ISSUE 61 AUTUMN 2010

Peace Matters Index

unarmed resistance

ONLINE contents


- conscripting conscience
- to vote or not to vote
- climate science: a peace-studies lesson
- climate change and conflict
- unarmed resistance
- acts of conscience
- a sunny day in prague
- human abuse map





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complete issue pdf


Many readers will know Howard Clark, long active with Peace News and War Resisters’ International. He is the author of one of the few books devoted to the non-violent efforts of Ibrahim Rugova in Kosovo: Civil Resistance in Kosovo(2000). In his latest book People Power: Unarmed Resistance and Global Solidarity he has brought together essays first presented in a symposium "Unarmed Resistance: The Transnational Factor" at the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies, Coventry University.

The book is basically divided into two themes:
The role of transnational accompaniment - the engaged presence of international observers at the site of a conflict as a form of protection and support for local groups working for social change. The basic issue is why is accompaniment - sending international teams to support resisters who are under threat - effective? And what can be done to make it more effective?

Mass non-violent efforts, either to change government policies or government leadership such as the "people power" demonstrations in 1986 in the Philippines (giving the title to the book) and the "coloured revolutions" against the leaders of Serbia (2000), Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004), Kyrgyzstan (2005), and the influence of Syria in Lebanon after the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri (2005).

My emphasis in this review is only on transnational accompaniment as it is more likely that readers can join such teams than that they will be able to participate in a "coloured revolution" in London. But first, disclosure as the experiences or biases of reviewers should now be openly stated! From its start in 1982 until about 1995, I was the "eyes" of Peace Brigades International (PBI) at the United Nations in Geneva and thus active in the discussions on the role of the organization as well as in contact with the diplomats of the countries where PBI was working or thinking of working. I was also one of those who thought that the accompaniment role of the organization was too narrow and that the ‘brigade’ aspect was being lost.

The first PBI effort was to post a ‘brigade" on the frontier of Nicaragua in 1983 at a time when US troop exercises in Honduras might serve as a pretext for an attack on Nicaragua. The brigade had already been formed, trained and worked together in California, had mobile telecommunications equipment and so "could hit the ground running.’ Diplomatic contacts had been made with the Missions to the UN of Honduras and Nicaragua in New York and Geneva. The Ambassador of Nicaragua had been my student before being Ambassador and so we were on close terms, and he facilitated my contacts with other Central American officials. Finally, the US Army did not invade and limited its role to helping the ‘Contra’ militias. This first PBI action was for me the model, but it turned out to be impossible to create such "ready-response brigades" of people on the obvious model of military brigades. After this first experience, PBI members were recruited individually and met their "brigade mates" only on site, never having trained together.

Luis Enrique Eguren who presents a useful ‘Developing Strategy for Accompaniment" is the author with L. Mahony of Unarmed Bodyguards: International Accompaniment for the Protection of Human Rights (Kumarian, 1997) which tells the PBI story in detail. Brian Martin has a short but insightful presentation ‘Making Accompaniment Effective.’

Since the creation of PBI in 1982, two other organizations have followed largely the same pattern: Christian Peacemaker Teams and Nonviolent Peace Force. Trica Gates Brown has edited a lively account of Christian Peacemaker Teams Getting In The Way (Herald Press, 2005). During the conflicts in former Yugoslavia, the Balkan Peace Team was created and is well presented by Christine Schweitzer ‘Civilian Peacekeeping: Providing Protection without Stick and Carrots’ who stresses that "relationship building to the local community and trust that is built up to the different actors in conflict is at least as important as having 'international clout'". She leaves out of her account the months it took for the Balkan Peace Team to reinvent PBI despite the fact that there was at least one PBI member on its executive committee. One of the values of Howard Clark's book is that it may lessen the time needed to reinvent the wheel each time a crisis situation arises.

It is probably true that experience is transmitted more by people than by reading, and we find some of the same people in different efforts. However, reading is one way of passing on knowledge, and some writers such as Gene Sharp, George Lakey, Bill Moyer and Hildegard Goss-Mayr have been influential.

The wider impact of transnational accompaniment depends largely on the role and quality of the local group being protected by the accompaniment. The record is mixed. In Sri Lanka where both PBI and Nonviolent Peaceforce were active, the Government of Sri Lanka and its opponent LTTE decided that shooting was better than talking, and the regular army had more guns. The political-economic situation in Central America - the focus of most of PBI's work - has gotten better, but it is not clear how much or what specifically is due to civil society groups. The situation in Central America is still uneven, and certainly peacebuilding efforts are needed. Such peacebuilding raises the eternal question among non-governmental organizations of the balance between a narrow focus of activities such as accompaniment and a broad focus such as peacebuilding. Should a group expand its mandate or should it pass on the larger mandate to more generalist development organizations?

The situation in Columbia, where a number of transnational peace organizations are working, is well analysed by Mauricio Garcia-Duran ‘Colombia-Nonviolent Movement for Peace and International Solidarity.’ The situation there remains troubled, to say the least. The Israel-Palestine conflict - also the focus of accompaniment and solidarity efforts - is described in separate chapters by Veronique Dudouet, Ann Wright and Angie Zelter. The efforts are interesting but much depends on some progress in the wider political field. There is still much to do, and we all know frustrations, setbacks and pains. But, as Howard Clark writes ‘The appropriate response is for activists to recognise what they are doing well, to strengthen their structures and in this case deepen the relationships of transnational solidarity, not seeking short-term results as much as grounding the movement for the long haul.’

Rene Wadlow

People Power: Unarmed Resistance and Global Solidarity.Howard Clark (Ed.). Pluto Press. 2009

Howard Clark, April Carter and Michael Randle have created an online bibliography of such non-violent efforts www.civilresistance.info/bibliography.

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