Peace activist Mient Jan Faber died today, 15 May 2022. As secretary of the Interchurch Peace Council (Interkerkelijk Vredesberaad, IKV), he became famous for organising large demonstrations against nuclear weapons in the 1980s. At that time, he also collaborated intensively with human rights activists in communist Warsaw Pact countries. After the end of the Cold War, he worked with victims of war violence and dictatorships.
“Mient Jan Faber’s significance extends far beyond his role within the Dutch peace movement,” stresses Miriam Struyk, the Director of Programmes at PAX, the organisation created by the merger of IKV with Pax Christi Netherlands in 2007. “His death means the loss of a politically acute strategist and a very driven campaigner. He changed the thinking about peace and security in the Netherlands, and spent years building the European peace movement, which eventually helped bring down the Wall. Personally, I have lost an inspiring friend, someone who challenged me not to look away but to continuously reflect on the big issues of war and peace — issues in which the focus should always be on solidarity with civilians in conflict zones, and how to put that solidarity into practice. That philosophy and approach is the foundation we continue to build on.”
The fight against nuclear weapons
Mient Jan Faber became the IKV secretary in 1974. He was one of the architects of the IKV campaign to stop nuclear weapons, with the famous slogan “Help rid the world of nuclear weapons, starting with the Netherlands!” This campaign immediately gained a lot of support and hundreds of local groups joined the effort. Faber was the key figure in the organisation of the two largest demonstrations the Netherlands has ever seen. The demonstration against nuclear weapons on 21 November 1981 in Amsterdam attracted more than 400,000 people, and over 500,000 took part in the second demonstration two years later, on 29 October 1983 in The Hague. In this campaign, IKV joined forces with Pax Christi Netherlands, Women for Peace and other peace groups and civil society organisations.
For years, there was a resounding call in society for nuclear disarmament. Faber lobbied the Dutch parliament and ministries tirelessly as well as NATO for strategies that could lead to disarmament. Despite this, the Dutch government decided in 1985 to allow nuclear weapons to be stationed in the country. However, this never went ahead due to the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987.
Linking disarmament with human rights
Faber was indisputably one of the leaders of the European peace movement in the 1980s. Independent peace organisations in the NATO countries collaborated with human rights activists and dissidents in the Warsaw Pact countries. They linked disarmament to the struggle for human rights. Under Faber’s leadership, IKV worked among others with the Czechoslovakian writer Vaclav Havel on an alternative for the Cold War and the division of Europe into two blocks. The policy of détente practised by NATO and the Warsaw Pact only served to bolster the status quo, leading to yet more nuclear weapons and violations of human rights in large parts of Europe.
The ‘détente from below’ that emerged from the intensive dialogue between East and West showed that the ordinary people wanted fundamental change. After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, many of IKV’s partners stepped in to fill the vacuum that arose with the collapse of the Communist regimes. Vaclav Havel, for example, became Czechoslovakia’s first democratic president. Shortly after he was appointed, he invited Faber for a friendly visit to his presidential palace in Prague. In 1990, many human rights and peace activists united in the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly (hCa), which Faber co-founded. This was a network of European activists working for a democratic and peaceful Europe.
Solidarity with victims of wartime violence
In the 1990s, Faber supported peace activists and victims of wartime violence and dictatorships in numerous countries. He paid frequent visits to Yugoslavia and its successor countries, the southern Caucasus, Palestine and Iraq. He worked with other like-minded people on proposals for political solutions to stop violence and lay the foundations for democracy and human rights. As early as the autumn of 1991, he advocated for a strong international intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina, months before war broke out. IKV was in favour of the Netherlands taking part in the UN mission in Srebrenica, but also warned against the destructive power of ethnic nationalism.
Faber was therefore highly critical of the political and military leadership when it came up short in July 1995 and Dutchbat failed to prevent Srebrenica, which had been declared a UN safe area, from being captured by the Bosnian Serbs. In just a few days, the Serbs murdered more than 8,000 men and boys, as well as a small number of women. Immediately after these horrifying events, Faber and other IKV staff sought contact with the survivors of the genocide. They promised support for the survivors’ ‘campaign for truth and justice’, but the Dutch government and parliament in The Hague were not interested in serious contacts. At the request of the survivors, IKV brought UN interpreter Hasan Nuhanovic and Alma Mustafic, the daughter of Dutchbat electrician Rizo Mustafic, into contact with the lawyer Liesbeth Zegveld. After a struggle lasting more than a decade, they won their civil lawsuit against the State of the Netherlands: Dutchbat should never have sent their relatives off the compound where they were safe.
In 2002, a conflict arose between Mient Jan Faber and the IKV board about the war in Iraq. Faber stepped down from his position as general secretary in 2003. In 2004, he became a professor at VU University Amsterdam, where he held the chair in Citizens’ Involvement in War Situations, funded by IKV, until 2012. He was also a visiting professor at the University of Houston in the US. He enjoyed teaching students, who found his lessons and the many debates extremely inspiring. Faber wrote five books: one about Srebrenica and four in which he gave a lively account of his childhood, his experiences in the peace movement, his philosophy and motivation to work for peace.
Mient Jan Faber was 81. He is survived by a wife, two daughters and five grandchildren.
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