Alison Des Forges

Alison Des Forges

It sorrows me to report what I’m sure many of you have now learned, that Alison Des Forges, one of the great human rights workers and senior advisor to Human Rights Watch Africa Division, died in the plane crash of the Buffalo Continental Express flight on Thursday night, February 12, 2009.  I knew Alison back in the 1990s when we were both at HRW; I was at the Arms Division then, which had a great interest in arms transfers in the Rwandan conflict (at that point, pre-genocide), and she was working on the conflict for the Africa division.  She will be greatly missed, and our condolences and sympathy to her friends and family.

Alison L. Des Forges, a historian who documented the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and was an authority on human rights abuses in Central Africa, was a passenger on Continental Airlines Flight 3407 when it crashed near Buffalo on Thursday night, killing all 49 people on board. She was 66.

The death was announced by Human Rights Watch, the New York-based advocacy group where Dr. Des Forges, who lived in Buffalo, served as senior adviser for its Africa division.

Dr. Des Forges spent four years interviewing organizers and victims of the Rwandan genocide, in which she estimated that at least 500,000 people died. She testified before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, based in Arusha, Tanzania, and at trials in Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Canada. She also appeared on expert panels convened by the United Nations and what is now the African Union, as well as the French and Belgian legislatures and the United States Congress.

The MacArthur Foundation recognized her work with a $375,000 “genius” grant in 1999. Her book “Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda,” published that year, has been called a definitive account of the genocide.

“Her death is a devastating blow,” Kenneth Roth, the president of Human Rights Watch, wrote in an e-mail message Friday to the organization’s board of directors. “She epitomized the human rights activist — principled, dispassionate, committed to the truth and to using that truth to protect ordinary people.”

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