In 2015, Peace Brigades International provided protection and support to 148 women and 161 men human rights defenders from 50 organisations in seven countries. Between them, these organisations helped thousands of women, men and children who have been denied their basic rights – from being forcibly evicted from their land, to seeing family members ‘disappeared’, to suffering torture and rape at the hands of armed forces. We provided 1012 days of physical accompaniment to human rights defenders. We visited and met with accompanied organisations and individuals 847 times, providing moral support and practical advice ranging from checking on defenders’ wellbeing to helping with responses to specific security incidents. We made hundreds of phone calls to check on defenders’ whereabouts and safety.
PBI UK plays a significant role in the protection of human rights defenders (HRDs) around the world. Whether recruiting, training and supporting field volunteers, fundraising, developing links with elected officials, civil servants, lawyers, academics, organisations and other individuals, or raising awareness of human rights issues, our activities encourage action by the international community and contribute to promoting and protecting human rights around the world. Below are some examples of the work PBI UK does:
Increasing solidarity and support for HRDs and the issues they work on
PBI UK has continued to reach out to institutions and individuals across sectors to promote the work of human rights defenders and to create lasting connections, building bridges between people committed to supporting social change around the world.
PBI UK invites representatives of accompanied human rights defenders and organisations to the UK to bring their concerns and demands directly to international policy-makers, as well as to help them build connections with organisations working in support of their cause.
In the first half of 2016, the following HRDs visited: Gacheke Gachihi (Kenya), land and environmental rights defenders Pedro Sicá (Guatemala), Donald Hernández and Jehovany Cruz (Honduras), Padre Alberto Franco and Jani Silva (Colombia), and human rights lawyers Luis Guillermo (Colombia) and Edgar Perez (Guatemala).
PBI UK organised public talks and high profile meetings around these visits, including a high-profile conference in June 2016, Building Enabling Environments for HRDs at Risk, in which a number of HRDs presented, as well as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Michel Forst, NGO and legal experts, academic institutions, donors, companies and government.
Responding to emergency situations
PBI’s presence on the ground is effective because it is backed by an international support network, developed and maintained by the 12 country groups, which include PBI UK. PBI UK’s support network consists of more than 50 MPs, ministers and peers of the realm, as well as members of the legal community, who help protect threatened human rights defenders, for example through diplomatic channels or by raising issues in Parliament.
Supporting human rights lawyers and HRDs working on legal cases
Through the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk, we have identified specialist lawyers in the UK to provide strategic case support, including amicus briefs and legal opinions in cases where state officials have been charged with crimes against humanity and other human rights violations. Case monitoring by international lawyers has raised the profile of politically motivated cases against HRDs and promoted greater adherence to the rule of law and fair trials. Furthermore, the high profile of Alliance members serves as a protective measure for lawyers and other HRDs by demonstrating the concern of the international community for their safety.
Campaigning for policy that offers better protection for HRDs
PBI UK is considered an important and reliable source of information on the situation of HRDs by government, parliamentarians, and civil society groups. By sharing this information, as well as through research and analysis, we have helped shape recommendations on a range of areas relating to HRDs and their protection, stimulating debate and contributing to key policy developments. To achieve this, we have continued to forge strategic alliances with NGOs and civil servants, both in London, Brussels and Geneva.
In 2015, we made a number of joint submissions to various inter-governmental bodies and the UK government on issues related to HRD protection, business and human rights and natural resource extraction. We played an active role in informing the development of the UK’s National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights. We also led a workshop on democratic values and rule of law as part of a high-profile dialogue between the UK government and the UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs, discussing the role of the UK government in enabling and protecting HRDs within the framework of its revised human rights priorities.
Raising the media profile of the work of PBI and the HRDs we accompany
Increased visibility of HRDs’ situations at local and international levels lends credibility to their work, and the publicity gained helps to deter potential attacks. In 2015, PBI produced a short film “Land of Corn”, with funds from Open Society Foundations, highlighting the struggle of LERDs in the four Latin American countries where PBI has presence. The film has proven to be a powerful advocacy and awareness-raising tool for PBI’s country groups.
This year, at our 35th Anniversary event in June, we launched our new Invisible Mandelas film, about the courage of human rights defenders. The film is accompanied by an appeal to raise £35,000 to support HRDs at risk.
Articles on the work of PBI and accompanied HRDs were featured in national, specialist and online publications and our events were advertised through a range of media, including The Times Law Diary and the Law Society’s Human Rights monthly updates. PBI was also mentioned in the Guardian’s article ‘People are tired of 70 years of killings and violence’: Colombia's peace process, based on an interview with two accompanied HRDs in Colombia.
Recruiting and supporting volunteers to be human rights observers
PBI UK held 2 orientation weekends for potential field volunteers in February and August 2015, attended by a total of 22 people. During the year, five UK volunteers were working across the field projects. We also provided short-term employment to three returned volunteers, helping them to reintegrate and ensuring that their experiences and knowledge could contribute to PBI UK’s advocacy and publicity work.
More information on our impact can be found in our Annual Review 2015