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35 Years of Building Peace

24 January 2023

By Community Peacemaker Teams 

Carlos Morales was twelve when the Community Peacemaker Teams (CPT) first accompanied him. 

When he turned sixteen, Carlos began organizing artisanal miners and small farmers in the northeastern region of Antioquia, Colombia, an area alternately controlled by mining corporations and illegal armed groups. Nine years ago, the government assigned him bodyguards, but he still requests CPT to accompany him and his organization, Cahucopana. He said he feels safer when CPT joins him. 

By building partnerships, CPT seeks to create space for local peacemakers to transform violence and oppression, and CPT works to be respected across all groups involved. 

CPT has been working for thirty-five years with communities across the globe that experience low-intensity conflicts—armed groups and military forces, internal displacement, the loss of land and livelihood, difficulty in getting education and health care, and the threat of arrest, harassment, and discrimination by government and nongovernment actors. 

Founded by Anabaptist Peace Churches in North America, CPT has become an inclusive organization while nurturing a spiritual approach to the work. With thirty-five full-time and 133 trained workers on reserve, CPT has teams in four countries (Iraqi Kurdistan, Palestine, Greece, Colombia). It also aids indigenous communities in North America and migrants at the USA-Mexico border. 

By building partnerships, CPT seeks to create space for local peacemakers to transform violence and oppression, and CPT works to be respected across all groups involved. 

Foundational to CPT’s work is sending a team only when invited. It seeks to have field team members live closely with the communities, developing long-term relationships. Thus, CPT has been present in the Old City of Hebron for twenty-five years, has accompanied the farming communities of the central Magdalena River basin in Colombia for twenty years, and has been present in Iraq/Iraqi Kurdistan for twenty years. 

CPT’s work falls under the general Unarmed Civilian Protection/Accompaniment category. Thanks to organizations like Nonviolent Peaceforce, efforts have been made to get the US government’s attention. The hope is that it will recognize UCP as a valid tool to reduce violence and conflict. CPT has been contributing to this effort. 

CPT is committed to protecting its partners in nonviolent civil resistance, documenting human-rights abuses, supporting land defenders and environmental activists, and advocating for policy changes at the international level. 

In Palestine, the team provides protective presence for Palestinian children who must go through checkpoints to go to school. CPT publishes regular reports that help UNICEF assess children’s access to education in Hebron. 

In Iraqi Kurdistan, CPT is the only organization systematically documenting the cross-border bombings by Turkish forces in the mountains of Kurdistan. With five other organizations, the team published a report highlighting the civilian toll of Turkey’s aggression. Team members have shared their findings with representatives of the federal US Institute of Peace, staff members from European consulates in Erbil, and various coalitions working on denouncing the arms trade in Europe and the USA. 

Recently, an Iraqi delegate spoke at the UN for the first time about cross-border bombings. CPT’s work has been crucial in informing international communities about the impact of these bombings on civilians. 

In Baghdad, where the CPT team was based from 2002–2006, members began documenting dozens of cases of torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners inside US military facilities. They published a lengthy report, blaming US forces and contractors. This report and the on-the-ground presence of CPT played a central role in exposing what was happening to Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib, a US military prison. CPT’s information pushed the international community to protect the rights of civilians and prisoners of war, per the Geneva Conventions. 

In Colombia, the team covers a large stretch of the central Magdalena River basin, accompanying small farming communities. Due to confrontations between armed groups, farmers who till fields have had to become human-rights defenders and advocates for the safety of their communities. CPT’s presence brings security that enables residents to carry out exercises in defending human rights. 

In addition, CPT’s accompaniment draws the attention of the national government to the violence felt by these communities and organizations. Some armed groups work for international corporations, contributing to land seizure to cultivate palm oil. In 2009–10, CPT led a massive campaign to deter retailer Body Shop from using palm oil in its products. CPT members and allies protested outside stores across North America. 

