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Symposium, scholarship dinner to honor life of Alison Des Forges


Published April 4, 2013

Alison Des Forges

The Alison Des Forges Memorial Committee will present two events on April 16 to highlight the current human rights crises in the Middle East and in Central Africa, as well as honor the memory of Des Forges, an internationally known historian and human rights activist.

A symposium on “Human Rights in the Middle East and Central Africa: Comparisons and Contrasts between Rwanda and Israel” will take place from 1-5 p.m. in 509 O’Brian Hall, North Campus.  It will be free and open to the public.

Later that day, the committee will host a Scholarship Fund Dinner and Discussion from 6:30-9 p.m. at the Jacobs Executive Development Center, 672 Delaware Ave., at the corner of Delaware and North Street, Buffalo. Reservations are required for the dinner.

The theme for the symposium springs from an article in The New York Times last December on the current situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where an estimated 4 million people have died in conflict over the past several years. In the article, correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman referred to Rwanda as “the Israel of Africa,” arguing that both countries use their history of genocide as a rationale for military action affecting their neighbors.

The symposium will address such questions as, Does Gettleman’s comparison of Rwanda and Israel have merit? Are there other ways in which Israel and Rwanda are similar or different? Why is Syria in the news and Congo is not? What are the roles of the United States in these two important world regions and what should they be?

Three speakers will attempt to answer these questions. Ken Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, will examine “Are there Parallels between Rwanda’s and Israel’s Experience and Conduct?” Howard French, associate professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism who has reported extensively on the political affairs of Western and Central Africa, will discuss “Guilt, Oversimplification and Inattention in Perspectives and Policies toward the Great Lakes Region of Central Africa.” Uri Zaki, director of the U.S. branch of B’Tselem, Israel’s pre-eminent human rights organization, will address “Israel at 65—Democracy, Occupation and In Between.”

Commentators will include UB faculty members Tara Melish, associate professor and director of the Buffalo Human Rights Center, UB Law School, and Shaun Irlam, professor and chair of the Department of Comparative Literature, and a student of the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide. Also serving as a commentator will be postdoctoral scholar Nimer Sultany of the Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy, UB Law School.

In addition to The Alison L. Des Forges Memorial Committee, the symposium is co-sponsored by the Baldy Center, Buffalo Human Rights Center, UB Gender Institute, the Anne Frank Project at Buffalo State College and the Western New York Peace Center.

The Scholarship Fund Dinner is designed to foster dialogue with the Buffalo community and to raise funds to support the Alison L. Des Forges Memorial Scholarship Endowment Fund at UB.

The fund supports four-year scholarships at UB for promising Buffalo public school students interested in pursuing a course of study and career in human rights.

Those attending the scholarship dinner are encouraged to make a donation of $100 or more to the fund; the full amount over $35 is tax deductible. For reservations or to make a contribution, contact Helene Kramer at 866-3876 or

One of the world’s leading experts on Rwanda, Des Forges was among the victims of the 2009 crash of a Continental Connection flight in Clarence Center. She was an adjunct member of the UB history faculty during the 1990s and received an honorary doctorate from SUNY during UB’s 155th general commencement ceremony in 2001.

She served as senior adviser to the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch for the last 20 years of her life. Her book, “Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda,” is a landmark account of that event and her tireless efforts to awaken the international community to the horrors of the genocide earned her much recognition, including a MacArthur Foundation Award in 1999.