More and more communities and human rights defenders under threat start to ask for international accompaniment to maintain their space of action and visualize their work on an international level. The experiences of various organizations in Colombia, among them the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó demonstrates that international presence in a conflict region can diminish considerably the risks of the civilian population that has been converted into a military target by armed actors that consider them the collaborators of their adversaries.
International accompaniment means to share all kinds of experiences with our partners: joys, sadness, dangers, fears, parties and successes. Our permanent accompaniment to the Peace Community in San José de Apartadó, the sharing of life with the Community distinguishes our work from many other international accompaniment experiences in Colombia. This closeness contributes to the profound understanding of this alternative to war constructed by the war’s victims.
In requesting international accompaniment, the Community made the decision to raise its profile in order to protect itself. The founding of a peace community is a proactive strategy and the international presence is an additional ingredient. The request shows the desire of the Community that its history be documented not only for its own memory, but also for the outside world. Contact us to request international accompaniment.
How International Accompaniment Works
International protective accompaniment is a non violent strategy for protecting threatened individuals and communities in the midst of an armed conflict or political violence. It is based on the principles of non violence, non inherence and impartiality.
As Liam Mahony and Luis Enrique Eguren explain in Unarmed Bodyguards, accompaniment literally personifies the international concern for human rights. It is a convincing and visible reminder to those who use violence that their actions won’t go unnoticed. The premise of accompaniment is that there will be an international response to whatever violence is observed by the volunteer. That request carries the implicit threat of diplomatic or economic pressure; a pressure that the perpetrators of violence want to avoid. Therefore, all of our efforts focus on the prevention of attacks on those being accompanied.
Because of this, the armed actors and civilians in the conflict should have explicit knowledge of the physical presence of the international accompaniers as well as the support network that backs them up. The work therefore has two prongs: the physical presence of the volunteers and the political/diplomatic work that raises the visibility of the accompaniment as well as of the accompanied person.
Protective accompaniment works on various levels.
FOR Peace Presence International Accompaniment in Practice
Our international accompaniment in Colombia means in practice is that we are “there” with Colombian activists when they need support – whether that means having someone there to act as an eye witness, or as an embodiment of international opinion standing there in a bright blue shirt, we improve the personal security of people whose lives are threatened by powerful people who want them silenced.
Physical presence means that we live in one of the settlements of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, that we travel with lawyers from Tierra Digna to the area where communities are affected by mines and that we go to the military base where a conscientious objector is being released to accompany him back home, making sure he is safe and sound.
Political accompaniment means we meet with the General of the Army brigade that operates in the region, we meet with the US Embassy and the Colombian government, expressing our concerns and asking that the official take action to ensure the safety of our partners. FOR Peace Presence maintains direct and frequent contact with the Colombian civilian and military authorities in order to advise them of the international presence, inform them of how witnesses are faring, and to be able to listen to the government’s analysis of the situation in Colombia and the specific region. These opinions are incorporated in our analyses of security and the political climate. In addition, relationships with international, national and local NGOs are extremely important for building internal solidarity networks and to jointly analyze and react to threats. We do not make direct contact with illegal actors.
We encourage by being there, by believing in our partners struggles, by being inspired by their commitment and bringing that inspiration home.
We build a movement through our team’s presence on the ground with the our partners, through delegations, speaking tours and publications, by crossing the borders that separate us, by undoing “otherness,” by listening to each other’s stories and struggles and knowing that our futures are deeply tied to one another’s.