WORLD: An Appreciation of Heiner Knauss of EED in Germany

On 13th July 2019, Heiner Knauss passed away after being sick for some time. His funeral will take place on 20th July, according to his family.

Heiner was one of the mentors and a very close friend and colleague of the Asian Human Rights Commission ( AHRC). He succeeded Yan Randers who was an extremely wise and compassionate leader in the development of civil society groups in the less-developed countries and who introduced the AHRC to the EED.

Heiner, by the time he came into contact with us, was already a very mature person with considerable experience in several countries in less-developed parts of the world. He had also worked as a magistrate in one country in Africa.

He brought that wisdom and the capacities that he had developed over the years to bear on the work that he was doing, in an attempt to develop civil society organizations in Asia. Heiner kept a very close link with us by way of regular email exchanges. And he always responded to emails received from us. The matters that we discussed with him were rarely about funding. They were about the problems that we were trying to deal with. Heiner was always very clear in his attempt to understand the type of the problems that his associates were dealing with in the different parts of the world.

He was able to transcend the differences of continents, races, climates and above all varying political circumstances. Perhaps, growing up closer to the generation coming after World War II, he had a deeper insight into what dictatorship meant. He would try to guide us to understand these problems from many different points of view. When requested, he would find books of interpretation of what happened in Germany during the Nazi period. For example, we asked him to help us get material on what happened to the Weimer Constitution and how the weaknesses of the Weimer Constitution were dealt with after WWII. He arranged a visit for us to see the Constitutional Court in Germany. Conversations with him, which were many, were always about larger issues and the problems that confront the world in general–the Third World in particular.

There was an advantage to the EED being a much smaller organization. It meant that there was freedom for them to keep an informal relationship with the organizations they were supporting. This informal relationship, where sharing of the information of all matters including organizational matters, were discussed constantly. This prevented petty misunderstandings which could cause severe problems to the smaller organizations being developed.

The knowledge Heiner had acquired about cultural backgrounds in various countries, helped him to easily distinguish two things: all kinds of petty jealousies and so-called campaigns where some try to undermine others through false information. Heiner had a way of dealing with any of these matters through direct contact because he had a fundamental trust in the persons with whom he was working. He could be firm as much as he was compassionate. He would give clear advice in a fashion that a wise man gives advice.

On several occasions he sent delegations. One such included a senior Bishop accompanied by some senior persons associated with the Church. They visited Hong Kong as well as the mainland. During such visits substantial matters were discussed leisurely and at length.

For the same reason he invited delegates from the Hong Kong groups that they were supporting. He provided them with opportunities to talk to the Church groups on the problems they were facing in various countries. Problems included the dual problem of poverty on the one hand and various kinds of tyrannies on the other.

It was Heiner knauss and Basil Fernando from the AHRC who jointly evolved the formula for action by the AHRC from the late 1990s. This was after the time the EED ceased to exist. It had been absorbed into the larger organizational framework of Bread for the World. He prepared us for this changeover for a considerable period of time.

His experience of Germany’s evolution as a nation, particularly in the period of Bismarck, when the Rule of Law foundations were laid, helped him to understand the problems associated with democracy in Asia–not founded on the solid foundation on the Rule of Law. He always said Rule of Law first if democracy is to follow. Such discussions were what helped develop the AHRC’s vision.

It was Heiner who, through the chief of the EED, officially proposed the name of the AHRC and Basil Fernando as its Executive Director for the Rights Livelihood Award, also known as the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize. In 2014 when the Award was given at the Swedish Parliament, Heiner accompanied us and according to his family it was a quite memorable event for him. When met with some difficulties he used to tell his colleagues and his chief this–of what significance were these problems, as compared with the problems his partners in the Asian region were facing and grappling with. He said that gave him the consolation needed to face his own problems.

The AHRC’s experience with Heiner would take a long time to narrate. Suffice it to say that he was a wise and great mentor, that he was a genuinely compassionate person who tried to solve problems and not aggravate them. He understood and sympathized with the poorer parts of the world in which things don’t happen as they happen in the more developed parts of the world. He was a type of the Universal Man–not biased or afraid of those areas of the world where much deeper problems existed.

He was passionate about human rights not only in other parts of the world but also in his own country. He would discuss certain incidents which should not have happened in post-Hitler Germany and on such occasions he would actively participate in opposing them. His was a life not lived in vain. He did what he believed was right. He went out of his way to understand our problems and to defend his partners on the basis of firm principles.

The AHRC will always remember him. And, we are sure that the other organizations he helped will also remember him forever.

We send our condolences to his wife, his children and other family members.

A Life Not Lived in Vain

Tribute to Heiner Knauss

From where comes the Spirit
That transcends the continents,
Nations, races, genders, languages,
Climates and ethnicities, and all differences?
It comes from heaven, I think.

From where comes wisdom 
When narrow-mindedness dissolves
And a broader and many-sided vision emerges?
I am sure it comes from heaven.

From where comes compassion 
When the tears of one
Finds a response in another’s eye?
Yes, that comes from heaven.

From where comes good humour
When joys and ironies are shared,
When laughter is mixed with understanding?
It comes from heaven, too.

From where comes a good friend
When eye meets eye
And soul meets soul?
I am certain he comes from heaven.

Heiner was all that,
He was much more…..
I am sure he came from heaven. 
A gift to the world that suffered the horrors of war.

Now he is back where he came from,
Carrying a life
Not lived in vain.


Basil Fernando
July 18, 2019

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-032-2019
Countries : World,
Issues : Human rights defenders,