As I write this article, I am preoccupied with the four members of Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) who remain captive in Iraq. While there are so many prisoners who need our attention, my focus remains riveted on the CPT members because of the courage, hope and vision they represent.
These four men are part of a growing number of international peacekeepers serving in the most violent places on the planet. Peace Brigades International has 35 observers and “accompaniers” in Colombia protecting human rights organizations and threatened leaders. They also have projects in Indonesia, Guatemala and Mexico. Other areas served by CPT include Palestine and the U.S.-Mexico border. International Solidarity Movement provides peace-keeping in Palestine.
Local peacekeeping groups are also emerging. Sarvodaya, a Gandhian group in Sri Lanka, is developing a Shanti Sena (Sanskrit for Peace Army) to intervene rapidly in conflicts. Nonviolent Peaceforce—a consortium of 93 member organizations from around the world—sponsors training and formation of Shanti Sena to respond to violence in India. Supported by the Muslim community, this group plans a massive public pledge of nonviolence on September 11, 2006, the 100th anniversary of Mohandas Gandhi's proclamation of satyagraha (nonviolent action based on “soul force”).
Nonviolent Peaceforce—a group to which I belong—is building a large-scale professional force of well-trained unarmed peacekeepers. Officially begun three years ago, NP's pilot project operates in Sri Lanka, where peacekeepers from 14 countries provide a variety of field-tested strategies. In one instance, a group of mothers approached a Nonviolent Peaceforce team in Sri Lanka after their children had been abducted to be child soldiers. After locating the military camp where the children were being trained, NP accompanied the mothers, who demanded the return of their children. Negotiations continued for several days, until 26 children were released.
As we started organizing NP, we visited with people around the world. Amid the fiercest violence, we met courageous and creative peacemakers, more often than not women. They told us time and time again that isolation was lethal. If their death carried no consequence, they were much more likely to be “disappeared.” They explained that international accompaniers extend their lives and amplify their work. During this research period, we identified proven, workable methods of nonviolent peacekeeping (see www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org).
As we organized we observed that when we described the concept of a large-scale nonviolent peaceforce we were often met with recognition. People would say, “I've dreamt about that my entire life,” or “I wrote a paper on that at university,” or “We did that in my village.” Nonviolent peacekeeping has been a recurrent vision that flowed, during the past century, through Gandhi, Maude Roydon, Badshah Khan and so many others. It has occurred and recurred to enough of us that a significant number of people now focus their lives and resources on making this persistent vision a reality. What has escaped the cameras of CNN has not escaped the consciousness of thousands of us as we co-create effective nonviolent peacekeeping.
Growing in sophistication over the past 10 years, nonviolent peacekeeping has saved thousands of lives. As the effectiveness of this approach to transform violent conflicts is demonstrated, the infrastructure to support this work expands. Rigorous peacekeeping training has been developed internationally. An international registry of civilian peacekeepers has been initiated. Recruitment procedures are sharpening. Funding sources are increasing—primarily individuals, but also a growing number of foundations, faith-based institutions and even some governments. UNICEF recently provided NP with a grant for our work with child soldiers in Sri Lanka. At a conference at the UN last summer, civilian unarmed peacekeeping was prominent on the agenda. Most importantly, the people are there. Last spring, when NP recruited for a peacekeeping team for Sri Lanka, we had 15 applicants for every position.
As we work and pray for the release of Tom Fox, James Loney, Harmeet Singh Sooden and Norman Kember, it is important to note that they represent a growing movement of unarmed peacekeeping more effective and less costly than military alternatives. This nonviolent peacekeeping provides an alternative to which we may say YES when we say NO to war.