From a protest movement to a human rights organization
"When we – a group of 50 students – occupied the British Consulate near the Alster, this was more of a shock for the British Ambassador than the actual starving in Biafra," Tilman Zülch recalls one of his first provocative human rights actions in Hamburg. In June of 1968, about 10,000 children, sick and elderly starved to death every day in Eastern Nigeria, which had previously declared itself independent as the Republic of Biafra. In this war, hunger was used as a weapon. The British Labour-government and the Soviet Union, under Brezhnev, provided military support, economic aid and political backing for the Nigerian aggression against Biafra. Back then, two million Ibo lost their lives. As there were no political initiatives to stop the genocide, Zülch – who was a student of Economics and Politics back then – and Klaus Guercke, a student of Medicine, started the initiative "Aktion Biafra-Hilfe" in 1968, unaware of the fact that they had founded an international human rights organization.
"A for Auschwitz – B for Biafra"
Soon, people from very different social circles joined the "Aktion Biafra-Hilfe": pastors, doctors, workers, employees and students. Furious because of the international community’s failure to act, the dedicated human rights activists answered with drastic and evocative newspaper ads, placards with accusatory slogans such as "A for Auschwitz – B for Biafra", and with strong appeals that were signed by influential personalities such as Ernst Bloch, Paul Celan, Günter Grass, Erich Kästner, Golo Mann, Marcel Reich-Ranicki or Martin Walser.
Also, there was more than just the public actions: Tilman Zülch traveled to Biafra himself and saw the extent of the genocide with his own eyes. Upon his return, he intensified his efforts and started more initiatives. During this time, the idea of continuing the "Aktion Biafra-Hilfe" as a human rights organization matured. The "Society for Threatened Peoples" was officially founded in 1970 – an organization aiming to protect and to enforce the human rights of ethnic and religious minority groups all over the world.
Since 50 years: a struggle against genocide
There is hardly any country in the world of which we have not yet addressed the political leadership with kind pleading, clear demands or persistent accusations during the past four decades. Being the only human rights organization based in the German-speaking countries, we are committed to work for ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, indigenous communities and nationalities. Further, we oppose to any cultural, religious, ethnic or racial oppression. Our top priority, always, is to work against genocide and displacement.
The STP’s "weapons" to demand or defend human rights are phone calls, letters, e-mail and postcard campaigns, demonstrations, vigils, press releases, interviews and lectures, as well as online petitions. Our successes clearly show how effective these means can be. Also, we have maintained our ideologically unobstructed point of view. The United Nations and the Council of Europe recognized our politically independent and consistent human rights work – and have granted the STP a consultative and participatory status as a non-governmental organization.
"Not turning a blind eye"
Often, the STP’s work resembles the battle of David against Goliath. Even so, we have never resigned. We have been drawing attention to the dangerous situation of ethnic and religious minorities – with perseverance – and providing politicians and corporations with details about human rights violations for the past decades.
Since 1968, the motto of the Society for Threatened Peoples is "Not turning a blind eye". Persecution, extermination and expulsion, the establishment of concentration and rape camps are crimes – anywhere and at any time, in the past and in the present. We cannot undo crimes of the past. We can, however, try to put an end to today's crimes.
Header photo: Fritz Berger