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Peter van Krieken–the passing of an extraordinary man

(The following is the talk I gave at Peter’s funeral on Thursday 28 May 2015).

I’m going to do this in English for all the international students of PvK who are here.

Jet, Number One: Diederik, Number Two: Katrien, Number Three: Sebas, friends of Peter, family–Some of you might not know this, but Diederik and Sebas are both wearing suits that belong to Peter, tailored for them. And his bow ties. Katrien, a secret he did not want to tell you, was that he felt you were the one raising him, rather than the other way around.

As we know, Peter was an extraordinary man, and an extraordinary diplomat.

But I think I am here to talk about him as an extraordinary Instructor. I met Peter when I went back to school. I am what they call, a mature student. He taught my master’s class in International Law—and I was terrified of him and his infamous exams. What he didn’t know, was that I secretly took notes on his teaching style. We disagreed. A lot. About the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the protection of child soldiers. Among other things. And it took me a while to figure out that he did this to pull me out of romantic notions of injustice into the complex world of weighing different perspectives.

Then we became colleagues, and now I teach Human rights and human security, and Violence and conflict. Which means that we’re still arguing—well discussing, as he taught Comparative law and International law, and as we all know, there is often a disconnect between the rhetoric and reality.

He and I work at Amsterdam University College, the honors college for the University of Amsterdam and the Free University, the UvA and VU. He said these last years teaching at AUC were among his happiest. His students gave him this gift. His students, past and present, from AUC and Webster, are here today, and I thank you for making my friend so fulfilled.

Last semester our classrooms were next to each other, and we played a joke on our students. We hijacked each other’s classes. We walked into the wrong classrooms and pretended it was the most normal thing in the world. I tried to teach Comparative Law. He took my Human rights class, and later the students told me he basically turned upside down everything I had teen teaching them that semester. Among other things, he argued, as he often did, that the measures in place within the human rights world do not go far enough.

He taught all of us to be critical. He urged us to fight, fight for greater recognition of human rights violations in a world that often ignores what it does not want to see. He believed in the rule of law, and in his lifetime, he cultivated the tender rose that is international law, thorns and all.

As you may have noted on the funeral card, he founded the Toekomstig Fries Bevrijdingsfront, or Future Friesan liberation army, and that was so he could challenge us with the question of whether one man’s freedom fighter really is another man’s terrorist.

We met often, and talked over lunch every few weeks. When the pain in his shoulder got worse, I told him to go to a second doctor. Go to the fysio. Our last lunch, a few days before he found out he had cancer, he admitted he had lived a blessed life, never any physical ailments, except for the pain which had now laid claim to him. At this lunch we also talked about forgiveness. What does it mean to forgive everyone, past and present? He leaned forward and said, “It’s the best any of us can do, forgive others, and forgive ourselves.”

A week later I visited him at home, in bed, on morphine because of the pain. He told me he had no bucket list, no regrets. He was at peace. I said, “Well, I’m not.” We talked about the UvA and Magdenhuis occupation, the emphasis on grant money and research. “They don’t get it,” I told him. “The joy is in the classroom.” And we laughed together.

Among my colleagues, he is known for his positive attitude, his smiles and his bow ties.

Among his students, he is known for caring: about the issues, and about the people. I have been privileged to receive a deluge of words from his students. Stories of his dry humor. “He called me a dumb blonde and said I would never make it in the world of international law. Now I have been accepted into a master’s programme at a top university, all because he gave me the kick in the backside that I needed.”

Stories about his teaching style. “I learned more from him than any other teacher I ever had, even though I wanted to drop his class at first because I felt so challenged.”

Stories about confusion: “He wanted us to leave the class more confused than when we entered it. I hate being confused. But I grew to embrace it!”

Stories about his lies. “He told us he would tell one lie per lecture. We stay up late at night arguing about what the lie was.”

Stories about how he did not want to be called Dr. van Krieken, but Mr. van Krieken. In return, he called his students by their last names: Mr. de Vries. Or sometimes Ms. Latin, or Mr. Finland, depending on where they came from. One student wrote, “To this day I don’t know if this was because you couldn’t remember my first name, but one thing’s for sure, you showed us respect, something I always felt I needed to live up to.

