Saturday, 19 March 2011

Dear Friends, Family y Compañeros,

I hope this message finds you well. I am writing because I have come to an important juncture of my life and my career and I wish to share my plans with you.

I am due to go to Colombia on the 1st November and will be working with the US branch of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). The work will involve accompanying the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, a small town in the northwest of Colombia, near the gulf of Urabá.

I want to explain a bit about human rights accompaniment, my motivations for doing this work and what your role can be (if you want).


The basic principle of human rights accompaniment is that a physical international presence in certain areas where human rights defenders work decreases the risk they face, enables them to continue with their work, and encourages activists to organise and to take risks they would not otherwise take.

International volunteers work directly in areas of conflict and provide protective accompaniment to human rights defenders threatened by political violence. We aim to protect the local people who work in pursuit of justice for the victims and survivors of violence, displacement and repression. The work is based on non-interference in the internal affairs of the non-violent Peace Community we accompany. Our role is to carve out political space and provide moral support for local activists to carry out their work without fear of repression. Volunteers also act as a compelling reminder to those using violence that it will not go unnoticed internationally.


I have a firm belief in the principles behind accompaniment and the concept of international human rights. The Fellowship of Reconciliation, human rights accompaniment and the peace community are all based on the principles of active non-violence, a philosophy and a strategy for social change that rejects the use of violence but recognises the need for a means of struggle to achieve political and social change. As such, it sees nonviolent action or civil resistance as an alternative both to passive acceptance of oppression and armed struggle against it. I have a desire to create a world in which people are free to stand up for their rights and where active non-violence and peaceful approaches become the norm when dealing with conflict.

I feel a profound commitment to peace and justice, and my love affair with Latin America has meant that that is where at this point in my life, this commitment will take root. I also believe that non-violence should be an active stance and that justice, peace and empathy, can and should be actively sought and lived. Furthermore I have a strong desire to work at the grass-roots level, on the ground, where I can interact with people and connect with others, since this is where I am most fulfilled.


A vital element of human rights accompaniment is the international solidarity network between the communities of peaceful resistance with which we work and people all over the world.

My international citizenship is an important part of this work, since volunteers act as a reminder to those using violence that it will not go unnoticed internationally. The premise that there will be an international response to whatever violence we witness depends on us having people we can communicate the situation to. I would appreciate you joining me in supporting the community in this endeavour.

I am planning to write a blog for those of you who are interested in following my work ( Staying in touch, following the work, and being willing to be contacted are some of the ways in which you can be involved.

If you would like to support the cause financially, then you can donate using the following link: You can put my name in the ‘in honour of’ section so it will be specifically in support of this project and the money you donate to the organisation will go directly to making our international presence possible.

Below are some links and more information on FOR and the Peace Community if you’re interested in finding out more.

Also, please do pass this on to anybody you think might be interested in following my work in Colombia and encourage them to contact me (

Much love,



To understand more about human rights accompaniment, you can read Unarmed Bodyguards:  International Accompaniment for the Protection of Human Rights by Liam Mahony and Luis Enrique Eguren, Kumarian Press, 1997.

To know more about the work of human rights accompaniment volunteers in Colombia, you can watch this short video: It’s by Peace Brigades International, a different organization, but the work is similar and FOR also works closely with them.

To find out more about the Peace Community, visit:

You can also check out the following:


San Jose de Apartadó is a small town in the northwest of Colombia, near the gulf of Urabá. Farmers settled there in the 1960s and 70s and since then the community has participated in cooperative agricultural and communal living. In March of 1997, the Community responded to the escalating violence and extrajudicial killings of community leaders by declaring themselves a Peace Community, with the support of the region’s Catholic Bishop, and committing to:

·         Farm in cooperative work groups
·         Denounce the injustice and impunity of war crimes
·         Not participate in the war in direct or indirect form, nor carry weapons
·         Not manipulate or give information to any of the parties involved in armed conflict

The Peace Community has a special role among the diverse communities throughout Colombia that non-violently resist political and physical violence. More than others, the community has staked its survival on the conscience of the international community by being visible and seeking expressions of conscience when threats or attacks occur. Since its founding, the community has suffered over 160 deaths.

On February 21, 2005, a community founder and 7 other San José peace community members were brutally massacred, according to witnesses from the community, by army soldiers. Since that time, the presence of both military and paramilitary in the area has risen and the need for international support and attention has become increasingly critical.

Slowly, small Colombian human rights and solidarity organizations have been joined by a growing number of national and international peace and justice groups. For the first seven months of 2005, more than $70 million of military aid for Colombia was put on hold, as the State Department was, due to the February massacre, not prepared to certify that Colombia met the law’s human rights conditions. While the aid was eventually released days before Colombia’s president met with President Bush, this delay represented growing concern by the State Department and human rights groups regarding cases reportedly involving direct violations by the Colombian Army. This growing attention, coupled with Inter-American Court measures passed in the year 2000 and requiring the Colombian government to take whatever steps necessary to protect the lives and personal integrity of the Peace Community members, contributes to the strength and continued existence of San José de Apartadó.


The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) is an organization which has been working for peaceful resolution to conflict for nearly 100 years. Members of The Fellowship of Reconciliation share a vision of a world where conflicts are resolved through nonviolent means, where systems that foster fear and hatred are dismantled, and where justice is sought as a basis for peace.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation seeks to replace violence, war, racism and economic injustice with nonviolence, peace, and justice. We are an interfaith organization committed to active nonviolence as a transforming way of life and as a means of radical change. We educate, train, build coalitions, and engage in nonviolent and compassionate actions locally, nationally, and globally.

A few quotations about FOR:
·         “Your goal is, in my opinion, the only reasonable one and to make it prevail is of vital importance.” Albert Einstein, in a letter to FOR
·         “I joined FOR because of the people who represented the Fellowship. They were really for nonviolent action and were penetrated deeply with the sense of humanism with which Buddhists are familiar. What makes FOR meaningful to me is the presence of open-minded, deeply humanistic, and creative people.” Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, author, poet
·         “The Fellowship of Reconciliation, with its message of peace and active nonviolence, grounded in faith and tested over many years, is uniquely equipped to speak to the present age and the universal longing for peace and justice.” Richard Deats, writer and activist