Leading Rwanda Expert Killed in Plane Crash
February 13, 2009
Alison's loss is a devastating blow not only to Human Rights Watch but also to the people of Rwanda and the Great Lakes region.
Kenneth Roth, executive director

(New York) - It is with enormous sadness that Human Rights Watch announces the death of our beloved colleague Dr. Alison Des Forges, who was killed in the crash of Flight 3407 from Newark to Buffalo on February 12, 2009. Des Forges, senior adviser to Human Rights Watch's Africa division for almost two decades, dedicated her life to working on Rwanda and was the world's leading expert on the 1994 Rwanda genocide and its aftermath.

"Alison's loss is a devastating blow not only to Human Rights Watch but also to the people of Rwanda and the Great Lakes region," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "She was 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. Then she wrote the definitive account. There was no one who knew more and did more to document the genocide and to help bring the perpetrators to justice."

Des Forges, born in Schenectady, New York, in 1942, began working on Rwanda as a student and dedicated her life and work to understanding the country, to exposing the serial abuses suffered by its people and helping to bring about change. She was best known for her award-winning account of the genocide, "Leave None to Tell the Story," and won a MacArthur Award (the "Genius Grant") in 1999. She appeared as an expert witness in 11 trials for genocide at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, three trials in Belgium, and at trials in Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Canada. She also provided documents and other assistance in judicial proceedings involving genocide in four other national jurisdictions, including the United States.

Clear-eyed and even-handed, Des Forges made herself unpopular in Rwanda by insisting that the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front forces, which defeated the genocidal regime, should also be held to account for their crimes, including the murder of  30,000 people during and just after the genocide. The Rwandan government banned her from the country in 2008 after Human Rights Watch published an extensive analysis of judicial reform there, drawing attention to problems of inappropriate prosecution and external influence on the judiciary that resulted in trials and verdicts that in several cases failed to conform to facts of the cases.

"She never forgot about the crimes committed by the Rwandan government's forces, and that was unpopular, especially in the United States and in Britain," said Roth. "She was really a thorn in everyone's side, and that's a testament to her integrity and sense of principle and commitment to the truth."

Des Forges was not only admired but loved by her colleagues, for her extraordinary commitment to human rights principles and her tremendous generosity as a mentor and friend.

"Alison was the rock within the Africa team, a fount of knowledge, but also a tremendous source of guidance and support to all of us," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "She was almost a mother to us all, unfailingly wise and reasonable, absolutely honest yet diplomatic. She never seemed to get stressed out, in spite of the extreme violence and horror she had to deal with daily. Alison felt the best way to make things better was to be relentlessly professional and scrupulously fair. She didn't sensationalize; her style was to let the victims speak for themselves."

Corinne Dufka, another colleague who worked closely with Des Forges, wrote: "She always found the time to listen and helped me see outside the box. Alison inspired me to be a better researcher, a better colleague, a more giving mentor and a more balanced human being. She was also funny - her sardonic sense of humor, usually accompanied with that sparkle in her eye, lightened our burden."

An historian by training, Des Forges wrote her PhD thesis on Rwanda and spent most of her adult life working on the Great Lakes region, despite an early stint in China with her husband, Roger, a professor of history and China expert at the University of Buffalo.

Des Forges graduated from Radcliffe College in 1964 and received her PhD from Yale in 1972. She began as a volunteer at Human Rights Watch, but was soon working full-time on Rwanda, trying to draw attention to the genocide she feared was looming. Eventually, Roth had to insist she take a salary. She co-chaired an international commission looking at the rise of ethnic violence in the region and published a report on the findings several months before the genocide. Once the violence began, Des Forges managed to convince diplomats in Kigali to move several Rwandans to safety, including the leading human rights activist Monique Mujawamariya.

As senior adviser to the Africa division at Human Rights Watch since the early 1990s, Des Forges oversaw all research work on the Great Lakes region, but also provided counsel to colleagues across the region and beyond. She also worked very closely with the International Justice Program because of all her involvement with the Rwanda tribunal.

"The office of the prosecutor relied on Alison as an expert witness to bring context and background and detailed knowledge of the genocide," Roth said. "Her expertise was sought again and again and again by national authorities on cases unfolding in their courts of individuals facing deportation, or on trial for alleged involvement in the genocide."

Most recently, Des Forges was working on a Human Rights Watch report about killings in eastern Congo.

Des Forges leaves a husband, a daughter, and a son, three grandchildren, a brother and a sister-in-law. The staff of Human Rights Watch expressed their deepest condolences to her family and friends.


If you would like to send a private message of condolence, please email tribute@hrw.org or submit a public comment here.



The Washington Post Editorial: "Bearing witness to Rwanda's horrors, no matter who the victims were."


Huffington Post "A Heroine for Human Rights"

The Washington Post "Scholar Presaged Rwanda's Tragedy"

The New York Times "Alison Des Forges, 66, Human Rights Advocate, Dies"

ABC News "The Faces of Flight 3407"

BBC News "Genocide expert dies in US crash"

CNN "Leading light in African human rights killed in Buffalo crash"

International Herald Tribune "Key human rights advocate dies in U.S. plane crash"

The Guardian "Obituary: Alison Des Forges"

The Economist "Obituary: Alison Des Forges"


It is with shock and sadness that I write to express my sympathy to
Dr. Alison Des Forges' family and colleagues at Human Rights Watch.

