Peace Brigades International marks the 41st anniversary of its founding

Published by Brent Patterson on

PBI was founded on Grindstone Island at a meeting that took place from August 31 to September 4, 1981.

The founding meeting of Peace Brigades International began 41 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 an April 2021 interview with PBI-Canada, PBI co-founder Daniel N. Clark commented: “We are like the street arm of Amnesty International”

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].”

PBI co-founder Hans Sinn at his home in Perth, Ontario, June 2019.

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: “Throughout 2021 we accompanied 58 organizations, comprising 1,784 individuals – 883 of whom were women and 899 were men. These HRDs [human rights defenders] support 205,928 people in the work they carry out in defence of human rights across the world.”

It further notes: “Across all of our projects we carried out 984 accompaniments as well as office visits and international observation missions in both rural and urban settings to a variety of activities, including court hearings, humanitarian missions and workshops.”

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

Murray Thomson’s role in the founding of PBI was highlighted in the slideshow commemorating his life, October 2019.

PBI co-founder Murray Thomson (second from the left) at a “Canada out of NATO” protest in Ottawa just  a few months prior to his death.

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