Do you remember that bully from your childhood? The one who persecuted you for no good reason. Threatened you. Intimidated you. Loomed over you.
Think back to the feelings of being bullied. The isolation and loneliness of being afraid and being alone – and not being able to tell anyone.
Most of us have had these experiences in childhood – but as we’ve grown, those fears and feelings of dread become fading memories.
Here in Canada, we take our rights and our personal safety pretty much for granted. We have a court system that’s just. We have media that reports openly and freely when injustices are done.
This isn’t the case in many parts of the world. In many parts of Latin America, Africa and Asia, civil society is a dream to some. But it’s not the reality they live with.
In Colombia, a human rights lawyer representing family members of victims in 65 cases of extrajudicial execution has had threats of assassination made against him. On several occasions three men have attempted to enter his apartment. He jokes that he doesn’t need to use sun block any more because he goes from his house, to his car, to his office – he doesn’t go outside if he can help it – because being outside makes him an easier target.
In Nepal a young journalist who writes about oppression and violence against women has her home broken into several times. After her colleague – another female reporter – is murdered, a cross is marked on her door and she is told she’ll “be next.” Despite the risks, she knows that lasting peace in her country depends upon voices like hers.
We call people like Jorge and Kokila ‘human rights defenders’. PBI’s found a solution to the dangers they face as they struggle to better their communities and make human rights a reality for all. That solution is called ‘accompaniment’.
When a defender walks down the street – or speaks at a meeting - with someone from Canada or Europe or the USA beside them, they are much safer. Police and paramilitary soldiers are far less likely to threaten, beat or kill when there are foreign witnesses present.
For decades, accompaniment has proven to be the most effective strategy to protect these human rights defenders – and to enable them to continue their important work.
PBI volunteers act as Canada’s – and the world’s - eyes and ears. Not only do they accompany human rights defenders, they also serve as Canada’s ‘human rights radar’. Governments and media rely on the PBI network to keep them updated on the latest human rights developments in the world’s hot spots.
This is the insurance we offer to the people we protect. They’re able to do their work knowing that if anything untoward should happen, the world will know immediately and take action.
Nothing serves to protect human rights more effectively than when we stand up for each other's rights. That is the very essence of Peace Brigades International. It is people standing alongside other people - watching, documenting, speaking out - all in the name of human rights protection. In doing so, Peace Brigades brings courage, humanity and vigilance to the front lines of human rights violations and makes a real difference in the lives of women, men and young people working for equality and justice in their communities. It is that simple. It is that powerful. And it is so vitally important.Alex Neve, Secretary General, Amnesty International, Canada, English Section