Counterterrorism, electoral politics focus of Des Forges symposium

Alison L. Des Forges.

Alison L. Des Forges, a UB history professor who helped call the world’s attention to the genocide in Rwanda.

By News Center Staff

Release Date: April 19, 2017 This content is archived.

Both the symposium and dinner honor the memory of Alison L. Des Forges, a member of the UB community who fought to call the world’s attention to another great humanitarian crisis: the genocide in Rwanda.

Counterterrorism measures that result in war crimes and crimes against humanity, and elections providing opportunities for racist demagoguery and nativist discrimination have been recent topics of discussion.

To enhance our understanding of the complex and sometimes counter-intuitive relationships among these concepts, experts from leading human rights organizations and universities in New York State will gather at the University at Buffalo on April 27 for a daylong “International Symposium on Counterterrorism, Electoral Politics and Human Rights.”

The free, public event will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in 107 Capen Hall, North Campus. It will be followed by a scholarship fund dinner in Buffalo that benefits students interested in human rights.

Both the symposium and dinner honor the memory of Alison L. Des Forges, a member of the UB community who fought to call the world’s attention to another great humanitarian crisis: the genocide in Rwanda.

Des Forges, an internationally known historian and Buffalo native, was an adjunct member of the UB history faculty during the 1990s. She was senior adviser 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.

The symposium will open with registration and welcoming remarks at 9 a.m., followed by panels focusing on Africa, Europe and the U.S.

The Africa panel, from 9:30-11 a.m., includes the following presentations:

  • "Human Rights in the Context of Elections in Burundi, Uganda and Rwanda"
    Sarah Jackson, deputy regional director, Amnesty International (via Skype), will discuss elections and human rights abuses in Burundi, Uganda and Rwanda.
  • "International Responses to Human Rights Crises in Sudan and Southern Sudan"
    Jehanne Henry, senior researcher, Africa Division, Human Rights Watch, will discuss Sudan and how international responses to crises there have been fueled by competing priorities, and other issues.
  • "Political Process, Inclusion and Citizen Satisfaction with Governance in West Africa"
    Ryan Dalton, program officer, Central and West Africa, National Democratic Institute, will discuss how activists in West Africa are working to make the political process more inclusive and to hold elected officials accountable.

The Europe panel, from noon to 1:30 p.m., includes the following presentations:

  • "Recasting Refugees as Terrorists: Populist Exploitation of the National Security Narrative in European Electoral Politics"
    Julia Hall, expert on counterterrorism and human rights, Amnesty International, will discuss the ways that political leaders have exploited the refugee crisis for electoral gain, and the necessity of confronting the notion that refugees bring terrorism to Europe and pose a threat to national security.
  • "European Complicity in U.S. Drone Attacks and Mass Surveillance"
    Eric Topfer, senior researcher and policy adviser, German Institute for Human Rights, will outline how revelations about the role of Ramstein Air Base in the U.S. drone war and the contribution of German intelligence to “targeted killings” have been explored through the parliamentary investigation of global mass surveillance and counterterrorism cooperation.
  • "Turkey’s AKP after the July 15 Coup Attempt: Moving toward End Game"
    Howard Eissenstat, associate professor of history, St. Lawrence University, will discuss the attempted military coup in Turkey, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan response, including the detainment of more than 100,000 and sacking more than 125,000 civil servants.

The United States panel, from 2-3:30 p.m., includes the following presentations:

  • "National Security and Human Rights in the U.S."
    Naureen Shah, director, Security with Human Rights, Amnesty International, will discuss ways in which the Trump administration has threatened human rights in the name of national security, the effectiveness of public resistance and barriers created by the normalization of a global war paradigm that has existed since the 9/11 attacks.
  • "U.S. Counterterrorism and Human Rights Post Presidential Election"
    Laura Pitter, senior U.S. national security counsel, Human Rights Watch, will discuss the dangers Trump’s counterterrorism campaign proposals pose, and the damage many of them have already done to U.S. national security, human rights, the rule of law and the ability of the U.S. to promote these values globally.
  • "National Security and Recent Changes in U.S. Immigration Policy"
    Nicole Hallett, assistant clinical professor of law and director, Community Justice Clinic, UB School of Law, will discuss the securitization of U.S. immigration policy and explore avenues for protecting the human rights of immigrants affected by these policies.

Sponsors include the Alison L. Des Forges Memorial Committee; Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy; Community for Global Health Equity; Department of Comparative Literature; the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion; Department of History; Humanities Institute; James Agee Chair in American Culture; Samuel P. Capen Chair, Department of Philosophy; Department of Political Science; and the Office of the Vice Provost for International Education.

Scholarship dinner

A scholarship dinner and discussion after the symposium will support an endowment that funds Alison L. Des Forges Memorial Scholarships for Buffalo Public Schools graduates demonstrating a strong interest in pursuing studies at UB related to human rights and social justice.

The dinner, which costs $100 per seat, takes place from 6:30-9:30 p.m. on April 27 at the Jacobs Executive Development Center, 672 Delaware Ave., Buffalo.

Reservations are required, and guests may RSVP by contacting Kathleen Curtis at 716-645-2077 or

Media Contact Information

Media Relations (University Communications)
330 Crofts Hall (North Campus)
Buffalo, NY 14260-7015
Tel: 716-645-6969