A brief history of PBI expulsions from Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Guatemala and West Papua

Published by Brent Patterson on

On May 23, 2014, two Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project volunteers witnessed 300+ riot police carry out the violent eviction of the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya blockade of the El Tambor mine (developed by Vancouver-based Radius Gold). The two volunteers were expelled from the country on July 1, 2014.

Over the years, Peace Brigades International has been expelled from various countries due to our accompaniment of human rights defenders.

In this 1998 Democracy Now! interview, Liam Mahony talks about the “dramatic expulsions” of entire PBI teams from Sri Lanka, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Mahony comments (at 48:17 to 50:02): “The two ways we responded to that, that I think that are both effective for not encouraging governments to do this.”

“One is just mere persistence. You get thrown out, you go back in. You get thrown out, you go back in. You just keep going back in and a government will eventually realize that it’s not particularly worth the trouble to keep throwing out a group that isn’t going to leave. And then they have to decide whether they are going to up the ante and attack you in a worse way for instance physical attack or killing which we have not faced killing.”

“The other way is that we immediately when we get expelled is we get international pressure. We get Congress people and high-level people to contact a government and point out that this is not good for their image and it’s going to embarrass them. And governments don’t want that kind of pressure.”

Mahony concludes: “When this happened in Guatemala, we were able to respond very quickly and get a team back in almost immediately. And in El Salvador, it happened in 1989 during one of the worst moments of the war, and it took us five months to get back into the country.”

In the book Unarmed Bodyguards, Mahony and Luis Enrique Eguren note: “Between 1987 and 1991, no fewer than fourteen PBI volunteers were arrested and unofficially expelled [from El Salvador].”

Mahony and Eguren also write: “Between the first election in November 1985 and the runoff a month later, the Guatemalan government orchestrated a sequence of events culminating in the expulsion of most of the Peace Brigades’ volunteers from Guatemala.”

For further context, this UPI news article from November 28, 1985 reports on the expulsion of 7 PBI volunteers from Guatemala.

In March 2011, Open Democracy also reported on the expulsion of PBI from West Papua.

That article noted: “Prior to being forced out of West Papua, PBI was the only international human rights organisation with a permanent presence in Indonesia’s restive Pacific periphery. A group of long-term international volunteers based in Jayapura, the capital and in Wamena, in the troubled highlands, provided unarmed protection for Indonesian and Papuan human rights defenders and monitored the situation on the ground.”

Most recently, two volunteers from PBI-Guatemala had their temporary residence permits revoked and were expelled in July 2014. Both volunteers had witnessed the violent eviction by soldiers of a peaceful blockade at the El Tambor mine at La Puya.

PBI responded to those expulsions with this letter.

Guatemalan organizations also responded with this letter demanding that the PBI volunteers be allowed to stay in the country and complete their work.

Despite these challenges, our work perseveres. In 2019, 465 PBI volunteers from 28 countries accompanied 1,360 human rights defenders. PBI entities also produced 429 communications and organized 21 advocacy tours.

PBI-Guatemala visited the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya camp outside the El Tambor mine in February 2020. Even after their blockade was broken by the police in 2014, members of La Puya continue to maintain a 24-hour presence in moral opposition to the project. For more on this ongoing struggle, please click here.


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