By Arthur Lightbourn
When she was 6, growing up in her family’s modest home in Toronto, Canada, Rebecca Tinsley (nee Bryan) had a new word added to her vocabulary.
She had noticed that one of her mother’s tea party guests had numbers tattooed on her arm.
After the guests had left, Rebecca asked her mother why Mrs. Zlotnik, the Polish lady, had that tattoo.
Her mother, a former war correspondent, sat Rebecca down and with some books on World War II, told her about the Holocaust and introduced her to the word “genocide.”
“And I could never get past it. Just couldn’t,” Tinsley said. “Some people are motivated by wanting to feed the world or cure the world, for me, it’s the man-made things that we do to ourselves. We dehumanize our neighbor so that we can kill them. Propaganda, fear, hatred.”
Human right activist, novelist and former BBC political reporter Rebecca Tinsley is a leader in the ongoing campaign against genocide in the Darfur region of western Sudan, Africa.
She is founder Waging Peace, a London-based human rights group exposing the genocide in Darfur, and Network4Africa, a humanitarian aid nonprofit based in Del Mar that provides training and support for survivors to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of war and genocide in Africa.
Her latest novel, “When the Stars Fall to Earth,” based on true accounts of survivors she interviewed, tells the story of five young Darfuri survivors of the genocide.
Tinsley estimates that “at least” some 300,000 have lost their lives and 2 million people have been driven from their homes in the genocide that began in 2003.
We interviewed Tinsley last week following her talk to students at UCSD’s Communication/Media center.
Since 2004, when Tinsley and her activist friend, Lord David Alton, managed to “pop into” Darfur clandestinely to interview survivors of genocide at an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp operated by a western health agency, Tinsley has become an unrelenting chronicler of the genocide being perpetrated against the increasingly poor black African Muslim population of Darfur by the country’s self-identified Arab Muslims and their Janjaweed militia, directed by that country’s Islamist military junta government under president Omar al-Bashir in the oil-rich capital of Khartoum.
Tinsley, a freelance journalist and former BBC political reporter at the time, interviewed the women survivors and Lord Alton interviewed male survivors. Up to that time, no journalists had made it to the camp.
“Had we applied to visit Darfur, we would certainly have been forbidden entry,” Tinsley said. “Every good dictator knows you should do your killing away from the prying eyes of journalists or outside witnesses.”
The interviews were later submitted to the International Criminal Court in The Hague as evidence in support of charges of genocide that, with other evidence, resulted in Sudan President Bashir being indicted in July 2010 for orchestrating the Darfur genocide. He remains free until he is apprehended in a country that accepts the ICC’s jurisdiction.
In the Afterword of her recently published novel, written to tell the Darfur tragedy in more accessible human terms, based on her interviews, Tinsley recounts: “The women told me how the Sudanese air force had bombed their villages. The aerial raids were followed by attacks by uniformed Sudanese soldiers in official jeeps often supported by the Janjaweed militia on horseback or camel.
“Very soon a pattern emerged — the village was attacked, the men and boys were killed, children were thrown into fires, bodies were stuffed into wells to pollute the water supply, houses were set on fire, and women and girls were systematically raped and beaten.”
The women were branded with hot pokers, she said, and were told by their rapists that the second phase of the genocide would occur when HIV/AIDs would eventually kill them.
The women in the camp urged Tinsley to tell their story.
“We were in Darfur for about three days before the security people tracked us down and put us on a plane out of there.”
Tinsley was born Rebecca Bryan in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, of a British father and an Irish-Canadian mother. The family moved to England when she was 10.
At 14, she joined a political party and became involved in protesting the apartheid system in South Africa. When she was 16, she was arrested outside of a Land Rover plant in her hometown for protesting the British company’s selling of vehicles to the South African secret police.
She studied law at the London School of Economics and earned her LLB in 1982. She worked as a political reporter for the BBC and ran twice as a “middle of the road” Liberal candidate for Parliament during which she met and married businessman and activist Henry Tinsley, who “made his money dealing in fairly-traded organic chocolate.”
During the 1990s, she helped form a group of Christians, Jews and Muslims that arranged humanitarian aid convoys to war-ravaged Bosnia.
After her journey to Darfur in 2004, she returned to England and began telling the Darfur story to politicians, the press, in articles and in talks to whomever would listen. She formed the human rights group Waging Peace (www.WagingPeace.info) that gathers and disseminates information on the ongoing crisis in Darfur; and, in 2007, founded the humanitarian aid nonprofit, Network4Africa, ( www.network4africa.org ), based in Del Mar, that offers training and support to survivors of genocide and war, especially widows and orphans, to help them rebuild their lives.
Network4Africa currently has projects in Rwanda and Northern Uganda. Christa Bennett heads Network4Africa in Del Mar and can be emailed at: email@example.com
Asked if she sees any end to the genocide in Sudan, Tinsley said, with characteristic candor: “No, I don’t. Not in the short term because there is no reason why the Sudanese government will stop killing people. They will kill them until they run out of black people to kill, because there is no international action to do anything about it.
“None of the other African leaders will criticize it. None of the Muslim countries are talking about the fact that Muslims are killing Muslims. Silent on the subject. But they bellyache about every Palestinian who dies, don’t they? And yet black Muslims, they matter for nothing.”
The UN Security Council has passed a series of resolutions outlining measures to be taken against the Khartoum government, including a proposed “no fly zone” over Darfur, but almost none of these resolutions have been implemented, Tinsley said.
“Because Sudan is faithfully supported by its friends — the Russians and Chinese. Both countries supply Khartoum with arms and China buys 80 percent of Sudan’s oil.”
And, President Bashir, after years of siding with al-Qaeda and Iran, is now belatedly “on our side’ in the U.S. war on terrorism.
Despite the many reasons why nothing has been done to stop the genocide in Darfur, Tinsley believes, there is a way forward.
“The answer, put simply, is to enforce UN resolutions against the regime in Khartoum. All the necessary levers already exist and they have been approved by the UN Security Council. What is required is the political will to enforce these existing resolutions.
“It isn’t enough just to care,” Tinsley believes. “You have to do something. We all should be judged by our actions.”
In the back of her latest novel, “When the Stars Fall to Earth,” Tinsley includes a suggested action list for anyone wishing to help end the genocide in Darfur.
Tinsley is also author of two previous novels, “Settlement Day,” a financial thriller, and “The Judas File,” a thriller set in Northern Ireland during the sectarian violence.
Rebecca Tinsley (nee Bryan)
Human right activist, novelist and former BBC reporter, Rebecca Tinsley is a leader in the fight against genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, Africa, and founder of Waging Peace, a London-based human rights group exposing the genocide in Darfur, and Network4Africa, a humanitarian nonprofit based in Del Mar that provides training and support to people rebuilding their lives in the aftermath of war and genocide in Africa.
Her latest novel, “When the Stars Fall to Earth,” based on true accounts, tells the story of five young Darfuri refugees fleeing the genocide in their country.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
L.L.B. from the London School of Economics, 1982
She and her husband, Henry Tinsley, businessman and human rights activist, have been married 23 years. They met in London when both were involved in British politics. She ran twice unsuccessfully as a Liberal candidate for Parliament in the 1980s during Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative era.
Her work on behalf of genocide survivors seven days a week
Didactic writers like Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy, who, in their novels, had something to say about the conditions of their times.
One of her favorite films is “Missing,” a 1982 film, starring Jack Lemmon, a politically conservative dad, who gets an eye-opening look at the U.S. complicity in deadly politics of a South American country when his son goes missing.
“It isn’t enough just to care. You have to do something. We all should be judged by our actions.”