I had the honor of listening to Alison at Ohio University when she
graced our human rights week celebrations in 2008 with her inspiring
presence and expert exposition on human rights in Africa (Rwanda).

She whipped up the aspirations of many of us hoping to venture into the challenging yet necessary field with her passionate, informative, objective, and expert presentation. I was one of many students of human rights who could not resist approaching her after the program. I am glad I did; she kept my dream alive as we communicated subsequently.

Though her sudden departure has left a vacuum in the hearts of many, her work lives on. You remain an inspritation to the cause of human rights. We will always miss you, Alison!

T. Addai Balag'kutu

Alison swept into the car park of the Hotel Mille Collines in the first week of November 1994. Her hair, then more black than grey, long and striking. She was calm, determined, wise, knowing, and simply ... good. Or so it all seemed to me, very young, unknowing, uncertain, and recent arrival in Rwanda on behalf of the UN's human rights field operation, tasked with investigating a genocide. While others, like myself, come and go, flitting from one country and region to another, Alison has followed, led, accompanied, and been loyal to Rwanda and its neighbors for decades, through thick and thin. Always standing up for what was right, for rights; always willing to say what others would not; always willing to risk friction and more with the Governments whose lines she would not tow. To you, her immediate family, and to you in HRW her extended family, you can be proud. Even then, very young and unknowing in a car park that still carried the echoes of suffering, I was honored to walk in her shadow, to learn from her stance, and follow her guide. It was 15 years before I spoke with her again, at HRW, and the honor was only greater.

Ben Majekodunmi

Alison was a inspiration for us all at Medecins Sans Frontieres, especially in the darkest hours of the genocide and its aftermath. Her intelligence, grace and dedication helped light our path. Those of us who worked closely with her, and many more whom she inspired, mourn her loss and treasure the memory of her.

For Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders
Joelle Tanguy

Alison, you inspired us to work harder, think more deeply, and never forget our principles. You taught us to stay focused, ask the right questions, and think strategically. You helped us to learn from our failures and envision practical paths to a better world. Thanks to you, we became kinder, more generous, and better human beings. Your smile, your insights, and your grit will live in our hearts and minds forever. We owe you more than words can convey. Thank you for the legacy of your life and thanks to your family for sharing their treasure with us.

Frank Chalk
Director, Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies,
and Department of History, Concordia University

As a classmate of Alison from Yale History Dept. days in the 60s,
I wish to say goodbye and express my deepest sympathy for Roger and the

I do not think Alison ever imagined in her student days that she would
become personally involved in one of the 20th century's most horrifying genocides.
She rose to the challenge, and her work serves as an example for all of
us, particularly those of us working in the human rights field directly.

We can only hope that her work will enable us and inspire us to meet
whatever challenges the future may hold.

James H. Zimmerman
Country Specialist, China
Amnesty International USA

Deepest heartfelt condolences to Alison's family and friends and to those closest to her in both continents. I have recently returned from Rwanda and the DRC - finding myself there to pay homage, respect and offer humble prayers and presence of heart in the mourning period commemorating the 15 years passing of the genocide and to those suffering still. I sent prayers and gratitude to Alison while there.... into the lushness of the hills and to the flowers and singing birds... into the stillness and wind and into innocent beautiful Rwandan children's eyes.

I had the privilege of visiting and touring Rwanda with Alison and HRW in 2005. After meeting her for all of about 2 seconds I realized I was in the presence of a true hero. We meet few people in our lifetime who we know- without a doubt - were put on the planet for the most powerful and clear of reasons. Alison fought tirelessly for - and inspired - so many people - holding light, truth, strength, courage and justice beyond belief in her tiny physical frame. I am grateful and honored to have had the chance to learn and be inspired by her work and life. Jennifer Buffett

I never had the privilege of meeting Dr. Des Forges. I have several friends who treasured her for her courage and in-sight. Her name is spoken in reverance for her moral ethics and compassion.
Our world was blassed to share her important journey. May her work continue.
Mary Sean O'Reilly

Our Alison

By Xueting
Feb 22, 2009

In the picture of Alison which posted in this website,it was Alison’s typical expression:
Those crystal clear eyes can only belong to who has the purest mind;
The expression of sorrow from her eyes can only emit from the kindest and mercy heart;
Her eyes make Bigwigs feel shame; her eyes expression makes us full of hope.
Alison dedicated her life to human rights. With her intelligence and fairness she became the spokesman and protector of vulnerable people. Her principle, her mercy, her kindness made her a mother, a mentor, a guardian of human justice. She is a pretty lady with giant heart.

These praises are from all over the world for Alison: a hero, defender, mentor, expert, noble soul, authority, extraordinary, exceptional, integrity, wisdom, generous, humor, gentle, charm, commitment, solidarity and reconciliation, honesty, compassion, faith, vision, determination, outstanding, dedication, profoundly humane, steely, scientific credibility, extraordinary courage, unparalleled, remarkable, endless generosity, demeanor, quality thinking and even-handedness, challenges to power, a source of inspiration.

But for our family, she is our dearest friend. She is our loved one, our family! -- From the first day I came to America, Alison’s family has been our friend for 20 years.

Allison and her husband Roger, and their children have visited and lived in China many times. Alison was an Africa historian and expert, Roger is a Chinese history expert and professor. Roger has many Chinese Students. They have an outstanding son and a daughter, three lovely grandchildren. They have a very harmonious warm home: loving parent with lovely children.

