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.