The idea to start Peace Brigades International came from people with practical experience of nonviolence. Especially relevant was the earlier work of the Shanti Sena peace army in India and the World Peace Brigades.
On 12 January 1981, Narayan Desai (Shanti Sena Mandal), Raymond Magee (Peaceworkers), Piet Dijkstra (Foundation for the Extension of Nonviolent Action), Radhakrishana (Gandhi Peace Foundation) and George Willoughby sent an invitation to several organisations to attend a conference to revive the idea of an international organisation committed to unarmed third-party intervention in conflict situation.
This led to a meeting that took place on Grindstone Island, Canada, from 13 August to 4 September 1981, attended by Raymond Magee, Lee Stern, Henry Wiseman, Murray Thomson, Narayan Desai, Gene Keyes, Charles Walker, Dan Clark, Mark Shepard and Jaime Diaz.
Although some women had been invited, none were able to attend, and the minutes note: “Those present deeply regretted the lack of women participants”.
During the meeting they discussed:
- the experiences of the many previous nonviolent actions;
- the role the new organisation could play in conflicts;
- organisational approaches (build a new organisation, form a new organisation from existing ones, co-ordinate interested groups, or encourage others to act);
- the relationship the new organisation could have with the United Nations.
The decision was made to set up a new organisation. The meeting approved a founding statement and a structure: a directorate of 4 people, and a General Assembly of approximately 25 people with subcommittees to develop different areas of work.
During the meeting Murray Thompson suggested that all present submit possible names that would sit well with governments, foundations, and the general public. The name PEACE BRIGADES INTERNATIONAL emerged to general approval upon first being voiced by Narayan Desai.
An excerpt from the minutes reads: “We are forming an organisation with the capacity to mobilise and provide trained volunteers in areas of high tension, to avert violent outbreaks. Peace brigades, fashioned to respond to specific needs and appeals, will undertake nonpartisan missions, which may include peacemaking initiatives, peacekeeping under a discipline of nonviolence, and humanitarian service. …We are building on a rich and extensive heritage of nonviolent action. We are convinced that this commitment of mind, heart, and dedicated will can make a significant difference in human affairs”.
In 1983, PBI did its first work in Nicaragua with the deployment of 10 volunteers in order to deter hostilities between US-backed contras and the Sandinista forces. That same year PBI installed its first team in Guatemala. The following years PBI provided accompaniment to organisations and human rights defenders in El Salvador, Sri Lanka, Colombia and Haiti.
Currently, PBI maintains field projects in Guatemala, Mexico, Colombia, Honduras, Kenya, Indonesia and Nepal.
For more information on PBI's global work, please visit http://www.peacebrigades.org/.