Allison is such a person who truly followed the principle of “Shendu (慎独)”---which is Chinese word for describing a person living with principles, doesn’t matter in public places or private places. Alison was such a person who “does not do an evil thing even if it is very small, do a good thing even if it is not big”. Who believes that no bad behavior is too small to ignore and no good deed is too small to miss. But to friends she was full of love and caring. When I did not know much English and did not know much about America custom and culture, she always helped me. Because of her unique insight, understanding, and sympathy, she will give you help without embarrassing you, whenever you need the help.

A Friend of Alison’s family called me from China and said “Do you know her home doesn’t’ have much unnecessary and luxury things?” There is no big color TV. There is a small car that is not used very often. Roger regularly rides bike to work. They rarely use plastic bag. They collect organic waste and turn the waste into organic fertilizer. What they have most are the books, and friends from many different countries and places. She consumed very limited nature resources, but returned unlimited payback to nature and human society.

Her home and her heart were open to many Chinese students, visiting scholars, and African refugees. We are fortunate to become her family’s friend. Almost every Thanksgiving and Christmas we celebrated at her home in the past 20 years. I still clearly remember last Christmas when we came back to Buffalo from Virginia and went to her home with her family. I still remember: her tender eyes looking at my daughter reading a story to her granddaughter and watching my son poking into the fire in the fireplace. With gentle smile she wisely pointed out my husband’s strange views on some issue. At the dinner table, she was quietly listening to me telling my plan and my dream. She gave me so much encouragement and so many suggestions. But now, she has left us, so suddenly!

God is unfair! It is not fair! I cried over and over again: Why, why you took her away from us? Under the Christmas tree, by the Thanksgiving dinner table, how could there be no her? God, are you also in such need of her to defend the justice in heaven?

Oh, No! Heaven should be no massacre, should be no disputes! Please God, let her rest in peace in your arms. She was too tired.

Dear Roger: The profound grief is no longer just yours; it is our family’s and all of her friends’ – everyone who knew her, met her, or even never met her. Alison became an Angel to all of us. Under her feather wings, her boundless wings are shielding us: forever warming us and guarding us. Her life is continued and extended into the lives of each of us.

Alison is our forever pride!

Alison’s departure forever changed our lives. Thinking about her, recollecting her past become the part of our daily lives!

Let us pray: wish the 49 souls with Alison in heaven rest in peace. They are forever missed by Buffalo people.

Feb 22, 2009 
At Buffalo, New York

悼念艾丽森女士 --A poem from Chinese community by Yu-Dier posted by LXT

序:她是学者,她是非洲人权运动中的女贞德,她是帮助过许许多多中国学生和非洲难民家庭的亲人和忠实的朋友, 她是社区中热心学校教育的组织筹划人,她是真挚诚恳风趣善良的邻居,她是恩爱携手六十年的妻子,她是一位无微不至、慈爱聪慧的母亲。深深打动我的,是她清澈的眼神和永恒的微笑。素不相识,但似乎早就相交已深...玉笛儿.

Buffalo, New York

I am deeply sorry about Alison. I only met her briefly while volunteering for Human Rights Watch but was touched by her work and commitment. It is a big loss for all of us who care about human rights.

Rachel Romano

Like so many of you who have posted comments, and so many millions who understood the moral and legal and profound truth-telling impact of Alison des Forges' work, I can only add my sorrow, condolences and committment to keeping her name, her work, her flame for justice alive in all our hearts, and for successive generations to come.

In my own work, going forward, I hope to do much more about the issue of war-rape and genocide as a burning issue that Alison worked on, one that deserves deeper documentation, understanding and far deeper global attention and action. She was at the top of my list of critical thinkers and feminists who have learned and thought deeply about the gendering of genocide and I will so regret not having a chance to really talk about this with her. But her legacy, so strong and deep, will continue to inspire and have its impact. What an absolutely wonderful person. I salute her and her life and her magnificent legacy.

All blessings on her family.

Anne-christine d'Adesky
Journalist, Author,
'Moving Mountains: The Race to Treat Global AIDS'

I first spoke with Alison Des Forges on 7 April 2004 but it was many years before I had the priviledge of eating with her in Bujumbura. I can think of no other human rights activist who would generate the depth and sincerity of the words on this incredibly moving site. Her knowledge and expertise, the humanity with which she conveyed them and her use of them were unique. My thoughts are first and foremost with her family, but also with the victims and survivors of human rights abuses in the Great Lakes with whom she has worked or for whose rights she has fought so hard and for so long.

Alison Dilworth
Former researcher, Amnesty International

he following is a tribute that was written Saturday February 13th following the news of the tragic loss of Alison Des Forges. It is posted on the African Arguments website where colleagues and friends have left personal messages of memory and tribute


Last Thursday night, we lost an outspoken and cherished activist, analyst, and friend, and a “most valuable player” of the Great Lakes family of analysts. Alison’s colleagues and friends in Africa, the United States, and in Europe cannot shake the irony that she survived war zones and patched-up Antonovs in remote locations of the globe, and was taken from us on a short, routine flight home to upstate New York, a flight she has taken countless times.

