Lessons Learned from Protective Accompaniment Experiences

Pat Coy

Professor of Political Science at Kent State University

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: What lessons have you learned from your work?

A: Well, one lesson that is fundamentally important is that for this tactic to really work and it is difficult to say it often works, because you can not prove a negative, so you're left with

Q: If it didn't happen you can't say see we prevented this thing from happening.

A: Exactly. One of the things that you can do is ask the people who receive accompaniment and listen to their testimony about what it means to them, and if and when they say, "Well, I really don't think I would have been to be able to continue my work," then you know it made a difference on that level. You can't know if you actually deterred the attack, although there are examples. Researches have done enough research with high government officials who have said, "Yes your presence stayed the hand with this individual," but that is rare.

In order for this to work what we do know that it is very important for the international organization have a highly developed network. The image that I like to use is the work has to be nested, deeply nested in a series of concentric nests, nested in the sense for the individual volunteer they have to have individual support network in their home communities their home senators and congress men, ministers of parliaments, what ever country they come from who know they are there, they have made contact with, who are willing to step forth and try to protect them in a moment of need. You got have these individual volunteers nested in their home government that way, then when they get into the country they have got to make really tight connections with their home embassy and their staff so they know what they are doing, and have their support and knowledge. They have to be nested inside this larger international community of NGOs working on human rights protection because Peace Brigades can't do it alone. It is dependent upon the work of ICRC, identifying political prisoners, it depends upon the work of Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch.

Identifying key individuals who really are under threat and whose freedom has been clearly endangered is important. They provide a different kind of protection so it has to be nested inside this larger network, it has to be nested inside the international aid community, and then of course you have to maintain regular contact with the local police in the country, with the local government, regional government, and national government offices. That requires that every hour a volunteer is in the field, at a demonstration, or at Nupo's headquarters there are many more person hours back at the offices making those connections, going to meetings with the diplomatic community every week letting them know what you are doing, who you are accompanying, and why. If there is a threat then you can activate that network. The more that you are nested inside multiple networks the more international support, then you can communicate to the perpetrators, if you do something then this is what we are prepared to respond with. You have to make that threat credible, and the only way that you can do this is to demonstrate that you are deeply nested in all of these advocacy, support, and diplomatic networks.