Stories about grades: “He tried to convince us that grades were of no importance, that we should aim to attain knowledge, to think, to discuss.”

I think that he taught us that actually, we’re here to learn.

But, our Peter is not just an inspiration, he is a Fighter. He battles in the fight for asylum seekers- clear policy so they do not suffer in uncertainty. Fight for migration. A few days ago, I found out, he taught my daughter about fighting. When she was nine months pregnant he gave her a card that I hadn’t known about, when he was over for dinner with our family, and he told her, “Now you learn what it means to fight for a child, the greatest fight there is.” Something he did for you, Diederik, Katrien, Sebas.

Last Wednesday I sat with him a few hours before he lost consciousness. He had a box of the books he’d written and wanted me to give them to his students. “I should have written more books,” he said. I said, “It’s a little late for that, Peter.” He said, “You think?” We laughed.

I asked, “Are you ready for this?” He said, “I’m at peace. But my children—I can’t do this to them.” I said, “Het is goed zo, Peter. They are like you—strong and smart. And they have us. We will watch over them. And we will always be with you. And you will always be with us. Laat het maar los—het is goed zo. Let go.”

And so, this is now a PVKless world. One student wrote, “He inspired us to tackle the challenges of the world of international law, but I always thought we would do this, WITH him. And now it’s just up to us, without him. But what is even sadder is that he’s not here anymore to make the world a better place.”

He told me, he had to cancel several trips to Kabul, Laos, Islamabad, Kiev. He continues to make a difference through his students who have gone and will go on to work as diplomats and peacebuilders, lawyers, and teachers. He inspires us to carry on where he left off. When we doubt, remember how he believes in us. He is an incredible man and through his work and teaching he managed to touch and enrich so many lives.

I remember a few Januarys ago, when he joined me and my husband in South Africa. We were there for the birthday celebration of a close friend, the same one who taught us both that the joy is in the classroom. We sat outside in dappled light, and laughed and drank wine near Stellenbosch–he reminded us to embrace life.

It is my privilege to call him friend. You are his beloved family. You are all his beloved family. I wish us all strength and courage.

If we could still hear his voice, I think we would hear him say: I am with you always. In your hearts. Fight the good fight.

PvK, you are my brother, my friend, my Teacher til the end: you once told me I have more balls than most men, but you are the one who taught me courage, even til the end, as you taught me–you showed me–how to die with grace and dignity, and caring up until the very end, for the people who love you. Ach Peter.


(What follows is the letter sent to Amsterdam University College students and staff, from Acting Dean, Ramon Puras.)

It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you of the death of our colleague, Dr. Peter van Krieken. Peter taught Comparative Law and International Law at AUC. He brought with him a rich background in diplomacy and international law, and his unique ability to combine theory with practice enriched his outstanding and enlightened teaching.

He was recently named Lao DDR’s Honorary Consul to The Netherlands. As an international civil servant with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for more than 16 years, he served in Geneva, Stockholm, Peshawar, Juba (South Sudan), Beirut, Sana’a, Addis Ababa and Zirndorf (FRG). In between these various assignments he headed Stichting Vluchteling 999, a leading Dutch refugee organization, and he was chair of the Röling Foundation, as well as the treasurer of the Netherlands Branch of the International Law Association (ILA) and inter alia also of Voorschoten Sinfonietta.

He has a long list of publications (150+) to his credit on subjects such as asylum, migration, torture, hijacking, statelessness, family reunification, migration, health, terrorism and repatriation. In particular his books Terrorism and the International Legal Order (2002) and The Hague, Legal Capital of the World (2005) have been widely acclaimed.

Peter recently retired from his position as special advisor with the Netherlands Government  and was actively involved in various EU projects in Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Malawi.

He often commented that despite his busy diplomatic shuttling back and forth between countries, his teaching at AUC was his top priority. He said, to have a lasting impact on young people gave him deep joy.

Peter’s death is a shock to us all, as he was only diagnosed with pancreatic cancer less than a month before his death. He will be remembered for so many things, including his smiles and bow ties, and positive outlook on life. He is survived by his wife and three children. He will be deeply missed by all who knew him.

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