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Recommended: An Inspiring Book

In anticipation of my MPT training, I read Unarmed Bodyguards: International Accompaniment for the Protection of Human Rights by Liam Mahony & Luis Enrique Eguren. This inspiring book tells the story of Peace Brigades International's use of unarmed accompaniment, e.g., unarmed international volunteers physically accompanying civilian activists who are threatened with violence. The evolution of this tactic of escorting a threatened individual or organization so as to deter potential aggressors who fear the political repercussions if their violence is witnessed by a foreign observer is gripping. To realize that you're soon to be doing similar peace work gives pause, but also inspiration that such work can provide a sense of safety and empowerment to a community.

The authors show the success of this concept through the story of Peace Brigade International’s accompaniment of activists in Guatemala, El Salvador, Sri Lanka, Colombia and Haiti. In these nations, protective accompaniment took many forms: from being with an individual 24 hours per day to being present in the offices of a threatened organization, from acting as "observers" at peaceful marches or protests to traveling with people on risky journeys. Accompanied threatened individuals included human rights activists, trade unionists, community leaders and organizers, and peace activists. Instrumental to PBI's work is the building of relationships with local non-governmental organizations and local, regional and national authorities. In addition to tracing the development of protective accompaniment, the authors analyze the power of the technique as well as the potential pitfalls. Revealing interviews with key political and military figures involved in the events described lend credence to the power of this tactic in curtailing violence and saving lives.

An aspect of PBI protective accompaniment that intrigued me was its international network of supporters -- PBI members and other concerned individuals, academic and religious organizations, government representatives, the UN and non-governmental bodies such as Amnesty International -- who react promptly to an alert issued by PBI and apply pressure to prevent further acts of violence. PBI activates the alert system whenever one of the teams or someone they accompany is faced with death threats, abduction, arrest or assault. A case sheet is sent out with details of the violation and perpetrators, background information, the suggested wording of an appeal, and the contact details of the intended recipients. Participants are asked to immediately send faxes, emails or letters to government and military authorities in the country in which the crisis is occurring and/or to approach their own government officials to do it on their behalf. Within hours of the initial incident, there are hundreds of faxes and emails protesting the violation.

I've been a long-time member of Amnesty International but I have to confess to not having had much confidence in the effectiveness of their letter-writing campaigns. I was stunned to learn that an alert could generate such response and that such response could have such a significant impact on a rogue government, making them aware that such violations are not occurring in isolation and the eyes of the international community are upon them. Thus these networks multiply the protective power of PBI's international presence.

  • How immune is Israel/the Israeli army to MPT, ISM, and other peace groups and foreign observers?
  • Has Israel's "immunity"/impunity been threatened since the Gaza invasion?
  • Could MPT, in collaboration with other peace groups, create a network of supporters to respond to alerts, such as Peace Brigades International?
- JF

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