Alison Des Forges

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Alison Des Forges
Alison Des Forges.jpg
Alison B. Liebhafsky

(1942-08-20)August 20, 1942
DiedFebruary 12, 2009(2009-02-12) (aged 66)
Cause of deathPlane crash
Alma mater Radcliffe College
Yale University
Known forHuman rights activism
Roger V. Des Forges(m. 1964)
Children2 [2]

Alison Des Forges (néeLiebhafsky) (August 20, 1942 – February 12, 2009) was an American historian and human rights activist who specialized in the African Great Lakes region, particularly the 1994 Rwandan genocide. At the time of her death, she was a senior advisor for the African continent at Human Rights Watch. She died in a plane crash on 12 February 2009. [3]

African Great Lakes Series of lakes in the Rift Valley

The African Great Lakes are a series of lakes constituting the part of the Rift Valley lakes in and around the East African Rift. They include Lake Victoria, the third-largest fresh water lake in the world by area, Lake Tanganyika, the world's second-largest freshwater lake by volume and depth, and Lake Malawi, the world's eighth-largest fresh water lake by area. Collectively, they contain 31,000 km3 of water, which is more than either Lake Baikal or the North American Great Lakes. This total constitutes about 25% of the planet's unfrozen surface fresh water. The large rift lakes of Africa are the ancient home of great biodiversity, and 10% of the world's fish species live there.

Rwandan genocide 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda during April–July 1994

The Rwandan genocide, also known as the genocide against the Tutsi, was a mass slaughter of Tutsi and moderate Hutu in Rwanda, which took place between 7 April and 15 July 1994 during the Rwandan Civil War.

Human Rights Watch New York City-based non-governmental organisation

Human Rights Watch (HRW) is an international non-governmental organization, headquartered in New York City, that conducts research and advocacy on human rights. The group pressures some governments, policy makers and human rights abusers to denounce abuse and respect human rights, and the group often works on behalf of refugees, children, migrants and political prisoners.



Des Forges was born Alison B. Liebhafsky on August 20, 1942, to Sybil Small and Herman A. Liebhafsky. She married Roger Des Forges, a historian at the State University of New York at Buffalo who specialized in China, in 1964. Des Forges earned her B.A. in history from Radcliffe College in 1964, and her M.A. and a PhD in the same discipline from Yale University in 1966 and 1972. Her master's thesis and doctoral dissertation both addressed the impact of European colonialism on Rwanda. [2] [1] [4] Defeat Is the Only Bad News: Rwanda under Musinga, 1896–1931, her dissertation, was published posthumously in 2011. Describing the politics of the court during the reign of Yuhi Musinga, it shows how divisions among different groups in Rwanda shaped their responses to colonial governments, missionaries and traders.

Radcliffe College former womens college in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Radcliffe College was a women's liberal arts college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and functioned as the female coordinate institution for the all-male Harvard College. It was also one of the Seven Sisters colleges, among which it shared with Bryn Mawr College, Wellesley College, Smith College, and others the popular reputation of having a particularly intellectual, literary, and independent-minded female student body. Radcliffe conferred Radcliffe College diplomas to undergraduates and graduate students for the first 70 or so years of its history and then joint Harvard-Radcliffe diplomas to undergraduates beginning in 1963. A formal "non-merger merger" agreement with Harvard was signed in 1977, with full integration with Harvard completed in 1999. Today, within Harvard University, Radcliffe's former administrative campus is home to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and former Radcliffe housing at the Radcliffe Quadrangle has been incorporated into the Harvard College house system. Under the terms of the 1999 consolidation, the Radcliffe Yard and the Radcliffe Quadrangle retain the "Radcliffe" designation in perpetuity.

Yale University private research university in New Haven, Connecticut, United States

Yale University is a private Ivy League research university in New Haven, Connecticut. Founded in 1701, it is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine Colonial Colleges chartered before the American Revolution.

Yuhi V of Rwanda King of Rwanda

Yuhi Musinga was a king of Rwanda who came to power in 1896 and collaborated with the German government to strengthen his own kingship. In 1931 he was deposed by the Belgian administration because of his inability to work with subordinate chiefs and his refusal to be baptized a Roman Catholic. His eldest son, Mutara III Rwanda, succeeded him.

She specialized in the African Great Lakes region and studied the Rwandan genocide. She was also an authority on human rights violations in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Burundi. [5]

Burundi country in Africa

Burundi, officially the Republic of Burundi, is a landlocked country amid the African Great Lakes region where East and Central Africa converge. The capital is Gitega, having moved from Bujumbura in February 2019. The southwestern border is adjacent to Lake Tanganyika.

Des Forges left academia in 1994 in response to the Rwandan genocide, to work full-time on human rights. [6] She was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1999, and became the senior advisor at Human Rights Watch for the African continent.

