Peace Brigades International

 

Peace Brigades International operates in conflict zones around the world, promoting non-violence and protecting human rights. It is not a Quaker organisation, but its work is grounded in Quaker and Gandhian principles, Quakers were instrumental in its establishment, and many Quakers still work with the organisation today.

Foundation and Early Years

In the late 1970s, many of those involved in peace work were interested in finding new and effective ways of promoting peace and non-violence in conflict zones. By early 1981, those raising the concept of a ‘peace army’ included Daniel Clark at North Pacific Yearly Meeting, and Charles Walker, Quaker veteran of the World Peace Brigade, Raymond Magee of Peaceworkers from California and Narayan Desai of Shanti Sen meeting in India.

In September 1981, a consultative meeting was held on Grindstone Island, site of the Canadian Friends Service Committee’s Peace Education Centre. As well as those named above, the eleven participants included Murray Thomson of Project Ploughshares in Canada and Hans Sinn, a one of Grindstone’s nonviolence trainers. Altogether, as Daniel Clark records, six Quakers, a Hindu, a Catholic, a Jew, a Protestant, and a universalist took part. The group put out a Founding Declaration, including the statement:

Peace brigades, fashioned to respond to specific needs and appeals, will undertake nonpartisan missions, which may include peacemaking initiatives, peacekeeping under a discipline of nonviolence, and humanitarian service.

They approved a structure consisting of a directorate of four people, and a General Assembly of approximately 25 people, with subcommittees to develop different areas of work.  During 1982, the founding members travelled widely, particularly in South America, determining where the Peace Brigades could be of greatest use.

The first direct request for their intervention came from Nicaragua, where insurgents were arming themselves against the Sandinista government. A group of volunteers based in Santa Cruz, California, led by Jack Schultz, a Quaker engineer, were ready to be deployed. In Jalalpa, near the Honduran border, the group interposed themselves between opposing forces to deter hostilities. This early venture in Nicaragua proved somewhat disorganised and underlined the need for Peace Brigade volunteers to be highly trained and qualified - a principle established for all later engagements.

Later in 1983, a PBI team moved into Guatemala, then suffering a regime of terror and repression. Over the next 15 years PBI protected hundreds of Guatemalan activists. The work was not without danger. During 1989, volunteers received death threats, had their house blown up by a grenade and were injured in a knife attack. In neighbouring El Salvador volunteers were arrested and interrogated and eventually expelled from the country.

Methods of working

PBI send teams of volunteers into areas of conflict to ‘make space for peace’. They work only where their presence has been requested, and only after the conflict and its political, social and economic context have been studied.

PBI’s experience in Central America led to the development of the concept of “protective accompaniment,” now widely used to safeguard human rights defenders. Protective accompaniment provides a non-violence presence to act as a ‘unarmed bodyguard’ and observer to deter potential aggressors. The ecumenical accompaniment programme in the Middle East operates in a similar way.

In addition, when volunteers or those they protect are threatened, grassroots and high-level support networks are alerted to send messages to governments and military authorities in the affected country.

Organisation

Below the General Assembly and the Directorate, the building blocks of the PBI are the Country Groups, who recruit and train volunteers, raise funds and work on a political level to safeguard volunteers and those they protect.

Areas of work

Since their early work in Central America, PBI has operated in Sri Lanka (1989-1998) Haiti (1992 - 2001) Balkans (1994-2001) Indonesia (2000-2011), Colombia (1994-present day), Mexico (1998-present day), Nepal (2005 – present day).

Not all PBI projects are based on protective accompaniment. Between 1992 and 1999, for example, they supported conflict resolution around indigenous communities in North America. Recently initiated projects include supporting Human Rights Defenders in Kenya and Honduras.

In 2001, PBI was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the American Friends Service Committee. According to the AFSC statement,
PBI has a sustained, deep commitment to non-violence in working for peace and human rights and provides a successful model for how ordinary people with extraordinary courage can support local workers for peace in some of the most dangerous of the world’s conflicts ... In more than twenty years of work in some of the world’s most violent conflicts, no one under PBI protection was killed while they were being protected, nor have any PBI volunteers been killed.

Further Reading and Credits

External links

Further Reading

  • Gandhi's Peace Army: The Shanti Sena and Unarmed Peacekeeping, Thomas Weber
  • Witness for Peace: A Story of Resistance, By  Griffin-Nolan
  • Liam Mahony & Luis Enrique Eguren, (1997) “Unarmed Bodyguards: International Accompaniment for the Protection of Human Rights”, Kumarian Press

Image reproduced by kind permission of the copyright holders Peace Brigades International