Born during the Second World War (1942) in Yugoslavia, Erich Weingartner spent 9 years as a refugee in Austria before emigrating to Canada in 1953. After graduating from McMaster University (1966) and Waterloo Lutheran Seminary (1969), he served as research assistant at the Lutheran World Federation in Geneva, before becoming Deputy General Secretary of the International Documentation Centre (IDOC) in Rome.
Beginning in 1978, he guided the Geneva-based World Council of Churches’ human rights policies as Executive Secretary of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs. In this capacity he travelled widely on every continent, specializing in conflict situations. He visited war zones in Lebanon, El Salvador, New Caledonia, the Philippines and Bosnia.
On behalf of the WCC, Weingartner opened direct contact with the (North) Korean Christians Federation (1985). After successfully negotiating with governments in both Pyongyang and Seoul, he arranged the first authorized encounter since the Korean War between delegations of North and South Korean Christians (1986), followed by three other such conferences in subsequent years.
In 1997 he became the first NGO representative to receive resident status in North Korea as founding Head of the Food Aid Liaison Unit (FALU) under the United Nations World Food Programme. Travelling through all provinces of the DPRK, he visited ports, rail yards, warehouses, nurseries, kindergartens, boarding schools, orphanages, hospitals, factories, farms and many families in their homes, both in rural and urban settings.
On his return to Canada, Weingartner assisted the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) during the establishment of diplomatic relations between Canada and the DPRK. This included a visit to North Korea in the year 2000 by a Canadian Parliamentary delegation, which he accompanied as adviser.
With financial assistance from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), Weingartner created the CanKor Report, a digital information service on North Korea that he edited from 2000-2012. In 2002, he was awarded a Human Security Research Fellowship at York University’s Centre for International and Security Studies in Toronto.
Following his retirement, he continued to act as consultant to various nongovernmental humanitarian organizations and ecumenical agencies. In addition to many books and papers, he authored a monthly magazine column entitled “The Justice Agenda” for 12 years. His most recent book is a biography of his father Philipp Weingartner, entitled A Journey of Faith Across a Turbulent Century. (2020, FriesenPress)