Our History

PBI was founded in Canada in 1981, but the concept of protective accompaniment had developed in South Africa in 1922 with Gandhi’s Shanti Sena, or “peace army,” which were groups of volunteers trained in nonviolent protest.

It was Gandhi’s principles of nonviolence, in conjunction with the principles of the Quakers that pioneered the modern peace movement. The idea to start Peace Brigades International came from people with practical experience of nonviolence. Especially relevant was the earlier work of the Shanti Sena peace army in India and the World Peace Brigades.

As early as the 17th century, the Quakers offered their services in England as mediators before and during conflicts, believing that no person should be violated, exploited or destroyed by violence. Gandhi later extended this philosophy in the 20th century by building his peace armies in India and South Africa.

He believed that a small group of determined people with a strong faith in their mission could alter the course of history.

After Gandhi died, his legacy inspired the World Peace Brigade (WPB), an organization comprised of his peers in the peace community. The WPB worked to promote nonviolence as a component of African liberation struggles from 1962–64.

In January 1981, several peace advocates revived the idea of an international organization committed to unarmed third-party intervention in conflict situations. They sent a joint letter to a number of organizations inviting them to attend a conference on Grindstone Island in Canada.

Those present in August 1981 included Raymond Magee, Lee Stern, Narayan Desai, Gene Keyes, Charles Walker, Dan Clark, Mark Shepard and Jaime Diaz. Canada was well represented by Henry Wiseman, Murray Thomson and Hans Sinn. Over the course of almost three weeks, they developed and approved a founding statement and structure for the organization.

This meeting marked the founding of Peace Brigades International.

An excerpt from the minutes reads:

‘We are forming an organisation with the capacity to mobilise and provide trained volunteers in areas of high tension, to avert violent outbreaks. 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. …We are building on a rich and extensive heritage of nonviolent action. We are convinced that this commitment of mind, heart, and dedicated will can make a significant difference in human affairs’

Key dates in PBI's history

Field Projects

1981 PBI founded
1983-1999 Guatemala Project, reopened 2002
1987-1992 El Salvador project
1989-1998 Sri Lanka project
1992-1999 North America project
1994 Colombia project established
1994-2001 Participation in the Balkan Peace Team
1995-2001 Haiti project
1996- PBI joins SIPAZ coalition, Chiapas, Mexico
1998- Mexico project established
1999-2011 Indonesia project
2002- Guatemala project reopened

2005-2014

2013-

Nepal project

Nepal Monitor Project

2013- Kenya project
2013- Honduras project

Other Events

1989   PBI is awarded the Memorial Per la Pau "Josep Vidal I Llecha"
1995 PBI is awarded the Memorial de la Paz y la Soledaridad Entre los Pueblos
1996 PBI is awarded the Pfeffer International Peace Prize
1999 PBI is awarded the Aachener International Peace Prize, and the Medalla Comemorativa de la Paz by the Rigoberta Menchú Túm Foundation
2001 PBI's 20th Anniversary with international conference in Switzerland, photo exhibitions in Germany and UK, workshops, celebrations and events in several other countries.
2001 PBI awarded the Martin Ennals Prize for Human Rights Defenders, and is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize
2011 Jaime Brunet Prize for the promotion of human rights