Versoix/Geneva/Switzerland, March 22nd, 2001
The international Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders has been awarded to Peace Brigades International (PBI) for its work to provide unarmed protection to human rights defenders under threat. The international recognition received by PBI through the Award helps to exert pressure on the perpetrators of human rights abuses and to provide a higher level of protection for both human rights defenders and PBI volunteers.
PBI Colombia Project, established in 1994, now has 35 volunteers accompanying 20 Colombian human rights organisations and displaced communities in Bogotá, Medellín, Barrancabermeja and Turbo. Escalating violence has been characterised by blatant disregard for human rights and international humanitarian law. Human rights defenders have been subject to a systematic campaign of intimidation, harassment and attacks which has cost some their lives; many defenders live in constant fear for their physical safety. Without exaggerating, it may be said that in some areas of Colombia, human rights organisations would have been virtually wiped out were it not for PBI’s presence. " The death sentences against each and every one of us have not been carried out because we are not alone, we have the accompaniment of Peace Brigades International," states a Colombian human rights defender.
In recent weeks, PBI volunteers in Colombia have been warned that they are now considered a "military objective" by the paramilitary United Self-defence Force of Colombia (AUC).
"PBI’s volunteers literally embody in themselves the expression of international concern and support for human rights defenders on the front line," said Hans Thoolen, Chair of the Martin Ennals Foundation. "Their courage and selflessness express the highest ideals in the defence of human rights. During the international year of volunteers, those who calmly and knowingly put their lives at risk to protect others should be recognized more than ever".
PBI, founded in 1981, organises international teams of volunteers to work with human rights organisations committed to non-violent social change. In the 1980s PBI pioneered protective accompaniment in Guatemala. Volunteers accompany threatened individuals and communities up to 24 hours a day. To ensure the effectiveness of accompaniment PBI maintains relations with military and government officials, the diplomatic corps, international NGOs and UN representatives. This provides assurance to local activists that any actions against them will attract an immediate international response. This year PBI marks 20 years of having effectively employed these methods in Guatemala, El Salvador, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Haiti, North America and Indonesia/East Timor.
The ceremony, organised in the framework of the North-South Media Festival, will take place in Geneva on Thursday, 29 March 2001, at the Télévision Suisse Romande studio, at 17.30 (local time), as the climax of an all-day program of films and discussions about human rights defenders. This year’s ceremony will be combined with the publication of the annual report of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (a joint programme of FIDH and OMCT), which includes over 350 cases of repression of defenders in 52 countries and which highlights attacks by governments against freedom of association.