Alison was that rare breed of analyst who moves easily from university lecture halls, to high-level policy meetings, to modest hostels in the field, with the same unpretentiousness that she brought home to Buffalo. She had a kind grandmotherly smile that invited nervous first-year graduate students to approach her, and a devilish twinkle in her eye that always made me think that she had something really good up her sleeve that would win her the argument at just the right moment. In the last 48 hours of email disbelief, countless colleagues and friends have recounted how she helped launch their career or introduced them to the Great Lakes. My 20-something year old program assistant who’s mulling over graduate and field work in the Great Lakes and to whom I introduced Alison a couple of months ago, exclaimed in an email, “But she has been a role model for me!”

Alison, who cut her professional teeth on chronicling, analyzing, and speaking out about the 1994 Rwanda genocide, did not hesitate to speak out against the growing political repression and alarming authoritarian tendencies shown by the Rwandan government in recent years. This did not earn her points in Kigali—in fact, once the darling of the Rwandan government, in recent years she was banned from entering the country. Unlike so many Western analysts who entered the Great Lakes region through the Rwanda genocide and who today insist that President Kagame can do no wrong, Alison’s lenses remained clear and sharp. While others became Kigali’s apologists, Alison spoke out loudly against Rwandan aggression in the region and repression at home. It is rare for an analyst to give up that kind of access for principle.

Today, with Rwandan and Ugandan troops back in the DRC in what many of us see as a back to the future of 1998 moment, Alison’s sharp analysis and outspoken voice will be sorely missed. But she has taught us that good research and solid activism can and should be linked. And that we must hold even our friends to account, as we should hold ourselves. It is now our job to pick up where Alison left off.

Tatiana Carayannis
Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum

I was very touched when I met Alison in Brussels at the HRW office during a jury meeting of the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, for she exuded such passion for her work. I had also read 'Leave None to Tell the Story' - her work was remarkable! a true inspiration. The human rights movement will miss her. I would like to extend my deepest condolences to her family.

Simia Ahmadi
Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders (MEA)
and Jury for FIDH

This is a loss that is all too real. The world is blessed that Alison's wonderful legacy will continue to teach and inspire for generations. Humanity was lucky with this one. Rest in peace.

Fondly, S.​

Dr. Alison Des Forges was one of my Professor's at CAL/Berkeley, who touched my life and exposed me to the story of the genocide in Rwanda. Her courage, sense of justice and accountability, and work for humanity is just immeasureable. What a great loss, not only to this nation, but also to the world. She will forever remain a part of my life!

Farzana Choudhury

Joining her countless admirers around the world, we write with deep sadness for the tragic loss of Alison Des Forges. We at the Scholar Rescue Fund recently had the good fortune of her direct support and guidance when we needed her thoughts in connection with a complex evaluation of a genocide-accused Rwandan Scholar. Alison was outspoken in her support for him – a man she’d never met. To us she offered her uniquely authoritative insight into Rwanda and the region. Showing no signs of fatigue, only grace and humility, she called us in the late night hours from London in the days just before her death, helping us through difficult questions about Rwanda’s tragic past and its significant challenges today. We keep Alison’s family and friends in our thoughts as we celebrate this incredible human being. Alison Des Forges will be deeply missed.

Scholar Rescue Fund
Institute of International Education

When I decided to do my postgraduate dissertation on reconciliation and justice in Rwanda some 7 years ago I referred to Dr Des Forges work throughout. Her understanding of the genocide and its history was matched only by her commitment to justice and the people of Rwanda. I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to meet her when I attended a conference in London back in 2002 which was a very humbling experience for me; to meet someone who I had long admired and have the opportunity to ask questions from the ‘expert’. This is a great loss for her family, the people of the Great Lakes region and all who strive for justice.

My deepest sympathy, Joanne McAlroy, Christian Aid

One of the few voices speaking about what is really happening in the Great Lakes. She will be missed by all of us who care deeply about the future of the region.

Judith Melby
Christian Aid

I join others in expressing my deep shock at the death of Alison. My interaction with her was just after the 1994 genocide when she helped facilitate the safe passage to North America of some friends who had fled to Nairobi, and her willingness to give testimony in the case of someone else who is being tried at the Arusha Tribunal. Her courage to speak out and defend the cause of justice was truly remarkable. Her passing is a great loss to the people of the Great Lakes region.

Karimi Kinoti, Christian Aid

This is an absolute tragedy and a huge loss for the search for justice, peace and truth in the Great Lakes region and globally. Alison's work was unique in many ways. Christian Aid has worked quite closely with Alison in the past. When I saw the news about the plane crash on TV I had a pang of fear knowing that it happened around Buffalo, where Alison lives and that she would be returning home, but I dismissed it from further worry, thinking that the worst could not possibly happen... I was in a meeting with her so recently. This is like a bad dream.
Shuna Keen, Senior Governance Officer
Christian Aid

I never had the privilege of meeting Dr. Des Forges, but -- like so many others -- I have read her tremendous report on the Rwandan genocide. "Leave None to Tell the Story" is the primary source for the thesis that I am currently finishing. While I was never able to speak to Dr. Des Forges, her dedication, bravery, eloquence, commitment to justice and human rights, and tireless advocacy in the Great Lakes region shine on through her work. She is an inspiration to all, and on a personal level, an enormous part of the reason for my research into human rights abuses and determination to make a difference. For that and for her courageous stand against all human rights abuses regardless of the identity of the perpetrators, I am grateful for the time that Dr. Des Forges spent on this earth.

Heartfelt condolences to the Des Forges family and to her friends and colleagues. If I am so affected by her passing, I cannot imagine how difficult this must be for those who knew her. This is an unspeakable loss. Rest in peace, Dr. Des Forges.

