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In Memoriam Coen Stork

10 November 2017

Written by Jos Kösters, former executive director of the NHC (1996-2009)

Coen Stork was a member of the Netherlands Helsinki Committee (NHC) for approximately a decade. He got involved with the work of the NHC in the final years of his ambassadorship in Romania. Back then, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs had asked the NHC to develop a human rights programme for Romania. The Romanian and Dutch governments decided to include support for human rights in their new bilateral relations. Coen advised the NHC who to talk to and he facilitated connections at the government and NGOs. As an ambassador critical of the Ceausescu regime during its final years, he gained a reputation. The new government and civil society respected him because of his stance.

After retiring from the civil service, Coen became a member of the NHC. He continued his role as liaison with Romania and as a supporter of the work of the NHC. He participated in the training programme for prison staff that the NHC implemented in cooperation with the Romanian Directia Generala a Penitenciarelor, the Netherlands Prison Service (DJI), Prison Reform International and Romanian NGOs (1994-1999). This programme was one of the first of many projects of the NHC in Romania, supporting governmental and non-governmental initiatives in the field of the rule of law and human rights. Coen contributed to all these NHC initiatives. His main motivation was to support those Romanians who were seriously committed to transforming Romania into a democracy that respects the rule of law and human rights. He was very critical towards the opponents of the Romanian democracy or those who were – in his opinion – not serious about the required reforms.

During the period I worked at the NHC I cooperated with Coen for many years. I have good memories of the visits we made together. For instance when we visited the prison in Chilia Veche, an isolated prison in the Danube delta in 1997. From the prison management in Tulcea, which had the final responsibility for the prison in Chilia Veche, and the local one we had gotten contradictory information with regard to the organisation of health care in the Chilia Veche prison. Coen and I wrote a critical report of our observations that we presented to the minister of Justice.

In 1999, we visited Bucharest inter alia to obtain support for the foundation of an independent institute on recent Romanian history that Coen wanted to establish with support of the Romanian government and civil society. The objective of the institute was to do independent research on the period of dictatorship in Romania (1938-1989). We met various high level authorities who could not refuse a request of Coen for a meeting. However, at the same time, the miners from Tirgu Jiu were marching again to Bucharest. Many authorities were concerned and nervous about what would happen if the miners would reach Bucharest. Despite these circumstances, Coen used all his diplomatic skills to promote the case. Partly due to his great endeavours, the Romanian Institute for Recent History was founded some years later.

For me it has been a great pleasure and honour to work with Coen Stork. I will always remember him.