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Brussels, November 2007

The activities undertaken by NP in Guatemala

Description of the activities that NP will do to achieve the project goals.

The project involves four people to providing protective accompaniment to the workers in the Unit in order to deter the perpetrators of violence against them. This involves work at the office in Guatemala City and travelling to parts of Guatemala. All staff are internationals, Spanish speakers and experienced/trained in providing unarmed protective presence.

There will only be four staff at any one time, and most are there for 3-4 months each, so there are a total of 12-15 people involved in the project. These people are recruited from amongst the Nonviolent Peaceforce network and from people already trained by Nonviolent Peaceforce and other organisations. They’ll receive in-country training from Guatemalan trainers.

The work of the Nonviolent Peaceforce team will enable the broad and vital work of the Unit to continue. It runs until the end of 2007 because it needs mostly to cover the period of elections in Guatemala, when levels of violence and threats against the Unit are likely to increase. The Unit believe that after the election period the level of risk and severity of the threats will gradually diminish and they will no longer need such intense protection. By providing protective presence to the Unit, Nonviolent Peaceforce will have a greater impact than just the staff in the Unit, because they are in turn providing protection and support to many other human rights defenders throughout Guatemala.

The work is not without risk but the team uses the information and guidelines provided for other international accompaniers, plus the adapted handbook developed by Nonviolent Peaceforce staff on the Sri Lanka project. Safety and security are of the highest priority, making sure their presence is known and understood by all parties to the conflict, and ensuring that networks of support are available to them (including Nonviolent Peaceforce Emergency Response Network). Unarmed protective accompaniment is well understood in Guatemala, so Nonviolent Peaceforce staff can make sure they follow existing procedures. The team structure includes a coordinator who will oversee the management of the staff and the project, including reports, finances, staff support and liaison with other organisations.

The Unit, who have considerable expertise in accompaniment, secured the agreement of national and local authorities for the Nonviolent Peaceforce team. The Unit will also link the Nonviolent Peaceforce staff to other relevant initiatives and accompaniment projects, such as PBI and CAIG, help them stay in touch with embassies and other international and intergovernmental bodies (such as UN and EU initiatives). It is intended that this project complements the existing long term accompaniment projects, as well as the short term election monitoring to ensure that the work of the Unit continues.

This extract by one of the staff demonstrates how the activities fit together.

“A day in the life of a volunteer is never routine, however a few things can be shared about how we do our work. This month volunteers travelled with La Unidad staff to far reaches of the country including Sta. Catarina Ixtuacan, El Quiche and Quetzaltenango, trips that involve 5-7 hour bus or car rides. One accompaniment took Vito to Honduras and back in one day.

While this form of accompaniment does not always allow access to the meetings and information being discussed, NP still attempts to understand the work of our partners so we can assess our own presence in the Guatemalan context. The Unit responds on a daily, even hourly basis to calls from human rights defenders from around the country. This may include everything from environmental workers who are threatened by organised crime to a group of campesinos who are in conflict with local “patrollers” who are trying to force them to participate in armed patrols.

Their staff go to the site of the incident(s) to question the parties involved, make a determination about whether the attack is politically motivated or a matter of common crime, provide advice to the offended party about what they might do to improve their security, encourage or facilitate the presentation of an official complaint, or report to the ombudsman for human rights and, if warranted, advise and facilitate some sort of protection (hiding or in extreme cases, exile) for the party under attack. All of this places The Unit staff under risk themselves.

NP accompaniment gives The Unit staff some measure of security to continue supporting human rights defenders around the country. We travel with them to their interviews, workshops, and visits to government offices. An NP volunteer sits in their office every day on the chance that a call will come in about a case needing attention. This often happens. If one staff member of the Unit has to leave to attend such a case, we are there to go with them. Another volunteer immediately replaces the first at the office in case something else comes up. The comings and goings of our volunteers has the added benefit of providing a visible presence to whoever might be watching from the outside. It shows that our physical presence, and the international awareness it implies, are now a part of whatever happens to the people in this building.“

Public relations are also important and all opportunities for explaining about the work are taken, for example the coordinator went with Claudia, from the Unit, to a reception at the British Embassy and among other people met the U.S. Ambassador, James Derham. She later arranged to meet with Lucy Chang, the attaché for Labour and Human Rights at the embassy. Both were opportunities to let the U.S. Embassy know about NP and our work. She also met with Conrado Martínez at the office of the Guatemalan Human Rights Ombudsman.

Keeping in touch with other local organisations and activists is important. The NP team hosted two house warming receptions which included Guatemalans from The Unit, the National Movement of Human Rights Defenders, and other organizations, as well as volunteers from ACOGUATE (a coalition of accompaniment organizations) and Peace Brigades International.