Since 1983, PBI has helped support human rights defenders through advocacy and pioneered the way for 'protective accompaniment' - a method of placing PBI's volunteers alongside human rights defenders to accompany them in their daily work.
PBI currently has field projects in Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico and Nepal, in which over 50 PBI volunteers are observing and protecting human rights defenders. PBI has 13 regional offices in North America, Europe and Australasia. Since its first project during the 1983 Contra war in Nicaragua, PBI has had projects in the Balkans (1994-2001), El Salvador (1987-2000), Sri Lanka (1989-1999), Haiti (1995-2000) and North America (1992-1998).
According to its mandate, PBI focuses on "encouraging civil society to bear witness as human rights observers." This involves training volunteers for conflict situations, raising independent funds to support its projects and using the media and civil society to raise the profile of human rights defenders. These continuous efforts have enabled PBI to build a vast support network of volunteers, members, MPs and representatives from the legal sector.
Since 1994, PBI's Colombia Project had accompanied more than 20 local human rights organisations and displaced communities across Colombia. For years now, Colombian human rights defenders have been subjected to a systematic campaign of intimidation, harassment and assassination. One Colombian human rights defender lauded PBI's efforts, saying that "The death sentences against each and every one of us have not been carried out because we are not alone, we have the accompaniment of Peace Brigades International." Alirio Uribe Muñoz, a Colombian lawyer and human rights defender, who received the Martin Ennals Award in 2003, has for years benefited from PBI's protective accompaniment as part of its project in Colombia.
Coinciding with the international year of volunteers in 2001, PBI received the Martin Ennals Award the same year at a ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland. Hans Thoolen, Chairman of the Martin Ennals Foundation described PBI's volunteers as the "embodiment of the expression of international concern and support for human rights defenders on the front line," adding that "their courage and selflessness express the highest ideals in the defense of human rights." It is the first and until now the only time that the MEA was awarded to an organization instead of an individual.
PBI not only works with local human rights defenders and civil society groups, but also maintains relations with local police, the military and government officials, diplomatic corps, international NGOs and UN representatives.
The European Office of PBI recently spearheaded an internet development project dedicated to human rights defenders, "ProtectionLine", which is a multi-lingual web platform enabling human rights defenders across the globe to unite through the free-exchange of information, knowledge and experiences.