Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Where's Richardson on Sudan Divestment?

In this week's Reporter, I take a look at Darfur-linked investments made by New Mexico's Public Employees Retirement Association. All in all, PERA has invested more than $28 million in seven companies identified as "highest offenders" by the Sudan Divestment Task Force.

Unfortunately, according to PERA, they can't divest without a change in legislation. And the legislature can't deal with the issue unless Governor Richardson adds it to the 2008 legislative agenda. However, we haven't been able to get a clear response from his office, even though we've been calling for weeks.

"It’s simply too early to say what will be on the agenda for the next legislative session,” is all Deputy Communications Director Allan Oliver would tell us.

That's not to say Bill hasn't expressed any interest in Sudan. He did personally negotiate a cease fire (which abruptly fell apart). He also made this statement back in April:

"Time is running out for the people of Darfur. The people there cannot wait much longer, for waiting means more death, more broken families, more children without a future. This is a defining moment for the United States. We have an opportunity to lead the world in taking action to end the killing in Darfur and we must not blow it."

If time is running out, how can it be "too early?" Bill also outlined a six-point strategy for handling the Darfur crisis:

  1. First, America must make peace in Darfur a much higher priority. I agree with Save Darfur--we need full-time, high-level US diplomacy dedicated to ending this crisis.
  2. Second, America must engage Sudan's economic and political partners--China Pakistan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Arab League to build a multilateral coalition with real leverage. That could begin by endorsing the Arab League's commitments on Darfur--to aid the African Union's mission, to fund development in Darfur, and to support the UN hybrid force in Sudan.
  3. Third, we should deploy a UN peacekeeping force to eastern Chad to prevent a regionalization of the conflict. America should join other wealthy countries to fund refugee camps in neighboring countries and assure that those weak states bend to accommodate, but do not break from the pressure.
  4. Fourth, we should use our full diplomatic weaponry --offering incentives for compliance and threatening multilateral sanctions for resistance to both the Government of Sudan and the various rebel groups.
  5. Fifth, we must develop agreed upon negotiating positions among the rebel factions, to assure that any common resolution won't be quickly undone by one dissatisfied rebel group.
  6. Last, America should join the International Criminal Court.

Point Two is the most relevant here. Many of the "highest offenders" and most powerful in Sudan are corporations fully or majority owned by the Chinese government. It stands to reason that Richardson would pressure China to use its business in Sudan to influence the Sudanese government in Khartoum. Twenty states in the US have already implemented divestment schemes to exert this kind of pressure.

In essence, here's how state divestment schemes typically work. First, states identify companies they invest in who do business in Sudan. Then they send them all letters asking the companies to clarify their involvement and detail any humanitarian efforts they make in the African nation. If the companies don't respond, or if their responses are inadequate, the state then sends them another letter threatening divestment. If the companies still refuse to respond, then the state makes moves to divest -- and only if divestment wouldn't affect their fund by more than 5 percent.

Congress has also made moves to divest the US Treasury from these oil and gas companies, and President George W. Bush has signed an executive order barring US companies from involving themselves in oil and gas interests in Sudan.

In addition, the Sudan Divestment Task Force has also sent all the presidential candidates letters asking them to screen their own investments for Sudan involvement. So far, candidates from both parties, including Barack Obama and Sam Brownback, have divested. Bill acknowledged he received the letter, but has yet to respond whether he'll do the same. Again, we've called his campaign office several times over several weeks and received no real response.

In case you want to screen your own holdings, the Task Force has a handy tool for looking at your mutual funds.

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