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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Making space for peace : international protective accompaniment in Colombia (2007-2009) Koopman, Sara


International protective accompaniment is a strategy used in conflict zones which puts people who are less at risk literally next to people under threat because of their work for peace and justice. Thousands of human rights workers, grassroots organizations, and communities have been protected in this way. The term accompaniment was first used for this work by Peace Brigades International (PBI), which sent the first international team to Guatemala in 1983. There are now international accompaniers working with 24 organizations in ten countries. Colombia is the country with the largest number of international groups, with twelve. Accompaniment in Colombia is widely used to protect small farmers resisting or returning from being displaced by paramilitaries tied to large agribusiness. These campesinos are organized in what are often called ‘peace communities’. I spent 15 months in Colombia (2007 – 2009) holding ongoing conversations with accompaniers about how accompaniment works, or to use Peace Brigades’ slogan, how it ‘makes space for peace.’ Paradoxically accompaniers use the fact that their lives ‘count’ more (because of passport/economic/racial privilege), to build a world where everyone’s lives ‘count’, where it matters when a small farmer is killed in the Colombian jungle. I was hoping that accompaniment was using privilege in such a way that it could ‘use it up’, that is, that it could dismantle the systems that make some lives count more. I did not find that, but I argue that accompaniment can wear down the structures that grant privilege unequally – but it can also reinforce those, depending on how it is done. It is easier for accompaniers to fall into colonial patterns that make some lives worth more than others when they understand themselves as nonpartisan civilian peacekeepers, rather than emphasizing building and activating chains of solidarity to make accompaniment work. It is also easier to fall into those traps when accompaniers see space as abstract and elide how race and other privileges shape their work. To change structures of domination, accompaniment needs not only to leverage difference, but also simultaneously engage in building connections across difference and distance, through chains of solidarity.

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