The World Council of Churches (WCC) mourns the death of Leopoldo J. Niilus, former director of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA), renowned lawyer, peace negotiator and author of several writings on human rights and international affairs.
Niilus passed away on 9 February in Geneva, Switzerland.
In an official tribute from the WCC, issued on 10 February, Niilus was remembered as “mentor to a generation of ecumenical practitioners of international affairs”.
Born in Estonia, and educated in Argentina and the United States where he studied law at the Universidad de Buenos Aires and the Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Niilus joined the CCIA in the 1960s. “Under his leadership the CCIA became ever more directly engaged in ecumenical advocacy in support of “Third World” churches in the fields of human rights; militarism, peace and disarmament; and conflict resolution,” said Rev. Dr Hielke Wolters, WCC’s acting general secretary, in the tribute.
In recognition of his personal leadership in negotiations that led to the 1972 Addis Ababa Sudan peace agreement, the new Sudanese government decorated Niilus with its Order of Two Niles (First Grade).
A Lutheran layman, Niilus was strongly engaged with the Student Christian Movement in Argentina. He served as director of the Argentina section of the Christian Studies Center of the River Plate in 1966-1967, and was elected general secretary of the continent-wide Church and Society Commission for Latin America in 1968.
After leading the CCIA, Niilus became director for International Ecumenical Relations of the Middle East Council of Churches based in Geneva from 1982 to 1995, and simultaneously from 1988 to 1995 he served as consultant to the Lutheran World Federation in international affairs and human rights.
In the WCC's tribute, Wolters extended sincere condolences to his wife Malle Niilus and daughter Sylvia.