The invitation letter that led to the formation of PBI was sent on January 12, 1981

Published by Brent Patterson on

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The Mutual Support Group for Families of the Disappeared and the Detained (GAM) protest on October 12, 1984 with PBI volunteer observing at top left.

On January 12, 1981, a letter was sent to several organizations inviting them to attend a conference to explore the idea of an international organization committed to unarmed third party interventions in conflict situations.

That letter led to the meeting on Grindstone Island just south of Ottawa and the formation of Peace Brigades International on September 4, 1981.

The founding statement that day highlighted: “We are forming an organization with the capability to mobilize and provide trained units of volunteers. …We are building on a rich and extensive heritage of nonviolent action, which no longer can be ignored.”

In 1982, PBI co-founder Hans Sinn sent out a mailing to over 1,000 people asking for money and volunteers. Sinn was also working at that time on the formation of PBI-Canada, which was to become PBI’s first country group.

By November 1982, PBI’s Central America Project Committee met face-to-face in Philadelphia and its office was later established in Toronto.

PBI placed its first team in Guatemala on March 21, 1983 in a vacant home in Guatemala City.

On October 12, 1984, hundreds of Guatemalans walked from San Lucas to Guatemala City, the first mass protest in years. The 32-kilometre march was accompanied by a team of peacekeepers trained by, and including, PBI volunteers.

Then when the body of Mutual Support Group/GAM founder Maria Rosario Godoy de Cuevas was found on April 4, 1985, the idea of personal accompaniment began to form. PBI made sure that high-level authorities knew it was now escorting the GAM and the political costs that further attacks would carry.

In 2019, 465 volunteers from 28 countries accompanied 1,360 human rights defenders.

PBI-Canada celebrates the 40th anniversary of PBI’s global commitment to peace, human rights, and non-violent action.

With 304 human rights defenders killed in 2019, it is also our hope that one day these killings will stop and that PBI accompaniment will no longer be needed.

PBI’s founding statement was adopted on September 4, 1981 at the Quaker Peace Education Centre (pictured below) on Grindstone Island, which is situated about 110 kilometres south-west of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

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