“PBI accompaniment acts as a crucial deterrent” – Colombian human rights lawyer Reynaldo Villalba

Published by Brent Patterson on

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In this recent interview, PBI-UK asked Colombian human rights lawyer Reynaldo Villalba of the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR):

“PBI has provided protection to CCAJAR since 1995 – almost 30 years! How has PBI’s support been instrumental in ensuring the safety and effectiveness of your work? Could you share specific instances where PBI’s presence has made a difference?”

He responded:

“Beyond the tangible effects of PBI’s presence and accompaniment in Colombia, their support also extends into the realm of mental and psychological well-being. I will give you an example involving my wife. Before embarking on tasks such as attending hearings or visiting different regions, she always asks, ‘Is PBI going to accompany you?’. The affirmative response provides not only comfort for me but also a sense of ease for my family.

While authorities furnish us with bulletproof vests, symbolically, PBI’s protective accompaniment vests provide the most effective protection. PBI are the ones who have prevented attacks on our lives.

In hearings within military battalions, where we actually move around our perpetrators’ spaces, PBI’s accompaniment not only annoys the hell out of them – and they’ll make direct comments about why these guys are here – but acts as a crucial deterrent.

Another time, in Santa Marta, an incident unfolded while travelling with a PBI representative. We were being followed by a van with darkened windows, which accelerated suddenly and braked in front of us. At that moment, I thought, what if I had been alone? What if PBI had not been with me? Would they have bundled me into the van? Would I have been disappeared that night?

I also know of other organizations where strange people have come into their offices, but PBI’s presence acted as a shield. It is not just the PBI vest, but the presence of them being foreign – it is an enormous deterrent. Their presence is also crucial when we venture into areas of high conflict in Colombia, especially during the workshops we give in communities.

Additionally, PBI’s own workshops – touching on topics such as case file security – and the psychological and emotional support they provide further fortify our capacity to navigate the challenges we face.

Then there is PBI’s impact globally. Their speaker tours and advocacy efforts ensure that the issues we confront receive attention on a broader stage. I also believe that PBI volunteers, even after leaving, continue to be ambassadors for human rights in Colombia and around the world.

This is why I say that the work of PBI is essential. I just hope their work can be better supported to guarantee their future and be able to expand further around the world.”

To read the full interview, please go to the PBI-UK website here.

Note: On July 5, 2022, PBI-Canada met with CCAJAR lawyer Rosa Maria Mateus in Bogota to discuss the impacts of the Cerrejon coal mine on Indigenous peoples and the right to water. Coal from this mine is still exported to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

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