SUMMER, 2001: Volume 6, Issue 2
Peace Brigades International: An Update
PBI Wins Award For Human Rights Defenders More than 100 people including representatives from national and international NGOs and the UN attended a ceremony in Geneva on 29 March when PBI was presented with the 2001 Martin Ennals Award. The Award has been presented annually since 1993 to individuals and organizations who “have displayed exceptional courage and innovation in combating human rights violations.” The Foundation responsible for the Award is made up of nine of the world’s leading human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the World Organization against Torture. The Award recognizes PBI’s work in promoting nonviolence and human rights for the past twenty years and in particular for the work of PBI’s 35 volunteers in Colombia. In addition to this Award PBI has also been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the American Friends Service Committee.
Colombia: PBI Team Threatened On February 8th, while a member of the PBI Colombia Team was accompanying members of the Popular Women’s’ Organization (OFP) in Barrancabermeja, two armed men dressed in civilian clothing entered the center and demanded that the PBI volunteer hand over his ID and mobile phone. The incident resulted in the PBI volunteer being forced to surrender his passport and mobile phone to the men, who also confiscated the mobile phone belonging to a member of the OFP. As the men left they pointed at the PBI volunteer and threatened him with the phrase, “From now on you’re a military target of the Self Defense forces.”
This is the first direct threat that the PBI team has received in Colombia. PBI immediately initiated an emergency alert and asked the international community to respond to these events in order to ensure the effectiveness of the work of PBI and that of the human rights organizations that we accompany in Colombia. Congressional offices were contacted by fax, telephone, and in person. The efforts resulted in a response by the US Embassy in Bogotá which issued a statement saying, “Civilian organizations active in Barrancabermeja play a key role in defending human rights and community interests. The role of NGO’s and human rights defenders should be respected by all in order to build a better future for Barrancabermeja and for Colombia as a whole.”
PBI’s work continues in Colombia, but this incident is an example of what so many Colombian and international human rights groups are repeatedly saying, that the human rights situation there is rapidly deteriorating.
Indonesia/East Timor Projects Grows Since October 1999, PBI’s Indonesia/East Timor Project (IETP) has fielded teams in West and East Timor, and set up a coordinating base office in Jakarta, Indonesia. With mounting requests from other regions of Indonesia, PBI closed out the year 2000 by sending a team to Aceh. A poor but resource-rich province located on the northern tip of Sumatra island, Aceh is the site of a long-running armed conflict between the government of Indonesia and an armed opposition group, Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM). PBI has accompanied members of RATA (Rehabilitation Action for Torture Victims in Aceh) since the beginning of the year and has heard from all sides the confirmations of the benefits of our presence.
While the PBI team has been well received, the challenges for the Project are enormous. Continued threats to humanitarian aid workers, human rights defenders and the displaced population mean that the number of requests for accompaniment is increasing.
Mexico Project In Two Locations After spending most of the opening year of the Mexico Project meeting with officials and completing the necessary paperwork to secure long-term visa status, PBI’s volunteers began accompanying members from the National Independent Committee for the Defense of Prisoners, The Persecuted, Detained, Disappeared, and Exiled (CNI) in March 2000. The base for this team is Mexico City.
In January, PBI also established a presence in Guerrero state which has seen an increase in violence, militarization and human rights abuses since 1996 when the armed guerrilla group, Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR), became active in the area.
Brigades International/USA has moved its office to: 428 8th St.
S.E., 2nd Floor, Washington DC 20003; tel: 202-544-3765; fax: 202-544-3765.
Visit our website at: www.peacebrigades.org