Arusha, September 5, 2002 (FH) - After two days of strong objections by defence teams and intense debate, the Tribunal finally admitted on Wednesday, human rights activist, Alison Des Forges as an expert witness in the case of four former military officers. Her love affair with Rwanda started way back in 1963, in a Tanzanian refugee camp for Rwandans.

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At the time, she was a young university history student who went as a volunteer to teach English to Rwandan refugees on the western side of the Tanzanian lake region. Today, a researcher, historian and human rights activist, American, Alison Des Forges is still very much a part of Rwanda, her relationship with this tiny Central African country spanning over 30 years. Speaking softly but firmly, bespectacled and simple in approach, Des Forges answers questions put to her with deliberate emphasis and specification. This is the third time she will be testifying before the Tribunal as an expert witness. She first testified in the case of a former Mayor (of Taba) Jean Paul Akayesu (currently serving sentence). The second time was during a trial referred to as the 'Media Trial' involving three individuals accused of using the media to fan the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Des Forges testified in this trial last May. Now she is on the stand again, this time testifying in the high-profile 'Military Trial'. This trial groups four ex-military senior figures, whom the prosecution argues master-mined the killings of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 1994. Since Monday, the defence teams have tried their best to dismiss Mrs Des Forges as an expert witness. First, they argued that she would not be an impartial witness as she was sympathetic to the Tutsis having taught Tutsis refugees in the 1960s. However, she responded that there were Tutsis, Hutus and Twas in the refugee camps where she had taught, although majority were Tutsis. Defence teams stated that they were right to "very severely test the basis of this testimony" (of Des Forges). They even queried whether the activist is actually the author of a book on the Rwanda genocide, ("Leave None to Tell the Story") for which she is widely known, or whether she just drafted it. Des Forges already experienced strong opposition from defence teams when she was presented as an expert witness in the 'Media Trial'. Just like the defence teams in the 'Media Trial' those in the 'Military Trial' argued that Des Forges's knowledge of Rwanda's early history (she wrote a thesis on the history of Rwanda in the 1930s) did not make her an expert on the issues that their clients are dealing with. Then, they maintained she was not expressly trained on human rights issues. They further stated that she did not have particular knowledge in certain fields relevant to the trial such as military issues. "I have competence as a historian to describe military events - not weaponry, field strategy or other technical points," Des Forges told the court, in response to defence questions. She further added that she was in a position to dwell on the interaction between military and political events (on the genocide). The court allowed Des Forges to proceed with her testimony as an expert, overruling defence objections. She will testify on the history of Rwanda, human rights abuses and research, and observations of human rights violations. Des Forges's academic profile is dotted with prestigious American institutions, including a Ph. D. Masters in African History (Yale University, 1972,1966). Des Forges has worked extensively in the field of human rights, produced numerous publications, written many papers for international forums and received various grants and honours in this field. Just to name a few, she awarded the Social Sciences Research Council and American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship for research in Rwanda and Germany (1980-81). She also obtained (1967-69) the Foreign Area Fellowship for research in Rwanda, Burundi, Belgium and Italy. Des Forges dissertation at the Department of History (Yale, 1972) was awarded highest ranks in all categories. Des Forges's human rights activities and efforts to shed light on Rwanda and the 1994 genocide that occurred there have contributed to bringing her into the limelight. As Chief researcher on Rwanda and Burundi for Human Rights Watch Africa, between 1991 and 1994, Des Forges carried out at least 24 fact-finding missions to these countries. In 1992-93 she served as Co-President of the Investigative Committee on Human Rights Abuses in Rwanda. Her activities on human rights issues in Rwanda are probably most visible through her 800- page book "Leave None to Tell the Story. " Published in 1999 by Human Rights Watch and the International Federation of Human Rights the book is widely used as a reference source on the historical events leading up to the 1994 genocide. Indeed in admitting her as an expert witness in the 'Military Trial' the Tribunal stated that her latest works including her book ("Leave None to Tell the Story,") deals with the "more recent precursors," to the 1994 genocide and qualified her to render expert opinion. In addition to her research work, it would be unfair not to mention her language proficiency namely: French, German, Kinyarwanda and spoken Chinese. Des Forges, in her late fifties, does not at first glance strike one as the very reservoir of information that her personal data contains. It takes a bit of time to discover that her simple demeanour in fact belies a string of achievements. SW/FH (Des Forges-0905e)