Alison Des Forges, a Human Rights Watch senior adviser, was on her way home from a London trip where she discussed abuses of the Rwandan government with a member of the British Parliament.
Before she left New York City, that afternoon, she said she was not looking forward to taking a small plane to Buffalo in blustery weather. eBut she took it anyway,e said her husband, Roger, a University at Buffalo history professor and China specialist, by phone Friday.
Des Forges, 66, was known for her grace, humility and success that included a MacArthur "genius" grant, a book about the Rwandan genocide - "Leave None to Tell the Story" - and meetings with famous peace advocates, such as former President Jimmy Carter and Nelson Mandela.
Her human rights work included testifying as an expert witness at genocide- related trials in Tanzania, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Canada. The Rwandan government banned her last year after an accusing report about court trials that ignored case facts.
"She was an advocate for people who could not advocate for themselves, e said Helene Kramer, a family friend. eIt's a loss for everyone."
Des Forges and her husband met as Schenectady-area high school students and model United Nations members. Des Forges was secretary general.
"I felt that she was beautiful in both body and spirit," said Roger Des Forges, of the time when they first met.
Her focus on the lake region of eastern Africa and Rwanda and Burundi followed her volunteering, as a Harvard undergraduate, to teach Rwandan refugees. Her Ph.D. dissertation at Yale University about the Rwandan monarchy led the nonprofit organization Human Rights Watch to send her with a team to research ethnic tensions and political killings in 1992. Violence escalated, just as her report warned, and war began two years later.
"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," said a statement by Kenneth Roth, HRW executive director. Des Forges came to Buffalo with her husband in 1973, left a post as UB adjunct professor and helped found the Bennett Park Montessori school. Her son and daughter are now both married teachers living in the Boston area. She has three grandchildren.
"She was an incredibly intelligent, humble, selfless woman," said Kramer. "She believed so much in the rights of others."
- Michelle Kearns