George Lakey, a PBI “unarmed bodyguard” for threatened lawyers in Sri Lanka

Published by Brent Patterson on

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George Lakey is a well-known Quaker peace activist and writer. He was also a Peace Brigades International activist in Sri Lanka.

Lakey was among a team of PBI “unarmed bodyguards” that was sent to Sri Lanka in November 1989 in response to the Bar Association of Sri Lanka asking for help after a series of kidnapping and murders of civil rights lawyers.

Lakey has noted: “In 1989 – I joined the first Peace Brigades International, or PBI, team in Sri Lanka. Our job was to act as unarmed bodyguards for lawyers who were threatened with assassination because they were standing up for activists’ human rights.”

Lakey recounts: “Each of us followed the directions of whichever lawyer we were assigned to. In one case I was told to live with the lawyer’s family and answer the doorbell at night after curfew, on the chance it was the hit squad there to kill the lawyer.”

“We were unarmed bodyguards whose presence raised the threshold for attack. The fact that we were internationals gave some protection.”

While in Sri Lanka in August 1991, Lakey observed: “Each leader who stays alive and working is also valuable symbolically in the larger struggle between hope and despair. Keeping the hope alive is a condition of eventual peace.”

And he later commented: “I’m not a particularly brave person, and I doubt I would have gone to Sri Lanka if this kind of work had not already been tested in violent El Salvador and Guatemala, where Peace Brigades International (PBI) assisted local democracy advocates. There were some close calls, but no team members were killed.”

Following his time with PBI, Lakey co-founded Training for Change that supports groups taking direct action, builds strong teams and organizations, and works at the grassroots. Then in 2009 Lakey co-founded the Earth Quaker Action Team (EQAT) which is focused on building a just and sustainable economy through nonviolent direct action.

His most recent book How We Win: A Guide to Nonviolent Direct Action Campaigning was published in 2018.

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