Lynne Powers
Amherst, MA

Statement on the Death of Alison Des Forges

Gordon Duguid

Acting Deputy Department Spokesman, Office of the Spokesman

Public Affairs

Washington, DC

February 17, 2009

The Department of State wishes to express its sincere condolences to the family and friends of Alison Des Forges. Her untimely death last week in the tragic plane crash in Buffalo will be felt widely throughout the international human rights community and by all those who have been touched by her work. She established a tremendous reputation as a human rights expert, historian, and as an intrepid and committed defender and promoter of human rights.

Dr. Des Forges’ years of dedicated work documenting the Rwandan genocide created a definitive account of the genocide – echoed in her testimony before several international and national genocide trials – furthered the cause of justice, and established a high standard for others to follow in the future. Her groundbreaking work is one of the reasons policymakers, academics, and students are able to draw on and learn from one of the 20th century’s most important case studies and tragic events. She will be sorely missed.

Je me joins à toutes celles et à ceux qui ont connu, croisé cette formidable petite femme, cette grande dame.
Pour avoir travaillé plusieurs mois avec Alison à la mise au point de la version française FIDH de son rapport "Leave none to Tell the Story" je garde le souvenir exquis d'une personne si sympathique, combattive, et si déterminée... Infatigable Alison, soucieuse de vérité, d'exactitude. Son travail de mémoire sur la tragédie rwandaise, elle le voulait perenne. Il fallait dire, dire et continuer à dire. Ce livre ne devait pas se refermer. "The story must be told" en était l'épilogue. "The story must be told" a constitué plus largement l'objet d'une mission dont elle s'est inlassablement chargée et acquittée avec un courage énorme.
Une grande perte pour tant de gens.

Formidable Alison, love for ever.

Valérie Mello

Alison often visited me in my office at the State Department when I was Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues during the Clinton Administration. With her sadly penetrating eyes and knowing smile, she always told me the truth and more than once shamed me into acting for the sake of humanity. We all mourn her tragic death knowing, however, that she made historic contributions to the principles of international law and justice which we must remain committed to advance, not only in her memory but also because she left us no choice.

David Scheffer
Mayer Brown/Robert A. Helman Professor of Law
Director, Center for International Human Rights
Northwestern University School of Law
Chicago, Illinois

To HRW: I learned last night of the death of Dr. des Forges while watching Bill Moyers Journal. I am heartbroken for HRW and for the human rights community.
I first learned of her work when I was an editor at Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies. In that position, I began to take courses in international relations and history, and I soon became drawn to the history of Rwanda and the systems that led to the 1994 genocide. Of course, her definitive work soon landed on my bookshelf. Dr. des Forges's commitment to truth and justice and her exhaustive research into the genocide inspired me to return to graduate school and pursue a doctorate in the history of human rights.
I extend my deepest sympathies to Dr. des Forges's family, friends, and colleagues. And I recommit my own work to her memory.
Nancy Hamlin Soukup, M.Div.
Doctoral Student, Boston College History Department
Program Associate, Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life, Brown University

I wish to express my condolences to Alison’s family, colleagues, and friends. Alison’s grace, compassion and dedication touched so many. We have all lost a hero.

Laurel Baig
UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

La première fois que j'ai rencontré Alison, j'ai, immédiatement été frappé par sa compétence et son sens du terrain. Elle parlait du Rwanda, elle parlait de la région des grands lacs africains. Ses mots étaient vrais. Ses mots étaient les mots de quelqu'un qui savait de quoi elle parlait. Des mots forts, des mots qui évoquaient un vécu : des gens rencontrés, des gens respectés, des gens aimés. Elle parlait des gens qu'elle avait connus, et dont elle évoquait la mémoire après les terribles moments de 1994. Et puis, elle parlait de ceux qui étaient encore vivants, de ceux qui se battaient pour la vérité, de ceux qui se battaient pour la justice. Avec, en permanence, ce souci de la précision, de l'exactitude, pour, précisément, être crédible, et convaincante. C'était cela la force d'Alison. C'est cela qui la différenciait des autres. Il y avait, chez elle, une force intérieure incroyable. C'était son destin. C'était sa vie. Elle vivait pour cela. A chaque fois que je l'ai revue, à Paris, à Washington, à Bruxelles, j'étais épaté par l'incroyable énergie de ce petit bout de femme. Elle est, pour nous tous, un exemple, une lumière. Pour nous qui continuons le chemin de la vie, elle restera une référence. La prochaine fois que j'irai à Kigali, je me recueillerai devant le mausolée construit en hommage aux victimes du génocide de 1994. Je penserai aux Rwandais victimes de la folie humaine. Je penserai aussi à Alison./.

Jean-Christophe Belliard, Ambassador of France to Ethiopia​

I had the incredible privilege of working for Alison, who was my supervisor at HRW when I was in Rwanda, 2005-2007. She had so many Rwandan friends and contacts that she managed to know exactly what was going on in Rwanda, even though she was usually several thousand miles away in Buffalo or New York City. Generous with her information and ideas, she never treated researchers as sources of information, but always as human beings, as individuals. She cared more for the state of the knowledge on Rwanda and the Great Lakes region than for her own individual career, and constantly inspired others to become involved, to think through the issues, or to re-consider their ideas.

