In Memory of Ralph Sprenkels

Last week we heard the devastating news that our valued former colleague and friend, Ralph Sprenkels, passed away. We still cannot fully comprehend that Ralph is no longer with us. His passing is a tremendous loss, first and foremost, for his family, loved ones and friends, but also for all those who had the privilege to work with him or who were witness to his incredible work. Our heartfelt sympathies and deepest solidarity.  


My personal memories of Ralph go back to the 90s, to the time when I was living in Guatemala. I started to hear stories of a tall Dutchman who was living in El Salvador and doing inspiring work helping the population and victims of the armed conflict deal with the legacies of war. People would refer to him as an exemplary human rights activist, who was also co-founder of one of El Salvador’s most outspoken Human Rights organisations, ‘Pro Busequeda de Niñas y Niños despararecidos’.  I hoped I would get to meet him one day.  When I finally met Ralph, first in Guatemala and later in The Netherlands, where our paths crossed again as we both continued our human rights and transitional justice work around Central America, it confirmed all of the wonderful things I had heard about him. Ralph was a dedicated and talented researcher able to translate research into tangible activism on behalf of the most disenfranchised, but more importantly an inspiring human being, kind, with great humanity, and modesty. When, at the beginning of 2015, our paths crossed again in Guatemala, I half-jokingly suggested that he should come work with Impunity Watch; I never thought he had taken my comment seriously, but to my great joy, he kept me to my word. Just one or two months later, Ralph became the Research Director at Impunity Watch. Very quickly, he also became a highly valued and much-loved colleague to us all.


In the period Ralph worked with Impunity Watch, he helped shape important elements of our work, especially in relation to our research. Central to this – and reflecting his deep passion for helping victims from his days in El Salvador – was his pivotal work on our victim participation research in six different countries. Ralph also played a central role in designing a critical analytical study evaluating the field of transitional justice, developing a ‘practical guide on transitional justice support’ for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Dutch embassies. These products made an invaluable contribution to our work, and continue to underpin our current strategies and programmes.


During his time with us, Ralph went to extraordinary lengths to support his colleagues, in particular by encouraging and championing our junior staff. He loved working with students, and his passion for research inspired him to pursue his dream to work in academia by taking a position with the University of Utrecht. We would have dearly loved to have had more time to work with Ralph. But most of all we would have loved for him to have been with us for many more years, as the very special, man and person he was. This sentiment is something we share with everyone who had the joy to meet and get to know Ralph. It binds us and offers some consolation at least.


Impunity Watch staff and board will treasure many happy and inspiring memories of Ralph and we are indebted to him for the important legacy his work and his humanity is leaving behind. It will not go wasted. Our deepest solidarity goes out to his wife, his two children, and to all his loved ones.