She died on February 12, 2009, in the air crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407, en route from Newark, New Jersey, to her home in Buffalo, New York. [2]

Colgan Air Flight 3407 2009 aviation accident in the US

Colgan Air Flight 3407, marketed as Continental Connection under a codeshare agreement with Continental Airlines, was a scheduled passenger flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Buffalo, New York, which crashed on February 12, 2009. The aircraft, a Bombardier Dash-8 Q400, entered an aerodynamic stall from which it did not recover and crashed into a house in Clarence Center, New York at 10:17 p.m. EST, killing all 49 passengers and crew on board, as well as one person inside the house.

Newark Liberty International Airport Primary airport in Newark, New Jersey

Newark Liberty International Airport, originally Newark Metropolitan Airport and later Newark International Airport, is one of the major airports of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and is located in the U.S. state of New Jersey. The airport straddles the boundary between the cities of Newark and Elizabeth, the former of which is the most populous city in the state. The airport is owned jointly by the cities of Elizabeth and Newark and leased to and operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Buffalo Niagara International Airport Airport near Buffalo, New York, USA

Buffalo Niagara International Airport is in Cheektowaga, New York, United States, named after the Buffalo–Niagara Falls metropolitan area. The airport serves Buffalo, New York and the southern Golden Horseshoe region of Ontario, Canada. It is the third-busiest airport in the state of New York and the busiest outside of the New York City metropolitan area. It is about 11 mi (18 km) east of Downtown Buffalo and 60 mi (97 km) southeast of Toronto. The airport covers 1,000 acres of land.

Witness to Rwandan genocide

Des Forges is thought to have been the most knowledgeable American on the genocide as it was unfolding. She was on the phone to Monique Mujawamariya in Rwanda in April 1994 when Mujawmariya apologised for putting down the phone as she did not want Des Forges to hear her die. Mujawmariya lived, but her reports meant that [7] Des Forges was one of the first outsiders to observe that a full-blown genocide was under way in Rwanda, and afterwards led a team of researchers to establish the facts. [8] She testified 11 times before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and gave evidence about the Rwandan genocide to panels of the French National Assembly, the Belgian Senate, the US Congress, the Organisation of African Unity, and the United Nations. [4]

Monique Mujawamariya Rwandan activist in Canada

Hon. Dr. Monique Mujawamariya is a Rwandan human rights activist who moved to Canada and then South Africa. She was a survivor of the Rwanda Genocide and she won an international award in 1995. In 2014 she was living in South Africa where she is concerned with women's rights.

International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda International court established by the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 955

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was an international court established in November 1994 by the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 955 in order to judge people responsible for the Rwandan genocide and other serious violations of international law in Rwanda, or by Rwandan citizens in nearby states, between 1 January and 31 December 1994.

Organisation of African Unity organization

The Organisation of African Unity was established on 25 May 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with 32 signatory governments. One of the main heads for OAU's establishment was Kwame Nkrumah. It was disbanded on 9 July 2002 by its last chairperson, South African President Thabo Mbeki, and replaced by the African Union (AU). Some of the key aims of the OAU were to encourage political and economic integration among member states, and to eradicate colonialism and neo-colonialism from the African continent. Although it achieved some success, there were also differences of opinion as to how that was going to be achieved.

She wrote the 1999 book Leave None to Tell the Story, which The Economist [8] and The New York Times [2] both describe as the definitive account of the Rwandan genocide. In the book, she argued that the genocide was organized by the Hutu-dominated Rwandan government at the time, rather than being a spontaneous outbreak of tribal conflicts. [5]


Africanist René Lemarchand states, "That the story of Rwanda is at all known in the United States today owes much to the work of Philip Gourevitch and Alison Des Forges." [9]

The Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism is named after her; until 2009 it was known as the Human Rights Defenders Award. [10] [11] It is given out by Human Rights Watch. [10]


Related Research Articles

Provinces of Rwanda

The provinces of Rwanda are divided into districts (akarere) and municipalities (umujyi). Prior to January 1, 2006, Rwanda was composed of 12 provinces. The Rwandan government decided to establish new provinces in an attempt to address issues that arose from the genocide against the Tutsi in 1994.

The Rwanda Defence Force is the national army of Rwanda. The country's armed forces were originally known as the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR), but following the victory of the Rwandan Patriotic Front in the country's civil war in 1994, it was renamed to the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), and later to its current name.

Since Burundi's independence in 1962, there have been two events called genocides in the country. The 1972 mass killings of Hutus by the Tutsi-dominated army, and the 1993 mass killings of Tutsis by the majority-Hutu populace are both described as genocide in the final report of the International Commission of Inquiry for Burundi presented to the United Nations Security Council in 1996.

