Symposium to commemorate 20th anniversary of Rwandan genocide

A collection of photos that appear in a Rwanda massacre memorial.

Rwanda massacre memorial. Photo: Shkuru Afshar

Will also honor legacy of human rights activist Alison Des Forges

Release Date: April 11, 2014 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. – This year marks the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, in which an estimated 800,000 people lost their lives over 100 days beginning in April 1994.

To commemorate this anniversary and honor the memory of Alison L. Des Forges, an internationally known historian and human rights activist, the University at Buffalo will present two events on April 24.

The first, an international symposium that will bring together some leading survivors of the genocide and experts on its origins, course and consequences, will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in 120 Clemens Hall, North Campus. The symposium is free and open to the public.

Later that day, a Scholarship Fund Dinner and Discussion will take place from 6:30-9:30 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.

Both events are sponsored by the Alison L. Des Forges Memorial Committee; the UB Humanities Institute, Office of the Vice Provost for International Education and Department of History; and Hodgson-Russ LLP.

One of the world’s leading experts on Rwanda, Des Forges was senior advisor to the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch at the time of her death in 2009 in the crash of Continental flight 3407 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.

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.

The symposium, “The Rwandan Genocide: 20 Years Later,” will feature six main speakers addressing three topics: “Justice for the Perpetrators,” “Healing for the Survivors” and “Contemporary Rwandan Politics.”

The panel on “Justice for the Perpetrators” will address what happened to the perpetrators of the genocide and how justice was sought and administered. Francois-Xavier Nsanzuwera, appeal counsel in the Prosecutor’s Office for the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Arusha, Tanzania, brought to trial and convicted some of the most egregious perpetrators of the genocide. He will assess the record of the tribunal and its legacy.

While those most responsible for planning and inciting the genocide were tried at the ICTR, thousands of the lesser figures implicated were judged by their neighbors in a process of popular justice called “gacaca” courts. Lars Waldorf, formerly head of the Human Rights field office in Rwandaandnow a professor at the Centre for Applied Human Rights at York University in the U.K., will evaluate the work of the gacaca courts and the results of these efforts at mass justice.    

The panel on “Healing for the Survivors” will focus on how the survivors of the genocide are coping and the consequences that have affected their lives. Buffalo resident Nicole Fox, a doctoral candidate at Brandeis University and newly appointed assistant professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire, has talked to dozens of Rwandan survivors about how they have been coping and how they have memorialized their loved ones.

Aimable Twagilimana, a native of Rwanda, professor of English at SUNY Buffalo State College and author of several books on the genocide, will talk about how history, culture and identity might be reimagined in post-genocide Rwanda — as Germans reimagined their country after the Nazis.

The third topic, “Contemporary Rwandan Politics,” will address how politics have changed in the country since the genocide: The majority Hutu were in power leading up to the genocide; now the minority Tutsi dominate the government. Jean-Paul Kimonyo, senior policy advisor to the president of Rwanda, will present an insider’s view.

Noel Twagiramungu, a Rwandan human rights activist who fled the country in 2005 to become a Scholar at Risk at Harvard University and is now a doctoral candidate in the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, will offer an insider-outsider view of the genocide and of Rwanda today.

Each of the panels will be followed by general question-and-answer periods, and then by small-group discussions led by the six principal speakers and seven others who are survivors of the genocide and/or experts on human rights and Rwanda.

All but two of these participants knew Des Forges well as colleagues in the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch, as co-workers at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, or as graduate students whom she mentored and/or protected. 

The Scholarship Fund Dinner held later in the day will provide members of the Buffalo community with an opportunity to speak with the 13 symposium participants and raise funds for 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 asked to make a donation of $100 or more to the fund; the full amount over $40 is tax deductible.

For more information about the symposium, contact Roger Des Forges at 716-885-6828 or For reservations, contributions or further information about the Scholarship Fund Dinner and Discussion, contact Helene Kramer at 716-866-3876 or

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