At PBI we have been talking about this idea of a protection circle and to protect ourselves we must also take into account the many dimensions and impacts of violence: a spiritual or feeling-based dimension, the psycho-emotional or corporal dimension, the group-relational dimension and, now, we want to talk about the territorial or project dimension. Here we want to discuss the importance of protecting what we fight for or defend: peace for our territory, access to justice, building a truth that is connected to the experiences of those whose rights have been violated, a life free of violence. We seek to build new worlds, or rather, we hope to expand the beautiful worlds that already exist, and we want everyone to have access to them. This brings us to our efforts to organize collectively and defend what we consider as fundamental for life.
Defending life in the context of such profound violence is difficult and requires great strength, perseverance, and love. This context places major challenges in the paths and lives of human rights defenders and communities: uncertainty, violence, separation from their families, displacement, etc. It also pushes them to take self-protection measures, making it possible to continue with their work in defending rights, while caring for their lives and the lives of those around them. We can take many measures to protect our projects and our territories, as well as ourselves as a part of these. The measures allow us to protect ourselves against external aggressors and to protect our homes and offices, our spiritual places, and protect ourselves while traveling, in addition to specific public denunciation activities.
Which measures come to mind? Today, we want to name a few that we feel are very important:
- Written and periodically reviewed protocols. It is important to take the time to share, discuss, and analyze our contexts, the risks we face, and the measures we can build to protect ourselves. It is important for this process to be collective, with the entire community or organization, so that everyone can know and assume the protocol, but also to ensure that it is built based on everyone’s security needs and perceptions. Protocols are not written documents to be archived in a file, instead they are everything we do to generate personal and collective habits so that we can carry out our activities more safely. If we do not have protocols or do not know them, people tend to react individually in face of stressful contexts, or do not follow pre-planned actions. This can lead to higher risk levels. Yes, we know, the word “protocol” doesn’t sound very cool, but, in our experience, having them makes us feel much better.
- Locally constructed and collective protection models. Indigenous guards, cimarron guards, or peasant guards are a very interesting and useful collective protection proposal for some territories. The fact that there is a group of people who care for and monitor the territory—from a place of unarmed and non-violent action—helps to respond collectively and based on each territory’s values and worldview. Far from being a security tied to weapons, violence, or external management, these community proposals seek a security that generate well-being and resistance.
- Our personal spaces and offices are important. They are the places where we gather, create, rest, and where we spend a large part of our time. It is very important to take measures that protect these spaces, because if they are violated, we don’t just feel unsafe in that specific space but it is also difficult to continue identifying them as a refuge. It is important to create houses and offices that are comfortable, pleasant, and safe from possible risks as these are stable and easily identifiable locations.
- A support network is also essential. In the face of any situation of violence, a support network allows us to react, make ourselves safe, publicly denounce what has happened, and be seen by a wider community. We are not only protecting ourselves, but we can also build relationships of solidarity and trust that can support us when needed. We are not alone!
- We are the territory that surrounds us. It is very important to take care of nature and understand that it is not separate from us but is the “great house” where we live. Food sovereignty, reforestation, and caring for the rivers are also self-protection measures.
As we often say, what we create and build for the collective well-being protects us, so we must protect that which makes us feel good. Seeking reciprocity with nature, solidarity with other communities, and building tools based on how we exist in the world are the most powerful self-protection measures, in addition to measures to express and build this beautiful world we carry in our hearts.