In the Sudan's government ceaseless genocide in Darfur while the world watches in horror but does not act 80 children under age 5 die each day, estimates the United Nations Children's Fund (Sudan Tribune Web site, Oct. 7). As more relief agencies pull out because of the growing violence, more children older than age 5 will die. Yet, just before leaving for midterm elections, the Senate stripped out a vital part of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act.
As previously passed by the House with wide bipartisan support and now signed by the president, the bill blocked assets and froze visas of anyone connected with these mass murders and rapes of black African Muslims.
But what Richard Lugar, R-Ind. chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee removed from the Senate version was a section in the House bill that protected the right of our individual states (six already, with more on the way) to divest public pension funds from international companies doing business in murderous Sudan.
Successfully lobbying against this provision was the National Foreign Trade Council, representing more than 300 multinational companies, some of whom eagerly do business with Gen. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the architect of this genocide, which has not killed as many as Hitler's Holocaust. But the willingness of international corporations to profit from the dealings with the Hitler of Africa reminds me of a magazine headline I saw in the late 1930s: "Would you do business with Hitler?"
Also opposing individual state divestments is the National Association of Manufacturers. In the Sept. 27 issue of The Hill, Bill Primosch, that organization's director of international business policy, dismissed state divestment laws as not having "a practical impact; it becomes a symbolic gesture." And another lobbyist crowed of the removal of this section of the House bill: "It is a big win."
The biggest winner, the National Foreign Trade Council which is suing the state of Illinois on its divestment law claims, moreover, that individual states have no right to interfere with national foreign policy. (The Bush administration did not object to the stripping of the House bill on this issue.)
However, years ago, during the debate on state divestments against South Africa's apartheid regime, Gerald Warburg, on the staff of California Sen. Alan Cranston, said: "The bottom line is that local authorities already have a clear legal right and moral obligation to exercise discretion in how they invest THEIR OWN money."
And California Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a Democrat and a determined prime mover in the states' and national divestment campaigns emphasizes: "Concern about the constitutionality of state divestment campaigns is just a smokescreen to cover for efforts by the financial-services industry to quietly kill a divestment movement it sees as an inconvenience" (San Francisco Chronicle, Sept. 26).
Lee, who has traveled to Darfur twice, says: "So many people have died that it's our duty to make sure pension funds don't have blood in their banks. It is the blood of genocide."
Even if this were only a "symbolic gesture," would divestment at least tell the world of the horrified concern by many Americans in these divesting states that day after day, the corpses mount in Darfur?
But significantly, Sudan's monstrous Gen. Al-Bashir does not see these state laws as emptily symbolic like the continually useless United Nations resolutions on Darfur. Adam Sterling, executive director of the nonprofit National Sudan Divestment Task Force, tells the Washington Post (Oct. 7):
"We are already seeing a response from the Sudanese government. Last April, a press release from the Sudanese Embassy here urged institutions to stop divesting. And in a recent discussion with our campaign leader in Indiana (home of Sen. Richard Lugar, killer of the divestment section of the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act) divestment was the only topic the Sudanese ambassador was interested in addressing."
Lee is not giving up. She has introduced a bill, the Darfur Accountability and Divestment Act whose fate I will follow in a future column that, she says, "would bar international companies, whose business in Sudan directly or indirectly supports the genocide in Darfur, from receiving taxpayer-funded federal contracts."
Meanwhile, on Oct. 9, Reuters reported attacks by the Sudan government's militia in Darfur that according to the U.N.'s High Commissioner for Human Rights were "massive in scale," possibly killing several hundred, and also resulting in scores of missing children.
Do the National Foreign Trade Council lobbyists, so pleased with their "purifying" the Darfur Peace and Accountability Act, ever give a thought to the blood on the profits their clients reap from their business ventures in Sudan? Are they wholly oblivious to the mass murders and rapes and the slaughter of the very, very young?
When I was a kid, I couldn't imagine American companies doing business with Hitler. Growing up, I found that some did. So I'm not shocked now.