Darfur: The only hope

It is time for corporations and investors to disinvest in Sudan
By EDITORIAL  |  May 16, 2007

The genocide in Darfur continues. With the exception of former Secretary of State Colin Powell, no one in the Bush Administration has ever been concerned with the ethnically inspired, predominately Muslim-on-Muslim killing that has claimed a minimum of 250,000 lives and displaced another 2.5 million in the drought-stricken wastes of western Sudan. While the murder is horrible, and the magnitude of the refugee problem is staggering, the widespread and systematic rape of women and girls that is an integral part of the terror is almost incomprehensible.

Now that the United States is hopelessly mired in Iraq and stalemated — if not losing ground — in Afghanistan, the long-shot hope that the US would intervene has evaporated. It is true that the United Nations does a credible job of providing humanitarian aid in Darfur, but it does not have the political or military will to stop the terror. Neither do the European Union and NATO have the stomachs or the spines to step in. And intervention by African nations is a pipe dream. That which New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff, writing in the New York Review of Books, has called “genocide in slow motion” grinds on with no end in site.

The best hope of curtailing the slaughter, and perhaps even ending the genocide, now rests with the international financial community. Oil profits, which are used to fund genocide in Darfur, are Sudan’s only substantial source of revenue. And it is China that buys the most oil from Sudan. PetroChina, a Beijing company that trades on the New York Stock Exchange, acts as the middleman in the blood-soaked transaction.

According to the most recent information available from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which polices Wall Street, the Boston-based Fidelity family of mutual funds is PetroChina’s largest US investor, with $1.3 billion worth of shares.

The Save Darfur Coalition is mounting a campaign to pressure corporations and investors, such as Fidelity, to divest in Sudan — just as opponents of apartheid in the 1980s targeted companies who conducted business in and with South Africa. Success is mounting: just a few weeks ago, the British aerospace firm Rolls-Royce, which has supplied engines to oil firms in Sudan for the past five years, announced it is pulling out of Sudan. That came on the heels of a similar announcement by two of Europe’s largest companies, German engineering giant Siemens and the Switzerland-based ABB Limited energy company.

Persuading investment firms and mutual funds such as Fidelity to disinvest in PetroChina and the companies that service and supply it, however, will be a formidable battle. Television viewers may have seen the stark 30-second advertising spot in which a female refugee reads a list of Fidelity’s reasons why it feels its duty to make its customers a profit is more important than genocide. But they did not see it on CNN, which succumbed — at least for now — to pressure from Fidelity, which is a large advertiser. Newsweek likewise declined to run print versions of the ads, as did the New York Times and its local subsidiary, the Boston Globe. T riders can view anti-genocide ads, but if they look closely they will discover no mention of the local financial company.

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