Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Peace Brigades International

PBI logo

Peace Brigades International

Promoting nonviolence and protecting human rights since 1981

Peace Brigades International (PBI), founded in 1981, is a low-overhead, non-profit, non-partisan, non-sectarian, non-governmental, international network of unpaid volunteers and a few paid staff. Inspired by Gandhi, PBI uses direct nonviolent action to help deter violence and expand space for human rights activism in areas of civil strife. PBI's major program areas are:

  • Protective international accompaniment.
  • Peace education.
  • Spreading information about human rights and nonviolent struggle for peace and social justice.

PBI is an NGO with associate status with the UN Department of Public Information.


The Founding of PBI
The idea to start Peace Brigades International came from people with practical experience of nonviolence. Especially relevant was the earlier work of the Shanti Sena peace army in India and the World Peace Brigades, both of which have been excellently described in a book by Mark Shephard, which is now available online.

The first steps towards PBI were taken by Narayan Desai, Piet Dijkstra, Raymond Magee, Radakrishna and Charles Walker. After a meeting in India, they proposed to convene a consultation on the matter to be held in Canada, where PBI was founded on September 4, 1981. A founding statement was adopted, and several ideas for potential projects were discussed. ( More details of the meeting and early years )

First Projects: Nicaragua and Guatemala
The first work PBI did was in Nicaragua. In September of 1983, ten PBI volunteers maintained a presence in Jalapa, close to the Honduras border, interposing themselves between Contras and Sandinista forces in order to deter hostilities. This had the desired effect in Jalapa, but in other border areas the conflict did escalate (more). The work was taken over and continued by Witness for Peace.

A Belgian volunteer accompanies an exhumation of a mass grave, Guatemala 1998 A Belgian volunteer accompanies an exhumation of a mass grave, Guatemala 1998

PBI's first major project began in 1983 in Guatemala and closed in 1999. It was in Guatemala under an extremely repressive regime that PBI developed its signature technique: unarmed international protective accompaniment. Also known as escorting, this singular approach emerged in response to the needs of the Mutual Support Group of relatives of the disappeared (GAM). After two GAM leaders had been assassinated, PBI began escorting other members 24 hours around the clock.

El Salvador

An Army brigade forcibly recruiting campesinos, San Miguel, El Salvador, 1989.
An Army brigade forcibly recruiting campesinos, San Miguel, El Salvador, 1989.
In 1987, upon invitation from Lutheran Bishop Medardo Gomez, PBI fielded a project in El Salvador similar to the one in Guatemala. Most of the work consisted of providing international protective accompaniment to threatened organizations in the popular movement, and regular visits to various villages of returned refugees. Groups with whom we worked included COMADRES (Committee of mothers and relatives of the disappeared), UNTS and FENASTRAS (unions), CRIPDES (Christian committee for internal refugees), and AMS (Women's organization).

The El Salvador project was closed in 1992, as there were no more requests for PBI's type of work after the signing of the peace accord between government and guerrillas. We continue to monitor the situation in the country, with occasional visits to the organizations that we used to provide accompaniment for, but we hope that there will never be a reason to go back there to resume our work.

Later Projects

PBI volunteer Peter Leblanc with Venerable G. Asami and two participants in the International Interfaith Pilgrimage for Peace, Sri Lanka, 1996.
PBI volunteer Peter Leblanc with Venerable G. Asami and two participants in the International Interfaith Pilgrimage for Peace, Sri Lanka, 1996.

In 1989 PBI began a project in Sri Lanka, which was closed in 1998. In 1991 another project opened in North America, working primarily with indigenous people. After a number of requests starting in 1991, the Colombia Project was launched in the fall of 1994. In December of 1995, a long term presence began in Haiti which followed a short term presence there in the fall of 1993 as part of the Cry for Justice coalition.

We also collaborated with other organizations in the Balkan Peace Team, which was active in Croatia and more recently in Belgrade and Kosovo. Another joint project in which PBI participates, is the International Service for Peace in Chiapas (SIPAZ).

In addition to this, PBI has also conducted small scale projects in Northern Ireland, Israel/Palestine, South Africa, and in connection with the 1993 World Tribunal in Salzburg, Austria. In 1988 there was also a second project in Nicaragua in collaboration with the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica, where workshops and discussions were held on the topic of nonviolence and social defense. All of these projects had a very limited mandate and time frame.

In 1998 PBI's General Assembly created the Mexico Project as a response to requests for international accompaniment by several Mexican NGOs in the face of the worsening human rights situation in several Mexican states.

In the year 2000, PBI opened its first team in South-East Asia, in West Timor, Indonesia to create the Indonesia Project. Recent and long-standing conflict in regions of Indonesia had led to invitations for a PBI presence by local humanitarian and non-governmental groups.

Organizational Structure

The foundations of Peace Brigades International are the Country Groups of members that work to support the various projects. They recruit and train volunteers, raise funds, publicize PBI's activities, and do political work to safeguard PBI volunteers on the teams and the people they accompany. The Emergency Response Network is an important part of this work.

For each Project there is a Project Committee and a Project Office. The latter is usually located outside the project country for security reasons, and is staffed by a Project Coordinator and local volunteers.

The highest decision making body of PBI is the General Assembly, which convenes once every three years, and to which the country groups and the projects send representatives. Assemblies have been held in Canada, Germany, India, the Netherlands, and Sweden.

The International Council implements policies and procedures determined by the General Assembly and makes decisions between General Assemblies.

There is an International Office in London, England, staffed by part-time workers who work on organizational development, internal communication, finances, and administration. The address is given below.

PBI Organization Chart


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