The death of Alison Des Forges on flight 3407 last week is a terrible loss to all of us, the whole wide world. She was 66 and working til the day she died. It feels close to me since I only discovered her last year, but I read her daily for months and just knowing she is in the world has made it a little better since then. Now she’s dead and I need to say something but don’t have the words to do it justice. This is a blog and links are sufficient so I’ll go that route, but just have to say god bless her work and goddamn the world that created a need for it.
Huffington/Common Dreams: A Heroine for Human Rights.
Human Rights Watch: “…the epitome of the human rights activist”
Democracy Now! Interview with HRW Executive Director and video clips.
She was banned from her beloved Rwanda last year for insisting the Kagame government account for war crimes, scorned the forgiveness & reconciliation policy as empty therapeutics, was the first to call the massacres a genocide and wrote the definitive text, testified 11 times before the International Criminal Tribunal, and when the MacArthur Foundation recognized her with a “genius grant” she tried to give the money back. I’m struck that each one of these sentences could flesh out a book, but she also bargained for her own life with drunken militias at roadblocks, buried scores of nameless dead while saving countless others, and saw the genocide looming well before anyone else and pleaded with Washington to take action. About that she gives an unforgettable account of a visit at the State Department with Pru Bushnell, who would herself become utterly thwarted by the Clinton administration:
It was the very first meeting — perhaps it was the meeting after that. But I do remember a meeting where we were all sitting together there, four or five of us. She had a staff person with her. It happened that we were all women, and perhaps because we were all women, we weren’t afraid to cry. So we talked about the situation. I remember we then all cried, all of us. Then Pru took out her box of Kleenex and passed it around. We all blew our noses and she said, “OK, now what are we going to do next?” (via)
We all know how that turned out. But it took Alison Des Forges to make what’s rightly considered Biblical sense of it. Human Rights Watch has an active tribute page with hundreds of very moving comments in honor of her legacy, though my own favorite comes from the New Yorker: Apparently, anything Des Forges did that was connected with Rwanda, she did with all her might. And she managed to do it without the self-righteous territoriality that is the occupational vice of human-rights experts. Her attachment to the country and its people seemed neither saintly nor professional, but entirely human.</em>