Dismas Nsengiyaremye served as Prime Minister of Rwanda from 2 April 1992 to 18 July 1993.

<i>The New Times</i> (Rwanda)

The New Times is a national English language newspaper in Rwanda. It was established in 1995 shortly after the end of the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi Rwanda genocide. The paper states that it is privately owned, with two shareholders. They also have a Rwandan local language (Kinyarwanda) weekly called Izuba Rirashe.

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René Lemarchand is a French-American political scientist who is known for his research on ethnic conflict and genocide in Rwanda, Burundi and Darfur. Publishing in both English and French, he is particularly known for his work on the concept of clientelism. He is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Florida, and continues to write, teach internationally and consult. Since retiring he has worked for US AID out of Abidjan as a Regional Consultant for West Africa in Governance and Democracy, and as Democracy and Governance advisor to USAID / Ghana.

Human rights in Rwanda

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Elena Milashina is a Russian investigative journalist for Novaya Gazeta. In October 2009, she was awarded Human Rights Watch's Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism. She continues investigations started by her colleague Anna Politkovskaya, who was assassinated in Moscow in 2006, and her own independent investigations into occurrences in the North Caucasus.

Rwandan genocide denial is the assertion that the Rwandan genocide did not occur in the manner or to the extent described by scholarship. The Rwandan genocide is widely acknowledged by genocide scholars to have been one of the biggest modern genocides, as many sources point to the sheer scale of the death toll as evidence for a systematic, organized plan to eliminate the victims.

Role of France in the Rwandan genocide

The role of France in the Rwandan genocide of 1994 has been a source of controversy and debate both within and beyond France and Rwanda. France actively supported the Hutu-led government of Juvénal Habyarimana against the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front, which since 1990 had been engaged in a conflict intended to restore the rights of Rwandan Tutsis both within Rwanda and exiled in neighboring countries following over four decades of anti-Tutsi violence. France provided arms and military training to Habyarimana's youth militias, the Interahamwe and Impuzamugambi, which were among the government's primary means of operationalizing the genocide following the assassination of Juvénal Habyarimana and Cyprien Ntaryamira on April 6, 1994.

Jean-Baptiste Habyalimana (1950–1994) was the prefect of Butare in Rwanda who was killed during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. He was the only Tutsi prefect at the time of the genocide, and also the only prefect belonging to the Liberal Party. He had resisted the genocide. Agnès Ntamabyaliro Rutagwera was implicated in arranging his murder.

Arwa Othman is a Yemeni writer, journalist, human rights activist and former Minister of Culture (2014–15) in the cabinet of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi. Human Rights Watch has cited Othman as one of the "most outspoken activists calling for human rights and gender equality" during the 2011 Yemeni Revolution.

Natalia Taubina is a human rights activist.

Sussan Tahmasebi is a human rights activist. She leads FEMENA, an organization which promotes human rights and peace. She is a founding member of the One Million Signatures Campaign in Iran. She was awarded the Human Rights Watch's Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism.

Timothy Paul Longman is a professor of political science and international relations at Boston University. A protege of Alison Des Forges, he is recognized as one of the top authorities on the Rwandan genocide and its legacies.


  1. 1 2 "9/11 widow, MacArthur Fellow, jazz musicians among victims" (2009-02-13). USA Today. Retrieved February 13, 2009.
  2. 1 2 3 4 Chan, Sewell (2009-02-13). "Alison Des Forges, Human Rights Advocate, Is Dead at 66". New York Times. Retrieved February 13, 2009.
  3. Straus, Scott; Waldorf, Lars (April 18, 2011). Remaking Rwanda: State Building and Human Rights after Mass Violence. Univ of Wisconsin Press. p. xiii. ISBN   978-0-299-28263-9.
  4. 1 2 "Alison Des Forges". Human Rights Watch. Archived from the original on February 12, 2009. Retrieved February 13, 2009.
  5. 1 2 Bigg, Matthew (February 13, 2009). "Key human rights advocate dies in U.S. plane crash". Thomson Reuters. Reuters. Archived from the original on February 16, 2009. Retrieved February 14, 2009.
  6. "Alison des Forges" Archived February 17, 2009, at the Wayback Machine . United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved February 13, 2009.
  7. , Papicek, 9 April 2009, European Tribune, Retrieved 1 March 2016
  8. 1 2 "Obituary, Alison Des Forges". The Economist. February 19, 2009. p. 88. Archived from the original on February 27, 2009. Retrieved March 6, 2009.
  9. Lemarchand, René (2009). The Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 88. ISBN   978-0-8122-4120-4.
  10. 1 2 "HRW to Honour Six Human Rights Defenders".
  11. "Alison Des Forges Award for Extraordinary Activism". Human Rights Award Index. Archived from the original on April 11, 2016. Retrieved March 30, 2016.