Human rights work is intellectually and logistically challenging, sometimes confusing, and extremely tiring. Alison never flagged. She was always supportive, always available to give advice. Her visits to Rwanda were intense, packed with meetings and fieldtrips. She would be up by 6 and only sleep at midnight, after a dinner meeting and some work on her little laptop. Although several decades younger than her, I found it difficult to keep up with her pace! Occasionally things would go wrong – flights would be delayed, interviewees wouldn’t show, or access to officials would be withdrawn. Alison would always be graceful in the face of such problems, always understanding even though she was under constant time pressure. I remember one memorable ‘challenge’: our jeep full of VIP HRW-supporters breaking down, in the Rwandan mountains, in the rain, with darkness approaching. Somehow we managed to get to a village and organise transport back to Kigali for our VIPs. Any other boss would have been hopping mad. Alison just got the job done, with a wry smile on her face, and gently made fun of me (the hapless driver) the next day. Despite being one of the most famous and respected experts on the Great Lakes, she lacked the ego that most people would develop had they been in her shoes.

Some things that come to mind when I think about Alison – watching her deftly dodge the questioning of a Rwandan security officer in a remote village, all the while somehow getting him to answer a series of her own questions; her enthusiasm about rigorous intellectual inquiry, which frequently led her to talk to students and local researchers for hours at a time (even though her schedule was always packed); her wry sense of humour, which when combined with her incredible memory, made for some hilarious and usually irreverent anecdotes ; and the fact that while in Rwanda she seemed to talk to her husband every evening, no matter how crazy her work life was at that point. She was fiercely committed to her work, but she was clearly just as committed to her family.

I’ll miss Alison on many levels, and for many reasons. She is someone whom it is impossible to forget.

Chris Huggins

HAD NONE ELSE TO CARE OF THEM,TO KNOW WHO THEY ARE,TO HAVE MERCY OF THEM.She had a mission from on high and she achieved it.She has been a mother for all those who found themselves on planet Earth as in the middle of jungle.She has been the first to draw the attention of the wold on the horrible tragedy of the rwandeese genocide at the time where so many kept silence giving an approval to those who were killing children women and old persons. BY her strong stand against killers she refused to be lenient with criminals, by her denonciation of the actual rwandeese regime she has choosen to stand
side by side with those who who would die for truth and justice.
may she rest in the hands of the most high living GOD.

A friend in RWANDA.

Whilst we mourn Alison’s passing, let us also celebrate her life. What a brilliant beautiful woman she was. To her family, what a privilege you had to have her. You never knew me, but I know you. When she visited Arusha she always talked so much about all of you. It is so nice to know that she had such a great family who loved her supported her and laughed with her.

I met her in 2002 when she was giving evidence in the Media Trial. I had the privilidge of leading her evidence in the trial together with my friend Simone.To me she was a friend, a mother, a mentor and role model. I knew her as a woman of great integrity, compassion, courage who empowered and encouraged others. Whenever she came to Arusha she would step into my office and we would spend whatever time she had to spare (she was always so busy) exchanging stories of her children, and her grandchildren with little anecdote of what they were doing and how they were growing. During those times, she always had words of encouragement, and advice for me with my children and any other personal issues I was dealing with. At the same time we would discuss work, the witnesses we were taking their impact on the case, her testimony in court, the situation in Rwanda.

As I reflect on the fact that she has gone too soon and left such a void. I recall that it has been said that what your life really amounts to is not the dates on your tombstone, but the dash in between. For Alison, it is the dash that speaks so much to all of us who knew her worked with her and loved her. That dash was filled with the fight for justice,where she was a tireless and fearless fighter for human rights. A dash where she had a family and raised two wonderful children. I always wondered how it was possible to archieve so much in her proffesion yet have such a perfectly balanced family life.Her life was indeed a testament to hard work, family and good deeds. As Henry Wadsworth says;

“Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us Footprints on the sands of time"

Charity Kagwi Ndungu
Trial Attorney International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

I just learned the horrible news about Alison Des Forges. What an awful tragedy, for HRW and for the people of central Africa. I mainly had a telephone relationship with Alison from my years as Africa Editor at NPR. I remember being struck by her intense dedication to the cause of protecting human rights in Rwanda and the region, by her towering intellect, and by what a nice person she was.

Please pass my deepest sympathies on to the rest of the HRW family.

Paul Glickman
News Director
Southern California Public Radio

To the Des Forges Family,

It is with a heavy heart that I extend to you my sympathies. Although I am aware that my words are hopelessly inadequate, please know that my thoughts are with you. Alison's mark on the world will not soon be forgotten.

Sincerely yours,

Robert Vanwey
Graduate Student
Department of History, University at Buffalo

I am deeply shocked and saddened and I want to express my condolences to Alison's family and friends. I've read her, and used her extraordinary work extensively. I met her only a couple of times but I was profoundly impressed by her generosity and her gentleness but also her intelligence and independence of mind. She will stay in the memory of many of us, in the humanitarian community.

Rony Brauman
Médecins Sans Frontières

Que votre âme repose en paix. Mais la pierre que vous aviez apportée pour la paix bâtira un jour l'unité dans la divergence du peuple des grands lacs.

Simao Bokolo

I was at Alison’s engagement at the Royal Commonwealth Society on Wednesday 11th February 2009. Alison was part of a panel debate on contemporary Rwanda with Joel Kibazo, Andrew Mitchell, Patrick Smith and Vincent Gasara. She struck me as at once dispassionate in her analysis yet passionate in her delivery. None of the co-panelists met her argument that Rwandan laws criminalising genocidal ideology are overly broad and indicative of a shrinking political space. I feel privileged to have seen this woman in action. My condolences to you and her family.


