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A Voice for the Victims: Alison Des Forges and the Genocide in Rwanda

The human rights expert and historian documented the killings in 1994. She died last month in a plane crash near Buffalo, New York, at age 66. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

Alison Des Forges was an American-born human rights expert and historian. She was one of fifty people killed in a plane crash on February twelfth near her hometown of Buffalo, New York. She was sixty-six years old.

For almost twenty years, until her death, Alison Des Forges was senior adviser to the Africa division of Human Rights Watch. In nineteen ninety-four, she did her best to warn the world that Rwanda was sliding into genocide.

She was in the United States when the killing began. But she was able to persuade diplomats to move some people out of the most threatened area.

She spent the next four years documenting the events, and the world's failure to intervene. She wrote a book, published in nineteen ninety-nine, called "Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda."

Members of the ethnic Hutu majority killed Tutsis and moderate Hutus. By some estimates, around eight hundred thousand people were killed; Alison Des Forges felt more sure saying at least half a million. She talked with people on both sides: those who organized the killings and those who were targets.

She had a doctorate in history which she received from Yale in nineteen seventy-two. She wrote her dissertation paper on Rwanda. Almost thirty years later, she received a MacArthur Fellowship for her work on the genocide that took place there.

It began in April of nineteen ninety-four after a plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, both Hutus, was shot down. The killings ended three months later after Tutsi rebels fighting a civil war defeated the Hutu government.

Alison Des Forges demanded justice for the genocide victims. She appeared repeatedly as an expert witness at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. But she also called attention to thousands of killings by the rebels in reaction to the genocide.

She became unpopular with the former rebels who now lead the government. Late last year, she was banned from the country she loved after Human Rights Watch criticized Rwanda's legal system.

Most recently, she worked on a report about killings in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Alison Des Forges often worked with members of the International Crisis Group. The group which works to prevent conflicts remembers her as someone who always spoke for the victims.

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Steve Ember.