Third Party Nonviolent Intervention (TPNI) is the name that has arisen for the age-old practice of an outside party intervening in a conflict in an effort to open the space for reconciliation, peacemaking, and peacebuilding. Some services of the TPNI actor can include witnessing, accompaniment, monitoring, interposition, offering good offices, and rumor abatement. Because the nonviolent intervener is not one of the “dehumanized others,” s/he has a chance to be seen as trustworthy and not an object of violence. Even the most rabid militants often hesitate to inflict violence on a member of the international community, both for pragmatic reasons -– any attack could generate unwanted media attention — and because the (often unexpected) presence of a third party helps to break up the inevitable polarization of ’self’ and ‘other’ that conflict causes and on which it depends. Perhaps most importantly, by risking life and comfort to protect an intended victim of violence, the third party helps to rehumanize that victim in the eyes of the would-be attacker.

In the modern period, TPNI emerged from Gandhi’s ‘peace army’ (shanti sena) and from increasing human rights and humanitarian interventions that have gained momentum since the 1980s. Peace Brigades International (founded in 1980) has played an important role, along with Christian Peacemaker Teams, Witness for Peace, and Michigan Peacemaker [sic] Teams (with most of its efforts concentrated in the local region). Today Nonviolent Peaceforce is building TPNI into a global entity. TPNI has been practiced with varying degrees of success in places like Colombia, Palestine, the US/Mexico border, and Sri Lanka. TPNI stands in contrast to the standard U.N. armed peacekeeping model – in fact, some practitioners of TPNI state that nonviolent interposition can act as a full replacement for armed peacekeeping. TPNI is supported in legal frameworks by the concept of the “right to intervene” (droit d’ingérence). Many feel that, alongside the related Civilian-Based Defense, TPNI shows that there is a nonviolent alternative to war.

Nonviolent Peaceforce, of which Michigan Peace Team is a member organization, provides this information about TPNI:

[The goal of conflict intervention is to use] proven nonviolent strategies to protect human rights, deter violence, and create space for local peacemakers to carry out their work. Among these strategies are:
  • Protective presence- Maintaining a peacekeeping presence in conflict areas
  • Interpositioning- Unarmed civilians placing themselves between warring parties
  • International monitoring- Visibly documenting and reporting activities in conflict zones
  • Accompaniment- Round-the-clock accompaniment of peaceworkers who are under specific threat of violence or assassination