…).  Lastly, and singularly important, citizen security directly involves freedom: the essence of human development (…).” See,19660,en.html.

[18] Aguilera, Javier “Sobre seguridad ciudadana y democracia” in Buscando la seguridad.  Seguridad ciudadana y democracia en Guatemala, FLACSO, Guatemala Program, 1996.

[19] IACHR Application before the Inter/American Court of Human Rights in the case of Walter Bulacio, 24 January 2001, paragraphs 61 and 62.  Available (in Spanish only) at