PBI-Canada thanks the Unifor Social Justice Fund for its solidarity and support

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: Unifor Social Justice Fund Director Navjeet Sidhu visits PBI-Colombia staff and frontline volunteers in Bogota, May 2023.

Yesterday evening we were at a reception in Ottawa/Algonquin territory to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Unifor Social Justice Fund.

It was an opportunity to thank Unifor, the Social Justice Fund, and Navjeet Sidhu, the Director of the International Department and Social Justice Fund, for their support of Peace Brigades International over the years.

In our brief comments at the reception, we highlighted:

“Peace Brigades International provides physical/protective accompaniment to threatened human rights defenders in Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Honduras.

These are dangerous countries for union activists, lawyers, social leaders, Indigenous rights defenders, and many others.

Between January 2019 and March 2020, at least 14 trade unionists were murdered in Colombia. In 2022, 60 land and environmental defenders were killed there.

Our accompaniment of about 1,800 defenders a year is supported globally by about 35 staff and 175 volunteers.

The support of the Social Justice Fund helps us to recruit, train and house those frontline volunteers who spend 12-18 months in-country.

Video: Ivan Madero of the PBI-Colombia accompanied organization CREDHOS has explained that PBI’s model of political deterrence, unarmed accompaniment that provides global attention on the safety of a defender, is fundamental to dissuading armed actors.

While there are many grim statistics and the situation for human rights defenders is intense, accompaniment does make a difference.

By helping to keep defenders alive, we support the social movement processes that are able to facilitate needed social change.

Of the many examples, PBI accompanied – every day – organizations and defenders that took part in the National Strike in Colombia in 2021.

That National Strike experienced severe police repression.

Without that National Strike backed by popular movements, the government of Gustavo Petro and Francia Marquez would not have been elected in June 2022.

While we are non-partisan, we recognize that this government was elected by Colombians seeking a profound change in their country. Marquez herself comes out of social movements and survived a bomb attack in May 2019.

It must also be noted that previous progressive candidates have been assassinated and that Marquez faced threats too (as seen in this dramatic 1-minute video).

We also see the role of accompaniment of social movements and social processes in Guatemala in the surprise election of Bernardo Arevalo, though there is still the concern that elites may stop him being sworn-in as scheduled in January.

And it is not uncommon, but it is always deeply moving, to hear a defender tell us that they are alive because of Peace Brigades International.

Photo: Berenice and members of the SINTRAEMCALI union were targeted in an assassination plot for their opposition to the privatization of Emcali, a state-owned company providing water, telecommunications, and electricity services in the city of Cali.

Photo: Yuli has experienced three armed attacks against her since January 20, 2021, due to her defence of the San Silvestre wetlands near the city of Barrancabermeja.

Photo: Maya Q’eqchi environmental defender Bernardo Caal Xol spent four years in prison for his peaceful resistance to dams being built on ancestral territory without consent. He was released from prison in March 2022.

This appreciation of our work is to be shared with the Unifor Social Justice Fund given their solidarity over the past 10 years.”

For more about the Unifor Social Justice Fund, click here.

While you are here…

Please note that on Thursday December 7 at 12 pm, PBI-Canada will be holding a webinar on the UN COP28 climate summit and environmental defenders. At least 1,390 land and environmental defenders have been killed since the COP21 climate summit in Paris in December 2015. We are calling for language in the COP28 summit declaration that recognizes the vital role of environmental defenders in stopping climate change and the need for greater protection measures to ensure their safety.

To hear our panel of speakers on this issue, register here.

Wet’suwet’en land defender Eve Saint, Colombian water protector Yuli Velasquez, Javier Garate of Global Witness, Emily Lowan, Climate Action Network.

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