Peace Brigades International co-founder Hans Sinn passes away at 94 years of age

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Peace Brigades International mourns the passing of PBI co-founder Hans Sinn on June 29 in Perth, Ontario at 94 years of age.

Hans was born in Hamburg, Germany on February 16, 1929.

His childhood was shaped by World War II. In 1943, at the age of 14, Hans lived through a week-long bombing campaign in which Allied forces dropped 9,000 tons of bombs on his home city. More than 42,600 civilians were killed at that time.

By 1945, in the final months of the war, Hans, at the age of 16, was conscripted and sent to an SS training camp in Denmark. In April-May of that year, he managed to escape from the camp and over the course of a week walk 400 kilometres back to Hamburg. Given the level of wartime destruction he witnessed, Hans did not know if his home would still be there. When he arrived home, he saw an unexploded bomb on his front yard.

Several years later, in 1952, Hans emigrated to Canada.

At the age of 33, Hans took part in a walk for peace from Vancouver to Berlin to publicize the need for nuclear disarmament.

On August 22, 1962, the Prince George Citizen reported on its front-page, “Two B.C. men plan to walk from Vancouver to Berlin — in the cause of peace. Hans Sinn, 33, of White Rock, intends to start the jaunt October 1.”

That “jaunt” would take two years to complete.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) spied on this march. One of their memos on it stated: “The trio left Vancouver on September 30, 1962, driving an older model car painted with ‘Ban the Bomb’ slogans. During their tour of Canada, they stopped in numerous towns and cities and spoke at several meetings of ‘pacifist’ groups, handing out the usual ‘Peace and Disarmament’ leaflets.”

With an ideological lens, the RCMP memo added: “We have no information indicating their membership in any communist organization.”

It was during that peace walk, in January 1963, that Hans met Marian Bedoukian in Montreal. They would later marry in England and have two sons, Anthony and Nicholas. They would lose daughter Rachel to cancer when she was 15 years old. He would also raise Samantha.

Photo: Hans in 1965.

Photo: Hans and Samantha.

By 1970, Hans joined a land co-op and built his home in Brooke Valley, near Perth, Ontario (just outside Ottawa). It is the home that he would live in for over 50 years.

Then in late August 1981, Hans, now 52 years of age, travelled about 40 kilometres south of Perth to Grindstone Island for the founding meeting of Peace Brigades International.

That meeting began on the evening of Monday, August 31, with Hans chairing the session that started with a reading from Gandhi by Raymond Magee from the San Francisco-based Peaceworkers, an organization committed to nurturing peace and nonviolence.

The mission statement agreed upon at the conclusion of this meeting on September 4 stated: “We are forming an organization with the capability to mobilize and provide trained units of volunteers. These units may be assigned to areas of high tension to avert violent outbreaks. If hostile clashes occur, a brigade may establish and monitor a cease-fire, offer mediatory services, or carry on works of reconstruction and reconciliation.”

Photo: The lodge on Grindstone Island where Peace Brigades International was founded on September 4, 1981.

Less than a year later, on August 23-27, 1982, at the Second International Consultation on Peace Brigades held in Bergen, The Netherlands, the first meeting of the PBI International Council welcomed the news of the founding of PBI-Canada by Hans and Ottawa-based peace activist Murray Thomson as PBI’s first country group.

Hans would stay involved in PBI for many years. He eventually retired from the PBI International Council in 2005 at the age of 76.

Photo: In 2009, Hans received the Friends of Peace Award.

Photo: Hans in 2015.

Photo: Hans with Lyn Adamson on Parliament Hill, Ottawa.

Outside of PBI, Hans was involved in many activities related to peace.

Civilian Peace Service and Department of Peace

In 1959, Hans returned to Germany to speak about his vision for a Ziviler Friedensdienst, a civil peace service (CPS).

Peace Magazine notes: “In the early 1990s, he spoke in Berlin, at the Evangelical Academy in Berlin, which had developed its own proposal for a CPS. By 1999, Ziviler Friedensdienst had become the first fully operational Civilian Peace Service in the world.”

Since its formation, more than 1,200 experts have supported peacebuilding efforts in 60 countries around the world. It is also a significant funder of the human rights work done by Peace Brigades International.

In 2004, Hans became the Co-Chair of Civilian Peace Service Canada.

His friend Bill Bhaneja adds: “In 2003, Hans realized that to reach its full potential, a Civilian Peace Service would need a Department of Peace in the federal government. This led to the creation of a Canadian Department of Peace movement” that by 2010 had twelve chapters across the country.

Petra Kelly and the demilitarization of Germany

In 1989, Hans supported the work of Bundestag member Petra Kelly, who advocated demilitarization when Germany was reunified after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In Nonviolent Social Defense, Petra wrote: “The ending of the cold war has brought little change in our militaristic outlook. As old weapons systems are dismantled, they are replaced by new, more sophisticated ones.”

She would further highlight: “We spend billions on weapons research and millions training our young people at military academies. Why not invest in peace studies and peace actions? We need training centers, public campaigns, and educational materials. We need to support groups like Peace Brigades International that intervene nonviolently in situations of conflict. We need to work concretely to realize peace and nonviolence in our time.”

Photo: Petra Kelly (1947-1992).

In the summer of 2005, Hans also spoke about the need for a negotiated peace settlement in Afghanistan (the U.S. invasion that began in October 2001 claimed the lives of 243,000 people over a 20-year period).

In his later years, he was particularly interested in the global issue of child soldiers (he himself having been forcibly conscripted at the age of 16), the removal U.S. nuclear missiles from Germany, and the continued to call for a demilitarized Germany (as he saw its military spending escalate to USD $56 billion in 2021).

Photo: Hans, December 2022. The title of the book Hans is holding is “At the last hour: Call for peace”. It is a collection of essays on the peace movement, NATO and nuclear weapons.

The legacy of Hans includes the continued work of Peace Brigades International that accompanies and supports human rights defenders in Colombia, Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala, Kenya, Nepal, Indonesia, Nicaragua/Costa Rica and beyond.

We are grateful for the lifelong work of Hans and honour his commitment to peace through our continuing work for a just and peaceful world.

Photo: Hans Sinn meeting with Brent Patterson of PBI-Canada at Hans’ home near Perth, Ontario on September 4, 2019, the 38th anniversary of the founding of PBI.

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