What States Can Do for Darfur

Since the Bush administration first recognized the genocide in Darfur, over 250,000 men, women, and children have died. This number does not count the countless women and children that have been raped or attacked as a result of the Sudanese government's campaign to kill and drive out Darfur's ethnic African populations. The violence and genocide is now spilling over into Chad and the Central African Republic. Yet, even with such horrifying statistics, the situation deteriorates day by day.

But why are we talking about this here? What can states do about an international problem? The answer is: a lot. And several states have already taken the lead. Already, California, Oregon, Illinois, New Jersey, Connecticut and Maine have passed legislation requiring the removal of invested money, otherwise known as divestment, from companies that are directly or indirectly helping the Sudanese government perpetuate genocide.

Divestment puts economic pressures on companies doing business in Sudan causing them to rethink their investment. The withdrawal of investment then places severe economic pressure on the Sudanese government. Similar measures proved to be very effective in contributing to the end the apartheid regime in South Africa. As divestment has severe economic consequences, particular attention must be given to ensuring that the citizens of Sudan are not made to endure any more suffering. Targeted Divestment makes sure to tailor the withdrawal of investment, or divestment, to maximize pressure on the government while minimizing the harm and impact to citizens. PetroChina, Siemens, and Shanghai Petrochemical are just a few of the 148 public traded companies that do business in the Sudan.

States have boldly taken the lead in putting pressure on the Sudanese government. California's AB 2941 prohibits the Public Employee's Retirement System and the California State Teachers' Retirement System from investing public employee retirement funds in companies with active business operations in Sudan. Illinois' statute targets all companies with ties to Sudan and mandates divestment on all of the states investment vehicles. In addition to divesting all pension funds, State Treasurer Lemoine ordered the sale of all direct holdings in Schlumberger, Ltd. stock held by Maine's $24 million State Held Trusts. New Jersey sold $2.6 billion worth of investments.

Joining the divestment movement, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Washington are considering some form of divestment legislation for early next year. And action is not just in the state houses. Campuses across the country are calling for university investment officers and state pension fund trustees to divest from Sudan. The entire University of California system, in addition to Stanford, Harvard, Brown and over 20 other campuses, have divested from Sudan.

President Bush continually states his concern and dismay at the genocide in Sudan, yet there is no Federal divestment policy. As the dispatch has continually noted, it is up to the states to take the lead. There is something that can be done at the state level. And it must be done now.

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