Lee Solomons
Student, LLM International Human Rights Law
University of Essex

All of us at the Office of Special Investigations join Alison Des Forges’ countless friends, co-workers, and admirers around the world in mourning her loss today. Her death is a tragedy that leaves us in shock. We struggle to find adequate words to convey our grief. It was an enormous privilege for my OSI colleagues and me to meet with Alison and to benefit, time and again, from her vast knowledge and unparalleled insights. She pursued justice on behalf of the victims of genocide with unmatched tenacity, consummate integrity, and legendary passion. The world is surely a lesser and more imperiled place without Alison Des Forges working in it every day, under the aegis of Human Rights Watch, to save this planet from the venomous group hatreds that cause so much suffering. Perhaps it is possible to find some comfort, and even encouragement, at this searingly painful time in the knowledge that her extraordinary life’s work will surely continue to inspire others to toil in service of human rights and human decency.

Please accept the heartfelt condolences of everyone at OSI on the loss of your valued friend and esteemed colleague.

In deepest sympathy,

Eli M. Rosenbaum
Office of Special Investigations
Criminal Division
United States Department of Justice

Chers collègues,

C'est grande émotion que je viens de recevoir la nouvelle de la mort tragique et subite de notre référence de défenseur et militant des droits humains en la personne de la regrettée militante Alison Des Forges.

A mon nom et à celui de toute ma famille, nous présentons les condoléances les plus attristées à la famille de la regrettée en particulier et à celle de HRW en général. Que la terre de nos ancêtres lui soit douce et legérère.

Samuel Bicera BOROTO
Human Rights Defender

I have worked a lot with Alison during the past twenty years, and we've been through hard and great times together. I'm losing a mother, a sister, a mentor and a friend. I'm too devastated right now to say more. I miss her terribly, and I wish Roger, her children and grandchildren, whom she all loved so much, the courage that I'll need too to deal with this tragic and unexpected loss.

Filip Reyntjens Ph.D.
Professor of Law and Politics
Institute of Development Policy and Management (IOB)
University of Antwerp

I was shocked and deeply sorry when I heard the news while I was in Central African Republic. Alison des Forges was more than an inspiration. I remember with emotion meeting her in New York for the first time few years ago and last year in Burundi. She represented everything I admire in a human rights activist and in a human being. Her dedication to truth, knowledge and rightousness was difficult to match. Her memory will inspire forever all the ones who knew her and the ones who know of her work. The human family has lost one of its most wonderful members.

With sincere affection,

Eduardo Garcia Rolland
IRC Child Protection

I wish to express my deepest condolences to Alison’s family, colleagues, and friends. Alison’s grace, compassion and dedication touched so many. We have all lost a hero.

Laurel Baig
UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

At the last minute, I decided to attend the Royal Commonwealth Society debate about Rwanda on February 11 in London. I am so glad I did. Alison Des Forges had a powerfully sympathetic presence and was the most articulate, knowledgeable and even-handed of all the participants on the subject of whether Rwanda should be admitted to the Commonwealth. I feel honored that I was able to shake her hand afterwards and thank her for her perceptive, quick and witty contributions, to have been among the last group of people to hear from her and sense her profound compassion and respect for human rights.

I am grateful that, as a member of the London Human Rights Watch Committee, I learned of this event, and grateful to Human Rights Watch for giving a platform to this inspired and inspiring individual. My deepest condolences to her family and to the many people who lived with and worked alongside her and knew her well--how lucky you were to have had her in your lives. It was such a shock to hear of her untimely death. Carpe diem. She did.

Laura Mosedale, Human Rights Watch Committee, London

In a world in which death in a wide variety of forms, including plane crashes, makes much of the daily news, there is the serious risk of getting our senses numbed into passivity. The situation changes dramatically when we know the victims personally. News of Alison’s death in a plane crash was not only a personal tragedy for those who knew her, but also sent shock waves to all those who knew her devoted service to human rights and humanitarian causes. My relationship with Alison and her husband, Roger, went back to our days at Yale University. We later reconnected when we participated in numerous meetings over the years. I saw her passionate advocacy in attempts to stop the Rwandan genocide, document it, and address its aftermath. Her devoted service to public causes extended to tireless advocacy for human rights in particular. And she did all this with remarkable objectivity, courage and dignified humility.

Coming from a part of the world where tragedy is commonplace, I have come to see death and life as closely connected. Culturally, our people see immortality through the memory of the dead by the living: relatives, friends and the wide circle of people one has touched in one’s lifetime. By that criterion, Alison will certainly be remembered by large numbers of people. Her memory will also remain a source of inspiration for those who knew her and worked with her. My heartfelt condolences go to her family and her colleagues at Human Rights Watch.

Francis M. Deng​

Nous avons appris le décès de votre collaboratrice, Alison Des Forges, dans le crash d’un vol, aux Etats-Unis, le 12 février dernier, et je tenais à m’associer aux très nombreuses voix qui ont exprimé leur peine, pour lui rendre hommage, au nom d’Amnesty International France, vous dire notre tristesse, et partager l’émotion ressentie par ses collègues, ses amis, sa famille et par toutes celles et tous ceux qui ont eu la chance de la connaître ou de croiser un jour son chemin.

