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Eyewitness Testimony: Alison Des Forges


The president’s plane, President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down in the early evening, around eight thirty, I believe, on April the 6th. At that time, it was early afternoon in Buffalo, New York, where I was at that time. Approximately, well, within the half hour of the shooting down of the airplane, Monique Mujawamariyaw telephoned me and said, “The President’s plane has been shot down. It’s over. It’s finished.” Meaning, there will be no saving us now. The violence is inescapable. I called her every half hour from that point on until some time, perhaps, twelve hours later.

With each phone conversation she obviously became more and more worried because she could see that the violence was approaching her side of the valley.

She was Hutu, but she was of mixed parentage, legally Hutu but her mother was Tutsi, and she had been a very obvious and open critic of the abuses of the government. That meant that she would almost certainly be someone on the list to be eliminated.

In one of these conversations she said, “They’re next door. I can see that they have taken the people from the house next door outside, and they’re shooting them.”

As we talked I could hear noises of gunfire, and then she said, “They’re at the door now.”

So I said, “Monique, stay on the phone. When they come in, give them the telephone, and perhaps that way, we can persuade them to leave you alone.” She said, “No, it won’t work.” And then she said, “Take care of my children.” And she hung up.

You can see for me it’s still a very emotional moment to remember that. And she fled out the backdoor of the house and I thought she had been killed.

Alison Des Forges, Human Rights Advocate, Rwanda

US based-human rights activist Alison Des Forges had worked on Rwanda for years before the genocide began. When violence started in April 1994, she focused all her energy on publicizing the genocide and trying to provoke strong international response.

Des Forges also established contact with human rights colleagues in Rwanda. As she spoke with one such colleague, Monique Mujawamariya, des Forges could hear the gunfire of approaching militia. Mujawamariya fled, and, unbeknownst to Des Forges, managed to survive by making her way to the Hotel des Milles Collines.

Des Forges was a committed advocate for human rights in Rwanda and throughout central Africa. Relentless, knowledgeable, and generous, she inspired and informed an entire generation of activists and scholars who became engaged in the issues of preventing and responding to genocide after 1994.

Alison des Forges was killed in 2009 in a plane crash outside Buffalo, NY, where she lived.