What's Fueling the Genocide in Darfur?

A woman and teenage girl who were raped and abducted by soldiers in western Darfur have claimed that the Sudanese army organized airlifts of sex slaves to serve as the "wives" of government soldiers in Khartoum. . . . "Each of us was raped by between three and six men," said Bokur [Hamis, 21]. "One woman refused to have sex with them, so they split her head into pieces with an axe in front of us."
– Benjamin Joffe-Walt, Sunday Telegraph, London, September 19

None of the [oil] companies operating in Sudan can reliably ensure that they and their operations, singly or collectively, do not facilitate or benefit from human rights abuses. Indeed, they operate in the midst of the abuses. – Sudan, Oil, and Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, pages 694-695

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George W. Bush, in his September 21 speech to the United Nations, urged the formation of a Democracy Fund within the U.N. that "would help countries lay the foundations of democracy by instituting the rule of law in independent courts, a free press, political parties, and trade unions." As old-time labor organizers used to say of companies claiming that their "fully protected workers" didn't need unions, the president is talking of "pie in the sky."

Structurally, the United Nations is utterly incapable of assuring the rule of law and human rights in many of its member countries. Human rights abusers Russia and China, for example, have veto powers in the Security Council. And of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, composed of many unremitting human rights abusers, Sudan itself is a proud member.

My own fantasy of "pie in the sky" is a parallel, independent, international coalition of countries that would be alert to genocide emerging anywhere in the world – and then, unlike the U.N., move in to stop it. But where are those countries?

In real life, real time, and real mass murders and rapes in Darfur, Professor Eric Reeves of Smith College, who has long chronicled the Khartoum government's deadly crimes against its black subjects, is exactly right.

Amid the weak, hortatory criticisms of Khartoum's genocide by the U.N. Security Council, Reeves writes, "Khartoum may not be happy with current world attention, but has yet to hear a clearly articulated threat – one that will change its behavior fundamentally."

Reeves continues, "The regime seems to be banking on an eventual drifting of international attention . . . away from the catastrophe in Darfur (which will become simply a chronic 'humanitarian problem'). . . . In order to disabuse Khartoum of this notion, international pressure on the regime clearly must include both near- and long-term economic pressure and punishment, and a vigorous divestment campaign offers one means of achieving this."

A reminder: Sudan's oil reserves yield $2 billion in annual revenue. That's a vital part of Sudan's economy.

But can the diminishing surviving black Africans in Darfur count on "international pressure" from government entities around the world to end Khartoum's horrendous crimes?

After Colin Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 9 that the government of Sudan is responsible for the continuing genocide in Darfur, a lead editorial, "Genocide," in the September 12 Washington Post declared:

"In an act without precedent since the U.N. Genocide Convention was adopted in 1948, a government accused a sitting counterpart [government] of genocide. . . . And yet the accused government may not pay a price for committing this worst of all humanitarian crimes, because there is a limit to how much powerful nations care." (Emphasis added.)

In Darfur, the black woman who refused to have sex with Khartoum's soldiers who captured her – and had her head split into pieces as a result – is no longer in a position to testify to the prediction of that Washington Post editorial, except as one of the many thousands of posthumous black witnesses to this worst of all current crimes against humanity.

Accordingly, we must begin to enact Eric Reeves's plan for an insistent divestment campaign against American private and public institutions that profit from investing in the international oil companies whose revenues allow Khartoum to arm the government soldiers and Arab Janjaweed rapists and murderers committing this genocide.

Eric Reeves emphasizes that "U.S. public pension plans alone own over 91 billion dollars of equity (shares) in companies [doing business in Sudan] like Siemens AG [Germany], Alcatel SA [France], ABB Ltd. [Switzerland], Tatneft [Russia], PetroChina [China] and a number of others."

And note this: "College and university students have a particular opportunity to force institutional endowments to divest from all holdings (including through mutual funds) of Siemens AG, Alcatel SA, ABB Ltd., Tatneft and PetroChina.

"During the apartheid era in South Africa, college and university students were an immensely powerful force in breaking down this hateful system of racial discrimination. Students now have [another] urgent task: to ensure that endowment monies are not invested in companies implicit in genocide – the deliberate, ethnically/racially-driven destruction of the African populations of Darfur."

Whoever wins the presidential election, there will be many politically involved college students who don't want to be passive when such enormous crimes as those in Darfur are being committed.

And I expect many older non-college Americans will want to look into their investments in these murderous oil companies by private American institutions – pension plans, employee retirement systems, mutual funds, etc. – that benefit so many of us.

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