Clarence Center

Terrible about Alison Des Forges.

The court trying alleged perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide was stunned Saturday at the death in an air crash of the top expert on the 1994 massacres, Alison Des Forges. Des Forges, 66, an expert advisor to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and human rights groups, was among the 50 victims of Thursday’s plane crash near Buffalo, New York. “It is with deep shock that the tribunal has learned of the tragic disappearance of Alison des Forges, “a spokesman for the UN tribunal based in Arusha, Tanzania, told AFP. “It is a great loss for the world of human rights, international justice and all humanity,” Roland Amoussouga said. “Alison was not only an expert but also a very committed militant.”

I was just re-reading Samantha Power’s A Problem From Hell a week or two ago, including this passage:

America’s best-informed Rwanda observer was not a government official but a private citizen, Alison Des Forges, a historian and a board member of Human Rights Watch, who lived in Buffalo, New York. Des Forges had been visiting Rwanda since 1963…Half an hour after the plane crash [that killed Habyarimana] Des Forges got a phone call from a close friend in Kigali, the human-rights activist Monique Mujawamariya. Des Forges had been worried about Mujawamariya for weeks because the hate-propagating Radio Mille Collines had branded her “a bad patriot who deserves to die.”…Now Habyarimana was dead, and Mujawamariya knew instandtly that the hard-line Hutu would use the incident as a pretext to begin mass killing. “This is it,” she told Des Forges on the phone. For the next twenty four hours, Des Forges called her friend’s home every half hour. With each conversation Des Forges could hear the gunfire growing louder as the Hutu militia drew closer. Finally the gunmen entered Mujawamariya’s home. “I don’t want you to hear this,” Mujawamariya said softly. “Take care of my children.” She hung up the phone.

She survived, though, and escaped Kigali, and she and Des Forges did their best to get the Clinton administration to act – to no avail.

Des Forges appeared as an expert witness in 11 trials for genocide at the ICTR, three trials in Belgium, and at trials in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Canada. Her book “No Witness Must Survive” is regarded as the reference work on the Rwandan genocide…Des Forges was also a senior adviser to Human Rights Watch, whose boss Kenneth Roth called her “truly wonderful, the epitome of the human rights activist – principled, dispassionate, committed to the truth and to using that truth to protect ordinary people. She was among the first to highlight the ethnic tensions that led to the genocide, and when it happened and the world stood by and watched, Alison did everything humanly possible to save people.”

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