Des Forges GRD ’72, Rwanda expert, dies in plane crash

Alison Des Forges GRD ’72, one of the world’s leading experts on the human rights violations in Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, was among the passengers killed in the commuter plane crash outside Buffalo, N.Y., late Thursday. She was 66 and lived in Buffalo.

Her death was confirmed by Human Rights Watch, the New York-based organization for which she worked for nearly two decades as a senior adviser to its Africa division.

Alison Des Forges GRD '72, one of the world's leading experts on the human rights violations in Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, was among the passengers killed in the commuter plane crash outside Buffalo, N.Y., late Thursday.
Alison Des Forges GRD '72, one of the world's leading experts on the human rights violations in Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo, was among the passengers killed in the commuter plane crash outside Buffalo, N.Y., late Thursday.

Born in Schenectady, N.Y., in 1942, Des Forges wrote her doctoral thesis about Rwanda and began working for Human Rights Watch in the 1980s. She spent four years interviewing organizers and victims of the Rwandan genocide and testified at 11 trials at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda as an expert witness.

According to Human Rights Watch, Des Forges “dedicated her life and work to understanding the country, to exposing the serial abuses suffered by its people and helping to bring about change.”

“There was no one who knew more and did more to document the genocide and to help bring the perpetrators to justice,” Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Considered the definitive account of the Rwandan tragedy, her book, “Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda,” was published in 1999 — the same year the MacArthur Foundation awarded Des Forges a “genius grant” for her work.

Des Forges’ last research work for Human Rights Watch, still unfinished, was a report about the recent killings in eastern Congo.

After spending some time in Europe, Des Forges was returning home to Buffalo, where she lived with her husband, Roger Des Forges GRD ’71, a history professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo. Des Forges is also survived by a daughter, a son and three grandchildren.

Continental Connection Flight 3407, from Newark, N.J., to Buffalo, crashed about six miles short of the airport in Buffalo during a light snowfall Thursday night. Des Forges was among 44 passengers who were killed; four crew members, an off-duty pilot and one person on the ground also died.

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