A tribute to Alison Des Forges – killed on flight 3407
An even greater tragedy emerges from the tragic plane crash in Buffalo two days ago. First my only worry was for my brother as the plane crashed a mile from his house. Then as we watched the awful footage, I’m sure we were all thinking of the terrible suffering of those families. But there is an even greater loss to all of us.
Among those killed is the incomparable historian and human rights activist Alison Des Forges. The human rights community and all peace-loving people have lost an irreplaceable advocate in Alison Des Forges. Alison authored the definitive work on the Rwandan genocide: Leave None to Tell the Story, which is the Human Rights Watch report on the horror that was Rwanda. I have never read a work more timely, relevant or comprehensive: detailing root causes, thirty pages of early warnings that the Rwandan genocide was coming and dire predictions of how the unchecked killing would destabilize the Great Lakes Region, i.e. the Congo.
Everything she foretold came to pass. Her book is an example of scholarship that truly mattered, that both changed lives and saved lives. Alison was an activist in the field and knew Rwanda well. Her book was defining testimony at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda trials, where she herself repeatedly testified on behalf of the victims – it was also used in the national trials in Belgium and as the foundation for the later United Nations inquiry into the genocide.
Alison was an example to me, someone I deeply respected, whose work helped push me through my Ph.D. years: I relied on her work heavily to write my chapter on Rwanda in my dissertation. More than any other scholar, Alison made me realize that international human rights law is not an abstract debate: its enforcement saves lives, communities and nations. The lack of political will to enforce it gave us Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur and the Congo.
Alison represented all that is best in humanity. Her scholarship was held to a standard that the rest of us can only hope to emulate – it mattered in the real world, in real time. She leaves behind a legacy that will stand the test of time: a legacy of justice on behalf of the Rwandan people and the most ennobling form of compassion and human decency. We truly could not afford to lose a person of her moral calibre and courage. She is an example to all of us.
May God exalt her to the highest place in Paradise and support her family and friends through their loss.
Editor in Chief
Muslim Girl Magazine
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