The founding meeting for Peace Brigades International began 39 years ago this evening

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo: Hans Sinn and Brent Patterson, Perth, Ontario, September 2019.

The founding meeting of Peace Brigades International began 39 years ago this evening on Grindstone Island, which is situated about 100 kilometres southwest of Ottawa, Canada on unceded Algonquin, Anishinabek territory.

Ironically, the lodge on Big Rideau Lake where that meeting took place had been built as a summer home for Admiral Sir Charles Edmund Kingsmill, who had played a prominent role in founding the Royal Canadian Navy. It was his daughter, Diana, who made the home available after his passing to the Quakers as a retreat for peace studies.

In his overview of the founding meeting, Daniel N. Clark notes that Hans Sinn chaired the first session of the consultation on the evening of Monday August 31, 1981.

By Tuesday September 1, the discussion turned to the possible deployment of peace brigades in Guatemala and Mexico. And by Friday September 4, the founding declaration of Peace Brigades International was adopted.

That declaration stated: “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.”

Clark also recalls: “In Canada, Hans Sinn sent out a mailing [in 1982] funded by Murray Thomson’s Operation Ploughshares to over 1000 people, including Canadian organizations and peace churches, asking for volunteers and money. To assist in the effort, Hans had also been working on the formation of PBI-Canada, which was to become PBI’s first country group [incorporated as a non-profit organization in January 1984].”

As the vision of the organization continued to take shape, the concept of unarmed accompaniment came into being in April 1985 in Guatemala.

As told in the book Unarmed Bodyguards and recounted here, Liam Mahony and Luis Enrique Eguren write that the need for personal accompaniment became clear after the murder of Mutual Support Group for Families of the Disappeared and the Detained (GAM) founder Maria Rosario Godoy de Cuevas.

Mahony and Eguren highlight: “This was the beginning of PBI ‘escorting’: providing the surviving GAM leadership with around the clock unarmed bodyguards.”

Fast forward all these years and our most recent annual review notes that 465 PBI volunteers from 28 countries accompanied 1,360 human rights defenders in 2019.

For more on the ongoing work of Peace Brigades International, our annual reviews from 1990 to present can be found here.

The photo below is the home on Grindstone Island where PBI was founded at a meeting that took place from August 31 to September 4, 1981.

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