Going Where We Otherwise Would Not Have Gone' : Accompaniment and Election Monitoring in Sri Lanka
By Patrick Coy
This Article Summary written by: Kathy Ottoman, Conflict Research Consortium
Citation: Coy, Patrick, 1995. "Going Where We Otherwise Would Not Have Gone: Accompaniment and Election Monitoring in Sri Lanka" PARC News, January, 4-5.
The article discusses the use of international participants for protective accompaniment to monitor election campaigns and to limit human rights abuses in situations of high political violence. The presence of foreign national escorts attracts international political attention, thereby discouraging violent attacks. Coy breaks down the positive impact of accompaniment in the case of monitoring elections in Sri Lanka into five categories. These categories include diminishing fear, increasing visibility and access, reducing reprisals, solidarity in rebuilding democracy, and last, avoiding dependence. Combined they reflect the positive impact which non-violent strategies have in the process of democratization.
A primary role for protective accompaniment is to reduce the fear which limits people's involvement in political organizing and election monitoring. In Sri Lanka, the machinery and representatives of the state (the army, police force, etc.) Have used violence and threats against people to discourage political organizing. Although grassroots election monitoring had succeeded elsewhere, Sri Lanka citizens were afraid to serve in such capacity. PBI escorts gave them the confidence to organize and work in the local communities to monitor the election process. Peace Brigade International (PBI) escorts also serve as a place where people could report local election abuses, and served as educators so people knew when their rights were violated. Combined these actions helped to abate fear among citizens of Sri Lanka as well as local elections monitors.
Second, accompaniment serves to increase visibility of human rights problems, as well as gaining access to areas people would otherwise fear to go, such as polling stations and village squares. By letting police and local governments know ahead of time that PBI would be there, authorities monitored their behavior, knowing that they were under international scrutiny.
Thirdly, the PBI presence helped reduce reprisals after the election was over. There was a fear that prominent organizers and poll watchers would suffer world wide, violent reprisals will be much more difficult.
The fourth category of solidarity in rebuilding democracy deals with the long term goals and effects which international attention brings. In order to establish a democratic political system, the secretary of the movement for Free and Fair Elections said, people "need to know...that there are more people beyond them who care." So the practice of accompaniment serves as a tool of encouragement.
The final category addresses the important issue of avoiding dependence on the international escorts. Their purpose (combined with creating international attention) is to bring awareness to start local, indigenous campaigns for reforms. In fact, it is necessary to have a local movement which the escorts help strengthen. Accompaniment as a non-violent tactic serves many multi-faceted purpose. In the case of Sri Lanka, it proved to be a valuable asset to create local change.