How the University funds genocide

On July 12, 2004, a fire raged in a small village in western Sudan known as Donki Dereisa. It was not a unique fire by any means, for there were blazes all around, a result of exploding ordnance and the flaming torches of the men on horseback who were attacking the village.

Amid the chaos that struck Donki Dereisa that day, there was no reason to notice this particular fire – it was merely one of many that was consuming the food and shelter of the village’s inhabitants. But this fire proved special, because by the end of the day, it consumed more than food, more than shelter, and more than personal belongings. Its flames consumed six young Sudanese children, thrown in the fire like so many pieces of firewood by militants deaf to their screams and blind to their terror.

Many, if not most, students on this campus have at least heard of the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. Here in America, it is a discussion that groans under the weight of statistics: 400,000 dead, 2.5 million displaced, four million in need of humanitarian aid. In Sudan, it is a conflict that cries out under the weight of lives lost and lives ruined.

The horror of the events in Sudan is so unimaginable that the problem seems insurmountable. How can we imagine ourselves in the position of choosing between sending women out to get firewood and risking rape or sending men out and risking castration or murder?

The answer is, we can’t. The pain is inconceivable. And so we turn away. We silently accept the deaths of thousands.

The reason why is because we don’t know what else to do. It is beyond our control, something to be dealt with by governments and international organizations. According to a recent Zogby International poll, 62 percent of Americans agree that the United States “has a responsibility to help stop the killing in the Darfur region.” Americans want to help, they just don’t know how.

But there are tangible things we can do.

About 100 public companies do business in Sudan with the cooperation of the Khartoum regime. These companies, mostly Asian but some European, serve to prop up the economy of a government that commits genocide – a government that is, simply put, evil.

What students may not be aware of is that their tuition dollars are going to some of these companies. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are invested in them through the University endowment.

There is a growing trend across the nation to divest funds in these kinds of companies, with successful campaigns at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and the University of California. While Illinois has divestment laws that affect the pensions of state employees, our University could become only the second public university to divest its endowment, setting an example for other public universities across the nation.

Pressure must be put on University administration to divest our funds, or we will be more than inactive in the face of genocide. We will be culpable.

To learn more about how you can help, you can contact the president of the campus student organization Action Darfur, Brian Schwartz, at [email protected] There is also a nationwide organization, the Sudan Divestment Task Force, which can be reached at [email protected]

History is filled with tragedy: a million Armenians dead in Turkey between 1915 and 1917, two million Cambodians dead under Pol Pot between 1975 and 1979, almost a million Tutsis dead in Rwanda in 1994. We cannot afford to continue watching these events unfold, and when it’s all over uttering the empty words “never again.”

Let us follow the example of apartheid in South Africa, when the world joined together and forced the collapse of a racist and unjust regime, partly through divestment campaigns at universities like this one.

Let us replace the words “never again” with “not now, not ever.” Let us do what we can to stop this suffering, let us act here at home, and let us begin today.

Brian Pierce is a junior in LAS. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at [email protected]