Protecting human rights: The dynamics of international nonviolent accompaniment by Peace Brigades International in Sri Lanka

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Sciences


Louis Kriesberg


human rights, Peace Brigades International in Sri Lanka

Subject Categories

International Relations


Peace Brigades International (PBI) uses international observers and nonviolent accompaniment to protect human rights workers and nongovernmental organizations (NGO) from political violence. This dissertation analyzes the social and political dynamics of accompaniment by PBI's Sri Lanka Project.

It is based on participant observation with the PBI team in Sri Lanka during 1993 and 1994, and on 59 interviews with PRI members, those they accompany, NGO staffers, diplomats, and police officials. The study contributes to a small body of literature on research in dangerous situations, where the researcher faces similar risks of physical violence as the informants.

International accompaniment's usefulness as a violence deterrent is shown to be partly dependent upon the degree to which those against which it is employed are nested in international agreements, networks, and financial dependencies. Its limitations against non-state forces in Sri Lanka are highlighted.

Case analysis of the accompaniment of election observers demonstrates that PBI's accompaniment is multi-functional and occurs on multiple levels and contexts simultaneously. Accompaniment is shown to have both empowering and disempowering aspects. While the nonviolent escorting of those threatened is central, the less visible accompaniment of domestic social movement development and the rebuilding of political processes crippled by para-state and state terrorism is also significant. Case analysis reveals the interorganizational cooperation among human rights NGOs that under girds and strengthens PBI's accompaniment.

Turnover on PBi teams makes the consensus decision making principle of full participation salient and has deleterious effects on team decision making. The dangerous nature of PBI's unarmed peacekeeping increases the importance of three consensus principles: individual ownership of group decisions, attending to the feelings of participants, and valuing process over product. Extended analysis of one PBI team's use of consensus demonstrates that it cultivated individual ownership of group decisions, increased group solidarity, and helped members deal with fear.

PBI's reliance on white observers from western nations to deter political repression is found to engage the dynamics of racism, neo-colonialism, and white privilege. A five-part typology of PBI member responses to this engagement is presented and proposals for democratizing international accompaniment are suggested.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.