Posts Tagged ‘Protective accompaniment’

We start 2021 with a long-read about Non-violence and PBI

January 4, 2021


A new year for this blog should start with a bit of transparency: in 2020 there were 35.147 views by 19.777 visitors, which is an increase of approximately 15 % on 2019. Not too bad for a niche blog I think. A theme that does not get enough attention is in my view the principled non-violence of many human rights defenders as illustrated in “Non-violence is always the best choice” by Carl Kline in Brookinsgregister of 29 December 2020:

The year 2021 marks the 40th anniversary of Peace Brigades International. Founded in 1981 at Grindstone Island in Ontario, Canada, PBI has practiced nonviolent accompaniment in numerous countries around the world.

The idea of peace brigades originated with Mahatma Gandhi, concerned about violence in India between various religious factions. Teams of unarmed volunteers would go into conflict situations as nonviolent, non-partisan actors, making contact with all groups to the dispute and helping mediate and resolve the conflict. If necessary, the volunteers were prepared to put their bodies in harm’s way to mitigate or stop the violence.

As the idea of PBI spread in the early ’80s, volunteers stepped forward, the depth of experience increased, more rigorous training developed for those in the field, and an international organization emerged with working groups in 12 countries. In 2020, projects were ongoing in Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Indonesia, Mexico and Nepal.

PBI does not enter any conflict situation unless invited by a human rights organization in the host country. Volunteers spend their initial time in the country identifying their presence to all sides of the conflict and to government officials. They wear identifying clothing. They have an international network of others willing to respond at a moment’s notice with telegrams, email or letters to appropriate persons, letting them know the whole world is watching.

Their primary purpose is accompanying those human rights workers who are under threat of death. A volunteer is with them 24 hours a day. Oftentimes family members are accompanied as well, to school, to market, wherever they happen to go.

Having done this work for 40 years, PBI has compiled solid experiential evidence that nonviolent, non-partisan accompaniment works and violent conflicts can be lessened and sometimes resolved by the intervention of international nonviolent agents. In 40 years of accompaniment, none of the accompanied, or those who accompanied them, have been lost to violence. Many of the human rights defenders in the various countries have attributed their survival to PBI.

The Nonviolent Peaceforce had its beginnings in 2002 with a founding conference in India with representatives from 49 countries present. They began their first project in Sri Lanka in 2003. Today they are active in Iraq, the Phillipines, Myanmar and South Sudan.

Their mission statement reads: “Nonviolent Peaceforce is a global civilian protection agency based in humanitarian and international human rights law. Our mission is to protect civilians in violent conflicts through unarmed strategies, build peace side by side with local communities, and advocate for the wider adoption of these approaches to safeguard human lives and dignity. We are guided by principles of nonviolence, nonpartisanship, primacy of local actors, and civilian-to-civilian action.”

Both organizations, similar at their core, have matured to the point where they have reputations worldwide, especially among those served. They have enough history and experience they are here to stay.

On a more local level, there is a long history of conflict resolution programs in the public schools. Creative Conflict Resolution  began in New York state in 1972, started by a group of Quakers. At the time, it was called Children’s Creative Response to Conflict. As it grew and expanded its programs across the country, it came to Brookings in the early ‘90s and local volunteers established programs in schools across the state. After a training and installment of a peer mediation program in one South Dakota school, the principal lamented with a grin that he never saw problem cases in his office anymore. They all chose to go to mediation.

The spinoffs from these programs of conflict resolution, started early in the schools and homes, are many and long-lasting. It is clear that we can educate our way to a less violent culture, if only we make it as critical an educational mission as the three r’s.

As we begin a new year, it is clear we have choices. We don’t have to add to the war budget every year. It would be far more productive and encouraging to shift some of those funds to nonviolent alternatives, like PBI or the Nonviolent Peaceforce. Or why can’t we have conflict resolution programs in every school in the country.

This year, in 2021, we have a special opportunity to choose between violence and nonviolence. The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is 50 years old. The new Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons goes into effect on Jan. 22, 2021. 50 countries have now signed it. This treaty prohibits the use, development, testing, production, manufacturing, acquiring, possession, stockpiling, transferring, receiving, threatening to use, stationing, installation or deployment of nuclear weapons. The U.S., along with other nuclear nations, will have a choice: sign on or be a rogue nation.

Can we see the mounting evidence? From our homes and schools to the international community, there is a better way!

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/12/26/pbis-right-to-defend-a-new-multi-media-awareness-campaign/

https://brookingsregister.com/article/non-violence-is-always-the-best-choice

In Memoriam Murray Thomson one of the founders of Peace Brigades International

May 7, 2019

Age Is More: Image: Still from Murray Thomson/YouTube
Murray Thomson passed away at 96 years of age on 2 May 2019 in Ottawa, Canada. 

