U.S. Universities Divesting Funds from Companies with Ties to Sudan (January 2006)

U.S. Universities Divesting Funds from Companies with Ties to Sudan

Student-led movement aims at ending genocide in the African country

By David Kute

Epoch Times Los Angeles Staff

January 09, 2006

SAN FRANCISCO- A grassroots, student- led effort is leading a growing number of universities in the U.S. to divest from oil companies considered to be complicit in the Sudanese genocide.

Last April, Harvard divested and was followed later in the year by Stanford and Dartmouth. The University of Calfornia (U.C.) Regents, representing a system of California universities including U.C. Berkeley and the University of California at Los Angeles(UCLA), decided in November to look into the divestment issue.

“I believe that this trend will not only continue but accelerate,” said Ben Elberger, a Stanford student. Elberger was a key participant with Students Taking Action Now: Darfur (STAND), a campus group that led the university’s successful divestment effort. “Successful divestment campaigns at Stanford and Dartmouth have only bolstered this precedent and provided momentum to a nationwide divestment effort.”

Divestment is the act of withdrawing funds or stock from a company for purposes of social or political change. The use of divestment to combat social injustice has its precedents, most notably in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa.

“Divestment has been a proven, effective strategy that has been used positively to stop apartheid and the 20- year Sudanese North-South conflict,” said Ben Elberger. “We do not contend that divestment, by itself, will solve the problem of this genocide. But it can play an integral part in pressuring the Khartoum regime to stop its genocidal actions.”

The genocide in Sudan’s Darfur region has reportedly taken over an estimated 400,000 lives and has displaced millions. Sources such as the United Nations, the Afircan Union, and the United States government have reported that the Sudanese government has supported the genocide directly through the use of helicopter attacks and indirectly by supporting the Janjaweed militias, groups of militants who have carried out most of the killing and destruction of villages.

The companies which have been targeted by the divestment campaign, largely for supporting and propping up the Sudanese government, are principally oil companies.

Since oil was first exploited in the Sudan in 1999, it has been a mainstay of the country’s economy. Currently, the Chinese Communist Regime, Malaysia, and India have large interests in Sudan’s oil. France and Russia have also been sympathetic to the Sudan government while trying to gain a foothold in the country’s vast oil reserves.

The companies which have been targeted in the successful university divestment campaigns are mainly Chinese and Russian oil companies, such as the Chinese state run PetroChina and Sinopec, Tatneft(Russia), and ABB, Ltd. (Switzerland). These companies have lots of influence with the Sudanese regime, especially the Chinese ones.

“The regime in Khartoum is secure because of the Chinese protection,” said Lako Tongun, a professor of Sudanese studies at Pitzer College. “Much of the oil is being exploited by Asian countries. This is a new phenomenon, that what we call third world countries contribute to genocide.”

The Chinese communist regime has provided weapons to the Sudanese government and given diplomatic cover, blocking resolutions in the UN to protect Sudan. “China in fact is a major contributor to supporting the regime in Khartoum. And it is also the one that is behind the exploitation of oil in Sudan,” continued Tongun.

“This regime couldn’t have survived without the Chinese, Saddam (Hussein), and Iranian regimes,” says Tongun. As the situation in Sudan has continued, university students back in the U.S. have used grassroots methods to raise public awareness and push university divestment.

“Students at these colleges have presented before advisory panels on investment responsibility, establish popular support for divestment, and met with college administrators to substantively advance divestment proposals,” said Elberger.

Active divestment campaigns are also underway at Amherst, Brown, Brandeis, Columbia, George Washington University, Yale, University of Oklahoma, UVA, and California State University- Chico.

The growing movement of divestment is not limited to universities. Many state governments have also considered the approach, and the states of Illinois and New Jersey have passed laws to divest.

“A lot of institutions are participating in that movement,” said Tongun. “The movement is gaining ground. I’m sure when it reaches a particular critical point, the Chinese will become concerned.”

How concerned the Chinese Communist Party becomes may determine the impact of the divestment movements in reaching their goal of bringing the genocide to an end.

“Will this divestment movement influence the Chinese position in Sudan?” said Tongun. “That, I think, has to be determined, dependent on the extent to which this movement is going to grow. It is growing. It is the universities and state governments…the U.S. is a major market for Chinese manufactured goods. If that movement would incorporate a lot of American institutions, and hopefully state governments and goes all the way up to Congress, the Chinese would be concerned about it.”

“Because this would become extended to more states in the U.S. The companies that might be targeted would be some of the American companies that are providing the money to these companies. For instance, Fidelity Investment Company, headquarted in Los Angeles, is one of the companies that was helping the Chinese to raise capital in the U.S. market. So, the effect might not show right now, but in the long run, if this movement continues, it should have an impact.”

When Harvard announced its decision to divest back in April, the university disclosed it would divest over 4 million dollars in PetroChina, the state run oil company.

Repeated attempts to contact PetroChina’s Beijing based public relations department for commentary on university divestment via telephone and email were unsuccessful.

Ultimately, results or not the students are sticking to their message.

“Genocide is inexcusable and that we, as students of a university, will not support the attacks in Darfur,” Elberger said.

With additional reporting by Chris McVicar and Charmaine Milliot.