A California Contribution to Saving Darfur
A California Contribution to Saving Darfur
The U.S. Must Raise the Stakes for Sudan’s Coup Leaders
The U.S. Must Raise the Stakes for Sudan’s Coup Leaders
Op-Ed / Africa

A California Contribution to Saving Darfur

We have each been to Darfur's killing fields and spoken to victims of some of the most appalling atrocities you can imagine. It was a chilling experience, but we returned to America deeply motivated to take action to help save the people of Darfur.

Today, the University of California Board of Regents can play a critical role to staunch Darfur's bleeding when it votes whether to divest the university system from the companies that cut lucrative business deals with accused war criminals in Sudan's capital, Khartoum. In doing so, the UC system would join other universities and state legislatures that have taken similar bold action to help end this humanitarian catastrophe.

Darfur's civilians have been under direct assault for nearly three years. Citing the government's decades-long marginalization of Darfur, two rebel groups emerged in February 2003 and won a series of victories against government forces. The response was swift and brutal. The regime armed, trained and directed proxy militias – the Janjaweed – to attack civilian populations it suspects of supporting the rebels, while manipulating the region's ethnic divide for its own political purposes.

More than 200,000 people have died, and more than 2 million have been driven from their homes. The situation is deteriorating; recent attacks in Darfur and in eastern Chad have forced the withdrawal of some relief workers, leaving hundreds of thousands of lives in the balance.

Not since South Africa's brutal and repressive apartheid system of racial segregation has an African tragedy generated such outrage within the American public. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, U.S. divestment from companies doing business with the racist government in Pretoria helped free Nelson Mandela and end apartheid. In 2006, activists from diverse backgrounds – students, blacks, Christians, Jews – joined forces in a broad nonpartisan movement to end atrocities in Darfur. Divestment is as critical a tool now as it was then.

While the U.S. government maintains sanctions against Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, many multinational corporations do business there. Many of the offending oil and energy companies operating in Sudan are based in China and Russia, nations that have used their seats on the U.N. Security Council to prevent stronger international efforts to protect Darfur's hunted and terrified civilians and block sanctions against Sudanese officials accused of orchestrating the violence.

The revenue generated from these investments – especially in the oil and energy industry – buys weapons to arm the butchers who terrorize, rape and murder civilians in Darfur. And despite staggering growth in government revenue since oil first began to flow in 1999, there has been little change in the status of Sudan's disadvantaged. The government's social development spending is dwarfed by international aid.

Traditionally, Khartoum responds to the stick, not the carrot, and foreign direct investment is the lifeline that keeps its war machine afloat. The Board of Regents will vote at its meeting today at UCLA on a carefully researched proposal for targeted divestment from those companies in Sudan most complicit in subsidizing government atrocities and least effective in improving the lives of ordinary Sudanese.

At that meeting, the regents may argue that the financial costs of divestment would be too great. However, the growing nationwide Sudan divestment movement now encompasses dozens of institutions, triggering the recent introduction of a variety of Sudan-free investment options by mainstream asset managers. UC is therefore optimally positioned to set a strong example for other U.S. institutions by implementing a divestment plan that goes beyond symbolism but retains financial prudence.

Student activist groups have worked tirelessly to generate support for targeted divestment from thousands of students, staff and faculty across the 10-campus UC system as well as endorsements from a large portion of California's state and national politicians.

Eight thousand miles away from California, in the smoldering sands of Darfur, the government of Sudan continues its reign of terror, millions of people are suffering, and hundreds of thousands of men, women and children are at imminent risk of senseless death. Today, the Board of Regents has the opportunity to send an unambiguous message: the actions of the Sudanese government and the companies that support it are intolerable. They should take it.

Contributors

Former Program Co-Director, Africa
Former Research and Advocacy Manager

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