The founding statement for PBI that Thomson helped draft almost 40 years ago said, “We are forming an organisation with the capacity to mobilise and provide trained volunteers in areas of high tension, to avert violent outbreaks.” There was no way for Thomson and the 10 other people who gathered on Grindstone Island, southwest of Ottawa, from August 13 to September 4, 1981 to know that the seed they planted with their vision would grow into a global organization.

Fathi Zabaar, the New York City-based Tunisian human rights activist who chairs PBI’s International Council says, “In 2017, PBI’s community of activists provided effective protection and support to more than one thousand women, men and LGBTI defenders, despite the challenging context and huge risk those working to change the world continued to face.“… Along with Thomson, there were two other people from Canada at that meeting: Henry Wiseman and Hans Sinn. Wiseman passed away at 93 years of age of in Guelph, Ontario in January 2017. Sinn remains active and still lives in the Ottawa Valley.

In April 2015, Sinn told Ottawa Magazine about the founding of PBI in 1981. “Our first project was in Guatemala. The mothers of the disappeared appealed to us for an international presence. By looking for their children, who had been made to disappear, they came under threat too,” Sinn said.  Sinn added, “They needed a link to the outside world — for protection and for international pressure to help improve the situation — and we provided that.”

….

Thomson’s contributions to human rights and peace extend far beyond the formation of Peace Brigades International. He helped found the Quaker Peace Education Centre-Grindstone Island in 1963, which worked to address the question: “How can we, who advocate nonviolence, actually practise it in hostile, threatening situations?” and Project Ploughshares in 1976, which was based around the observation that newly independent countries were spending vast amounts of borrowed money to build up military institutions rather than on the public interest and social needs. Thomson also helped found the Group of 78 in 1981 to promote peace and disarmament, equitable and sustainable development, and a revitalized United Nations system, and Peacefund Canada in 1985 as a campaign aimed at allowing conscientious objectors to have their tax payments spent only for non-military purposes.

Thomson helped found Canadian Friends of Burma in 1991 to support the pro-democracy movement in the struggle for peace, democracy, human rights and equality and Canadians for a Nuclear Weapons Convention in 2008, a group which seeks a verifiable treaty on the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. Thomson made an extraordinary contribution to peace, justice and human rights during his lifetime and his example inspires many of us to continue that work.

For more on Thomson’s life of faith and activism, please see the rabble.ca blog by Dennis Gruending, the Tribute to ‘a renaissance man of peace’ by Koozma J. Tarasoff, and the post by Peace Brigades International-Canada.

http://www.rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/brent-patterson/2019/05/murray-thomsons-lasting-legacy

Protective accompaniment for land, water and human rights defenders badly needed

January 17, 2019

Photo: Peace Brigades International
Those who work to defend land, water, Indigenous, LGBTQI+ and human rights around the world face many dangers, including death- Photo: Peace Brigades International

Brent Patterson wrote on 16 January, 2019 a blog post: “Protective accompaniment supports land, water and human rights defenders”. It is a timely reminder of the work done by PBI:

According to Front Line Defenders, 2018 saw the highest number ever on record of human rights defenders killed [https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/01/09/front-line-defenders-says-record-number-of-activists-killed-in-2018/]. One way to support these defenders is through protective accompaniment (often popularly describes ed as the ‘human shiled’). According to NGO Peace Brigades International (PBI), “Protective accompaniment is a strategy pioneered by PBI for protecting human rights defenders and communities whose lives and work are threatened by political violence.” The strategy involves recruiting volunteers from around the world who want to help “defend the defender,” providing them with training, and then sending them into areas of conflict in a highly visible way to provide increased security and moral support to defenders.

Normally volunteers spend a minimum of one year in the field. “When the level of threat is high accompaniment is sometimes round the clock. In other situations volunteers stay with threatened communities or remain in the offices of organizations, and accompany threatened activists when they travel,” PBI notes. “Another form of accompaniment is regular phone calls to organizations to check on their safety.

These volunteers are backed by an international network that raises the profile of the defender and their struggle, provides analysis and international solidarity, and increases the stakes and risk of repercussions for potential attackers. “Accompaniment increases the perceived political costs of ordering an attack in front of international witnesses — witnesses whose organization is committed to making such attacks as costly as possible for those responsible,” PBI notes. The political costs can be amplified by garnering local, national and international media coverage, mobilizing embassies, governments and international bodies, challenging with facts the official rhetoric that a human rights situation is improving, and making risk-adverse investors aware they could lose money with controversial mega-projects. Hundreds of defenders have received protective accompaniment over the years.

Those accompanied by PBI have included activists from Indigenous communities, environmental organizations, women’s organizations, trade unions, community organizations, as well as LGBTQI+ activists, journalists, lawyers and relatives of the disappeared.

Brent Patterson is an activist-blogger who writes this monthly column on inspiring stories of global resistance to neoliberalism and climate change.

http://rabble.ca/columnists/2019/01/protective-accompaniment-supports-land-water-and-human-rights-defenders