"The accompaniment volunteers are a living bridge between the threatened activists and the outside world, and also between their own home communities and the reality of the global struggle for human rights. [They] experience a rare privilege of standing at the side of some of the world's most courageous and committed activists." – Liam Mahony and Luis Enrique Eguren, Unarmed Bodyguards: International Accompaniment for the Protection of Human Rights, Kumarian Press, 1997
Accompaniment has three primary outcomes:
- Protect threatened activists and organizations
- Provide moral support for individuals and civil society movements
- Contribute to the building of a global movement for peace and human rights
Protective accompaniment is more than just our physical presence in a community; it’s hourly, daily or weekly check-in phone calls and even periodic visits to the offices and homes of those we accompany. While our primary goal is always the safety of the defender, these visits provide an opportunity for us to ensure the safety of the physical environment as well. More importantly, they are an opportunity for the broader community to see Peace Brigades International’s volunteers and be aware of our presence. Should one of our accompanied human rights defenders ever fail to respond to a check-in call or visit, we immediately activate pre-arranged emergency procedures to find out why.
To be effective, everyone must be fully aware of our work objectives and requirements. To do this we meet regularly with military and civil authorities, state-run agencies, local and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), faith communities, the diplomatic community and legitimate social organizations engaged in human rights protection to discuss why we are there and who we are accompanying.
Our accompaniment is so successful in deterring attacks because the decision makers behind these attacks do not want a tarnished image on the international level. They do not want the world to know their secrets.
They want to avoid feeling uncomfortable in meetings with diplomats when human rights issues are discussed and they would prefer not to read about their abuses in the international press. There are high political costs to ordering an attack in front of international witnesses, particularly witnesses whose organization is committed to making such attacks as costly as possible for those responsible. We are one of them.
The line of command
Systematic human rights abuses require the collaboration of authority at all levels; local, national and international.
That’s why our approach is multi-layered and seeks to influence every point in this chain:
- Our accompaniment volunteer is always visible to potential perpetrators of violence and strengthens the international support felt by the threatened defenders.
- We ensure that international pressure is placed on every level of power by meeting regularly with local and national military and civilian authorities to raise concerns about human rights, the profile of our presence and the profiles of those we accompany.
- Our “first-hand witness” effect reinforces the credibility of local activists, their organizations and the overall international effort to protect them. It also makes it more difficult for states to claim that they are solving the problem by serving as a constant reminder that human rights abuses continue to exist.
- The presence of our volunteers, backed by their connection to their respective country groups like PBI-Canada, encourages embassies and home governments to engage more dynamically in human rights protection. This intensifies the overall pressure placed on top decision makers.
- The higher our profile – and thus our credibility is, the more effective our protection can be. We heighten our credibility by organizing speaking tours, exhibitions and events to raise awareness and distribute objective and accurate information on the political situation in our project countries.
- Our emergency networks are alerted when an attack or harassment happens These networks remind decision makers in the country where abuses are occurring that the world is watching, and that they have an obligation to protect their own citizens.
Luis Guillermo Pérez Casas, Lawyers Collective José Alvear Restrepo (Colombia) “I can say with certainty that if we are still alive, it is mainly because of PBI's work.”