Avec nos plus sincères condoléances.

Geneviève Garrigos
Amnesty International France

Mr. Kenneth Roth
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch

February 20, 2009

Dear Ken Roth,

The Coalition for the International Criminal Court Secretariat sends our deepest sympathies for the recent passing of Dr. Alison Des Forges and wishes to acknowledge the brave and impactful life she led. Her tragic death is a significant loss for the human rights, peace and justice community worldwide. Alison’s tireless work as an expert on the Rwandan genocide established an incredible legacy that will continue to serve as an example for individual advocates and organizations working toward peace and a more just world. Alison’s contributions to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and other transnational proceedings were instrumental in prosecuting those responsible for the atrocities that took place in Rwanda. These steps toward ending impunity have paved the way for a more widespread international justice system. Allison’s commitment to securing justice was unyielding, and we share in mourning the loss of a truly remarkable activist.

Warm regards,

William Pace
Coalition for the International Criminal Court

Alison and I were high school friends at Niskayuna, where I was a year ahead of her. It was clear already there that she was in a class by herself. Our paths crossed again at Yale, where we would run into each other at the library. Since then, I was able to follow her career, in part thanks to NPR and was filled with admiration for her work. In spite of not having seen her for many years, I am filled with a tremendous sense of loss. I grieve with her family, with all those whose lives she touched, and for those whose lives she will not touch because of her untimely death. She truly embodied St. Teresa of Avila's words, which I am taking the liberty of modifying to emphasize their universality:
God has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which looks out
God's compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.

Elizabeth Meier Tilton
Boulder, Colorado

It was with great sadness that we have learned about the loss of Alison Des Forges. That she died so suddenly in this tragedy is still unbelievable for all of us.
As a scholar she has contributed with great tenacity, endurance and scientific precision to the fact, that the history and root causes of the genocide in Rwanda could no longer be ignored. Even a long time before the genocide, she was a tireless warner and did not accept any excuses by the international community who pretended not to know about the growing tensions in the country.
Her research has compiled such an abundance of facts and detailed analyses, that courts, research centers and the public will live on them for several generations. With her scientific effort, Alison provided the basis for all our following work on Rwanda and the DR Congo. Indeed, her research is the ground stone for the new historiography on Rwanda.
We were especially impressed and inspired by Alison’s ability to manage conflicts in a determined, diplomatic but still adamant way. For her, the victims of human rights abuses were always in the center of her interest. Herself, she acted as a mentor, as an advocate, a scientist or a witness on a truly reserved, but very efficient way.
Her death opens a gap that will never be filled again, because we, researchers, activ-ists, media, and especially the people in Rwanda and the DR Congo, owe her so much.
Our deep compassion is now for her family and her colleagues at Human Rights Watch,

With respectful regards
Ilona Auer-Frege, Ecumenical Network Central Afrika and the members from
Bread for the World
Diakonie Human Rights
Pax Christi
Vereinte Evangelische Mission

J'ai connu Alison en 1993. Elle était la leader de la Commission internationale d'enquête sur les violations des droits humains au Rwanda. J'étais membre de cette Commission d'enquête, délégué par la Fédération internationale des droits de l'homme (FIDH ).
Nous avons vécu ensemble des semaines très intenses, enquêtant sur des massacres et divers abus de droits, excavant des charniers, écoutant pendant des heures des témoins de tueries et divers acteurs sociaux, dans des conditions parfois dangereuses.

J'avais développé un  bon lien  avec Alison, qui m'avait demandé ensuite de participer à une autre mission d'enquête, en 1994, au Burundi, ce que je n'ai pu faire à cause de mes obligations à la direction d'un organisme de droits humains du Québec. Nous étions resté en lien quelques années ensuite. Puis, nous avons perdu le contact, même si je continuais de suivre de loin son action incessante pour documenter le génocide rwandais et en poursuivre les principaux responsables, pour dénoncer les nouvelles violations des droits humains dans la région, d'où qu'elles viennent, cherchant toujours à prévenir de nouvelles violations.

Alison était une femme d'une détermination d'acier, sans parti-pris, sinon pour les droits humains, d'un jugement sûr et nuancé, d'une grande ouverture et d'une grande attention aux autres. J'ai lu des témoignages recueillis auprès de ses voisins à Buffalo, où elle résidait, qui confirment sa grande humanité. Elle était d'une énergie sans relâche, alimentée par sa passion pour la justice et la vérité. Elle avait développé, par ses études et ses séjours dans la région une connaissance profonde de l'histoire et de réalité contemporaine du Rwanda. Elle a mené une action d'une envergure prodigieuse pour les droits humains dans l'Afrique des Grands Lacs.

Je suis tombé par hasard, la veille de la journée où j'ai appris la mort d'Alison, sur une citation Jean Jaurès, dans un article du journal Le Monde. " Le courage... c'est d'aller à l'idéal et de comprendre le réel."
Alison était une femme d'un très grand courage.

Sa mort m'a beaucoup attristé. Je suis aussi vivement conscient de l'immense perte que constitue sa mort pour le mouvement mondial des droits humains, dont elle était un dynamo.

Je me console un peu  en me disant que beaucoup de personnes vont garder, comme moi, un souvenir ému et  inspirant d'Alison Desforges. Et que le feu qui l'habitait va continuer d'alimenter l'action pour les droits humains.

André Paradis
Montréal ( Québec)