Friday’s Gratitude is back with Dr. Alison Des Forges one of the greatest human rights defenders of our time according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). It is a pleasure to introduce you to this extraordinary woman who has a special history with Rwanda.
It began in 1960 when she volunteered to teach English in a Rwandan refugee camp in Tanzania. Since then, her love for Rwandans has not wavered.
Who is Dr. Alison Des Forges?
She was born on August 20, 1942 in Schenectady, New York. She studied European history at Radcliffe College and continued her master’s degree at the prestigious Yale University in African Studies. She obtained the doctorate degree from the same university in African History in 1972. Her doctoral dissertation focused on the reign of King Yuhi Musinga. The title of her thesis was “Defeat Is the Only Bad News: Rwanda under Musinga, 1896–1931”.
After graduation, she spent two decades volunteering to improve public education in Buffalo. Over the years, she has taught at the University at Buffalo, SUNY College geneseo, SUNY Oswego, university of California, Berkeley, and Peking University. In the early 1990s, she moved to Rwanda as an academic activist and senior advisor to the Africa division of Human Rights Watch.
In 1992, Alison co-chaired an international commission to investigate human rights violations in Rwanda and published a report warning of early signs of genocide.
When the genocide began in 1994, she worked tirelessly to save people and urge world community leaders to stop the carnage. Her tireless efforts to educate the international community about the horrors of this event earned him a MacArthur Fellowship in 1999.
Subsequently, she served as an expert witness at trials in Canada, Belgium and Switzerland. She has testified at length in eleven trials of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), which met in Arusha, Tanzania.
She also provided evidence on the genocide in Rwanda to panels of the French National Assembly, the Belgian Senate, the British Parliament, the US Congress, the Organization of African Unity and the United Nations.
A human rights defender one day, always a human rights defender, she has also been one of the main critics of the current government of Rwanda for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Rwanda and Congo. Because of this towards the end of her life, she became the non grata person in Rwanda, forbidden to set foot in this Rwanda she loved so much and dedicated her whole life defending Rwandans from all walks of life, including those who put him out.
She was a defender of human rights, not the rights of governments. A human rights defender like Dr Alison Des Forges would never have betrayed her beliefs by stopping defending Rwandans following the change of government.
Her job was always in prisons, on the battlefields and in refugee camps. In short, wherever human rights were at risk of being violated.
Dr. Alison Des Forges died on February 12, 2009 in a plane crash near Buffalo in upstate New York, leaving all of humanity in mourning.
Please help me pay tribute to this life-size woman despite her small size. Rare are the holders of the doctorate degree who become active human rights defenders.
Dr. Alison Des Forges is a scholar who has put his intelligence and knowledge at the service of the most vulnerable.
In an article entitled “Alison Des Forges and Rwanda: From Engaged Scholarship to Informed Activism,” David Newbury and Filip Reyntjens point out that her entire life Dr. Alison has strengthened the link between two forms of engagement: scientific research and the promotion of rights and social justice.
HRW recognized her work, creating an “Extraordinary Activism Award” for a deserving individual chosen from around the world.
We will always remember Dr. Alison Des Forges, a compassionate woman, passionate about justice and an ardent defender of human rights in Rwanda and around the world. By her actions, her name is written in the history of humanity, because she is a person who has made a real difference in saving human lives.
Respect to Dr Alison Des Forges,niyubahwe!