The ongoing genocide in the Sudanese province of Darfur continues to be one of the worst atrocities presently facing humankind, while engendering little more than apathy from the world community. Aiding the genocide are multinational corporations continuing to operate in Sudan that inadvertently contribute to the Sudanese government’s sponsorship of militias responsible for the death and destruction.
With this in mind, GW students asked the administration to consider divesting University funds from companies knowingly conducting business with the Sudanese government. A month after their initial request, representatives of GW’s Students Taking Action Now: Darfur chapter were informed that administrators are still claiming ignorance as to whether GW’s portfolios include holdings in the Sudan.
In principle, divestment from Sudan is the socially responsible step for GW. In practice, it is a logistical nightmare for the University and an issue requiring more than passing interest by the campus community to see any policy changes.
It is incumbent on campus Darfur activists to make sure that divestment from the Sudan is an issue the administration cannot easily dismiss. University financial officers will never undertake a task as immense as divestment with only simple requests and petitions. The University’s mission, in this regard, is to maintain a sound financial portfolio. With the lack of international interest in Darfur, there is no reason for the administration to take the first step to condemn the violence.
Student activists, however, have the chance to force policy change on the administration with the right approach. While STAND should be commended for their efforts to pass a divestment resolution through the Student Association Senate, it is clear that our student government is ineffectual in lobbying the administration on behalf of student interests. Thus, a more direct approach is in order.
GW STAND should look to the efforts of Stanford University’s STAND group for guidance. The student activists at Stanford were able to successfully implement a divestment program by meticulously researching the companies involved in the Sudan and presenting their work to the administration. The GW administration, for the most part, has proven to be extremely receptive when enterprising students take it upon themselves to present viable, well-researched proposals. A comprehensive proposal will at least serve as a serious starting point in the campus divestment dialogue.
Divestment, however, is not a decision that can be taken lightly. The University should employ divestment in only the most egregious of circumstances. There are countless areas of conflict on the globe, and students cannot realistically expect the University to divest from every one. The U.S. State Department, however, has declared the violence in Darfur constitutes genocide. Because U.S. administrations are traditionally reluctant to declare genocide, as was the case in Rwanda in 1994, a U.S. declaration of genocide is a good benchmark for deciding when divestment is appropriate. Even then, administrators will have to carefully consider whether divestment would help or harm the victims of genocide in individual cases.
The University’s slow movement on this process is indicative of a greater lack of concern for African issues among governments and populations in wealthier countries. The words “never again” in reference to the Holocaust during World War II ring hollow as hundreds of thousands of Africans meet their death simply because of their race. Only a significant shift in the attitude of the international community will bring the action necessary to end the genocide in Darfur.
GW student activists have the chance to aid in changing attitudes by making divestment a priority for the campus community and placing real pressure on the administration by clearly articulating a comprehensive divestment plan. To ensure this policy is enacted, however, it is imperative that student activists do not give the administration any excuses to remain inactive.