Column: How University continues to fund genocide

By Brian Pierce

Last semester, I wrote a column titled “How this university funds genocide,” urging the University to follow in the footsteps of Harvard, Yale, Stanford and the University of California by divesting endowment funds currently invested in companies that support the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.

I wrote that your tuition dollars are indirectly funding the massacre of hundreds of thousands.

I wrote about the Sudanese village of Donki Dereisa, where men and women were slaughtered by militias on horseback and children were thrown into raging fires and burned alive.

I wrote of a massive and inescapable problem, and of my hope that tangible progress could be made by the University of Illinois even if the international community continues to act with limitless sympathy but limited sacrifice.

In many ways, things have either stayed the same or gotten worse.

The state of Illinois, which has divested, or withdrawn investments from, its pension funds, is now the subject of a lawsuit filed by the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC). NFTC, some of whose member companies are themselves targets of divestment, claims that divestment is an act of foreign policy, and thus Illinois is acting unconstitutionally by trampling on the powers of the federal government. The case will likely come before the United States Supreme Court. In 1990, NFTC won a case against the state of Massachusetts, which had banned contracts with companies operating in Burma. It is unclear whether their efforts will be successful this time around.

Five states, Illinois included, have passed binding legislation mandating that the state withdraws at least some foreign investments in Sudan and in companies operating there. Four states have anti-terrorism divestment legislation for countries sponsoring terror, Sudan included. In three other states legislation exists that is non-binding, and in Massachusetts, binding legislation is pending. That leaves 30 states where no action has been taken, though in roughly half of those states, campaigns have been initiated.

Illinois’ junior senator, Barack Obama, when he is not staving off hopeful speculation that he will run for president in 2008, has spoken frequently on the need for a strong United Nations presence in Sudan and stronger leadership from President Bush to stop the genocide. President Bush, meanwhile, who in 2001 wrote in the margins of a report on inaction in the face of the 1994 Rwandan genocide “not on my watch,” who in 2004 declared the actions in Sudan a “genocide,” continues to do nothing.

And here on campus, despite mounting cries from students, the University has not divested its endowment. Since my column last semester, the Illinois Student Senate unanimously passed a resolution calling for the University to divest and the student organization Action Darfur has grown more active, working with administration officials and sending out newsletters to students with updates on progress both here and nationwide.

Meanwhile, the Sudanese militias known as the janjaweed ride into villages just like Donki Dereisa, raping mothers in front of their husbands and children before shooting them all down with machine guns. Meanwhile, 2.5 million Sudanese civilians live displaced from their homes in refugee camps, another 1.5 million dependent on humanitarian aid for survival. Meanwhile, humanitarian organizations which cannot assure the safety and security of their members in the absence of a peacekeeping force must pack up and leave the area. Meanwhile, the terrified screams of an entire people go unheard and the tears of those who have suffered unimaginable loss go unnoticed.

The pressure on universities, including this one, must escalate. The pressure on governments nationwide must escalate. Or else, as I wrote months ago, we will not merely be inactive in the face of this atrocity. We will be culpable.

To learn more about the actions being taken on campus and to get more involved in this effort, contact the president of Action Darfur, Katie Flamand, at [email protected] To urge University administrators to dispossess its endowment funds, you can contact President B. Joseph White at [email protected], Chancellor Richard Herman at [email protected], Provost Linda Katehi at [email protected], or the Board of Trustees at [email protected]