What is Peace Brigades International?

Published by Brent Patterson on

Peace Brigades International is a global movement of activists seeking justice and peace that supports and stands in solidarity with threatened human rights defenders on the frontlines of struggles for social justice around the world.

Formation of the group

PBI was founded on Grindstone Island in eastern Ontario (on unceded, unsurrendered Algonquin territory) on September 4, 1981. Eleven peace activists, including six Quakers, wrote the founding statement that highlighted:

“We are forming an organization with the capability to mobilize and provide trained units of volunteers. These units may be assigned to areas of high tension to avert violent outbreaks. If hostile clashes occur, a brigade may establish and monitor a cease-fire, offer mediatory services, or carry on works of reconstruction and reconciliation.”

Accompaniment

In early April 1985, after the murder of two human rights activists, Hector Gomez and Maria Rosario Godoy de Cuevas from the GAM (the Mutual Support Group) in Guatemala, PBI began escorting the surviving GAM leadership around the clock with what has been referred to as unarmed bodyguards.

That was the beginning of PBI accompaniment.

The theory of change underpinning this approach is that the consequences of the state, paramilitary, or illegal armed actor killing a human rights defender is much higher with the visibility and exposure that comes with accompaniment.

Field projects, country groups

PBI now has five field projects that provide accompaniment (in Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and Kenya) and two projects that provide facilitative support (in Indonesia and Nepal).

PBI has previously had field projects in Nicaragua (1983), El Salvador (1987-1992), Sri Lanka (1989-1998), Haiti (1992-2001), Croatia, Serbia and Kosovo (1994-2001) and North America (1992-1999).

PBI also has 13 country groups (including in Canada, the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland) that recruit the accompaniers, do advocacy and public education, and fundraise for the field projects, as well as an International Office (in Brussels) that facilitates the coordination of our overall work.

PBI has a combined staff of 88 people (58 with the field projects, 23 with the country groups, 7 in the international office).

Governance

PBI is a non-hierarchical organization and operates by delegated consensus.

This means that all PBI entities have been delegated by the General Assembly the right and responsibility to take decisions by consensus among their own members relating to their areas of responsibility as defined in the bylaws.  Entities are encouraged to consult with others before taking decisions that have implications wider than their own entity.

The General Assembly meets every three years (the next meeting will be in October 2020). In between these assemblies, decisions are made by an International Council (comprised of 11 independent members), and an International Operations Council (consisting of staff representatives from the field projects and country groups).

Practical solidarity

In 2018, 84 PBI volunteers accompanied, observed, and made office rounds on 1,334 occasions to support human rights defenders.

The impact of that accompaniment is tangible.

Ivan Madero from the Colombian group CREDHOS has stated, “The political deterrence that PBI creates is fundamental.”

Lorena Cabnal, an Indigenous feminist in Guatemala, says, “I believe that without PBI’s accompaniment I would not be here today.”

And Carlos Sotz from the Peaceful Resistance of Cahabón, which opposes the construction of several controversial hydroelectric dams in Honduras, has commented, “Because of the presence of PBI, the Resistance has been strengthened in its belief in what it is doing. With the presence of PBI the people feel calmer; if it wasn’t here, there would be more acts of aggression.”

The solidarity that country groups help to generate – notably through their Emergency Response Networks and speaking tours – is also significant.

Omar Jerónimo, an Indigenous rights activist in Guatemala, has stated, “When I received serious threats, there were many reactions at the international level and I feel that this happened thanks to the work done by PBI on my case.”

And Donny Reyes of the ‘Arcoiris’ LGBT Association in Honduras has noted, “[The speaking tour] was trip full of learning, of shared experiences, and of strengthening networks.”

Support

Peace Brigades International accompanies many human rights defenders.

Those defenders include land and environmental defenders, migrant justice activists, farmers, students, journalists, lawyers, advocates of LGBTQI+ rights, and Indigenous peoples.

“Making space for peace” most commonly involves accompanying human rights defenders seeking social change in the face of state repression, economic interests and armed groups enforcing an unjust status quo.

The need remains clear. In 2018, in the countries where we have field projects, 126 human rights defenders were killed in Colombia, 48 in Mexico, 26 in Guatemala, 8 in Honduras, and 1 in Kenya. Many more were threatened and criminalized.

Many human rights defenders are on the frontlines of the struggle against climate breakdown. In 2018, it was reported that 24 land and environment defenders were killed in Colombia, 16 in Guatemala, 14 in Mexico, 4 in Honduras, 2 in Kenya, and 1 in Indonesia.

For more on how you can stand in solidarity with those on the frontlines, please see Five reasons to donate to PBI-Canada.

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