CPT believes ending human suffering is linked to empowering communities that resist violence and oppression in nonviolent and creative ways. CPT’s presence amplifies their voices and makes their struggle visible: 

When you work with an autonomous, civilian organization that does not handle weapons, and is peaceful, that promotes peaceful ways, in a context of polarization and stigmatization, it is important to have a guarantee of that civilian character. In that sense, the accompaniment of organizations such as CPT is fundamental because it allows the organization to reaffirm its position and shield itself a little in the face of these attacks and accusations. 

Laura Serrano Vecino, a leader 
of the Organización Femenina Popular 
(Popular Women Organization), 
which began in Colombia 

The community trusts CPT and its work. They are the first organization we call or go to if something is happening in the Old City; we know they will respond. We feel very alone here and not heard, but CPT makes us feel that someone cares, which is encouraging. They are part of this community as much as we are, and we want them to stay. They do a lot. They add safety to the people here. They help people and children walk the street freely, and CPT documents the attacks of the occupation. Also, Palestinians feel more hope in the future and that they are not alone. 

Community members in the Old City of Hebron

Peace with justice is impossible without working on ourselves as we engage with our world. Central to this framework and CPT’s mission is the lens of undoing oppression. After an anti-racism audit in 2009, CPT drafted strategic directions for shaping an anti-racist identity. We committed to cultivating a culture that is anti-racist, anti-oppressive, and anticolonial. These decisions meant widening CPT’s collective ownership and building partnerships that were transparent and accountable. 

At the same time, CPT hired an undoing-racism coordinator who worked with the organization for six years, helping develop extensive guidelines and policies to nourish commitment to undoing oppression (racism, heterosexism, colonialism, ableism). 

CPT is a bilingual (Spanish and English) organization and publishes all content in these languages. Because many members speak other languages, CPT allocates resources to translate important documents into the main languages of the communities CPT works with. 

With members witnessing and hearing about violence and oppression, CPT emphasizes trauma-informed care, offering the expertise of a care coordinator and a support network. Community care is central to CPT’s identity. Teams foster resilience and help people thrive in challenging circumstances. 

To reflect the diversity of its staff, CPT officially changed its name in January 2022 from Christian Peacemaker Teams to Community Peacemaker Teams. 

“Community” reflects the essence of the work and evokes a sense of togetherness with partners and within the organization. The word points to openness and accountability. It places the organization in a web of human connections as part of the global community. “Community” is a large part of CPT’s language. Making it a central part of the group’s name provides continuity while honoring support communities, partner communities, and CPT’s collective past. 

One also can think of CPT as a community of peacemakers working together—different teams and members of diverse communities forming a single group working for peace and undoing oppression. 

As a community grounded in spirituality, our longing is for an inclusive community where the sacred is recognized and revealed in many traditions and tongues, identities and images, colors, and cultures. 

CPTs Short Guide to Group Reflection & Spiritual Practice

CPT members comprise field teams—people from the communities where CPT works. CPT functions with decentralized leadership, making all decisions by consensus and consultation across the organization. The CPT administrative team is spread from India to Colombia. 

Environmental Justice 

As another necessary way to address human suffering, CPT has added an environmental-justice lens to its work. CPT has limited the number of flights staff members can take, favored the use of public transportation, limited importation to the location of its teams, etc. 

Today, CPT is looking at ways to become even more sustainable while monitoring the effect of climate change on partners. Climate change has exacerbated difficulties faced by communities where CPT works. 

For example, indigenous communities that live off the land face depleting food sources and food insecurity. In Colombia, CPT also has witnessed a similar effect on the farming communities. 

CPT’s work and proximity with communities in struggling for rights, livelihood, and freedom is unique. CPT wants to support them until their liberation is real. 

Community Peacemaker Teams will receive the International Peace Award sponsored by Community of Christ and Shaw Family Foundation at the 2023 World Conference.

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