Justin Zorn: The case for Sudan divestment

In April 17th’s edition of The Hatchet, Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz responded to pressures to divest from countries with economic ties to Sudan with a reasonable question: “Where do you draw the line?”

More than 900 student petitioners and a growing list of student organizations have a reasonable answer to this question: “We draw the line at genocide.” The needless slaughter of hundreds of thousands of human beings is reason enough for GW to begin a critical review of the companies it does business with and their ties to Sudan.

For three years, the government of Sudan and its brutal proxies, the Janjaweed militias, have used rape, displacement, organized starvation, expulsion of aid workers and mass murder in a campaign of terror against innocent civilians in Darfur. Violence, displacement and disease ruin the lives of thousands of Darfuris each month, culminating in an estimated 300,000 deaths and nearly two million homeless. President Bush, the State Department and the United States Congress have labeled the situation genocide, and the United Nations declared Darfur the “worst humanitarian crisis in the world.”

This case is unique because the facts are so clear and the crimes are so heinous. The Darfur tragedy represents Sudan’s concerted effort to torture and eradicate hundreds of thousands of people on the basis of race.

The United States currently maintains sanctions against Sudan for its role as a state sponsor of terrorism; however, a number of multinational corporations based in China and Russia continue to operate there. These firms give their home governments strong economic incentives to block the U.N. Security Council efforts to protect the victims of Sudan. Moreover, they provide revenue to the government of Sudan that often flows directly toward the purchase of murder weapons.

Divestment from these companies is not a pipe dream but a proven policy option. It was employed successfully to topple the Apartheid regime in South Africa, and again to pressure Sudan through the Energy Company Talisman in the late 1990s. The Sudanese regime is desperately seeking political acceptance and direct investment from foreign governments. Thus, divestment over the issue of Darfur can be especially effective right now.

If we set genocide – the calculated destruction of an entire people – as the clear threshold for divestment, we avoid setting a dangerous precedent of accepting violence. Consider that Harvard University, Stanford University, Dartmouth College, Yale University, Amherst College, Columbia University and the University of California system have all drawn the line at genocide and enacted restrictions on companies with Sudan investments. At the state level, New Jersey, Illinois and Oregon have all approved divestment plans. Seven others are in the process of doing so.

This nationwide trend for divestment has triggered the creation of numerous Sudan-free investment options by mainstream asset managers. Such steps have all but eliminated the financial hurdles to a socially responsible investment.

The moral case is too strong to ignore. As its official Statement of Ethical Principles declares, GW is dedicated “to furthering human well-being,” and its students, faculty and administrators are bound to “maintain the highest level of ethics in all of their actions.” Even a distant association to this ongoing genocide runs counter to these principles.

I urge the top officials at the University to make a publicly announced review of the University’s investment portfolio to see what further actions are appropriate. This very simple step would send a powerful message about our school’s principles. It would also make a point to the Sudanese government and its corporate benefactors: no one is free to profit from crimes against humanity.

-The writer, a junior majoring in international development studies and religion, is also the policy chair for Students Taking Action Now: Darfur.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.