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Universities must divest from Sudan

University administrations need to hear directly from students and alumni that it is wrong to invest in pro-genocide companies.

For the past two and a half years, the world has watched in horror as the Sudanese government and its proxy Janjaweed militias have laid waste to Darfur. At least 200,000 people have died as a result of Khartoum’s scorched-earth counterinsurgency tactics. Systematic assaults on civilians and their livelihoods have driven more than 2 million people off their lands and into squalid camps for the internally displaced. Today, security is fleeting at best, and recent evidence suggests that violence against women, including rape, savage beatings and forced humiliation is actually getting worse in and around the camps.

Outrage in the United States has been widespread, and activist groups – students, blacks, Christians, Jews – have answered the call. However, suffering in Darfur is gradually becoming tolerable to the international community. The media are not following Darfur as closely as they were a year ago – not that it received much play then – and politicians aren’t feeling the heat. As Darfur deteriorates off camera, it is up to the American public to maintain pressure on the administration to end the nightmare.

In April, the International Crisis Group sent a letter to the presidents, student body leaders and student newspapers of 100 universities to urge schools to review their investment portfolios for stock in companies that operate in Sudan. While the U.S. government maintains tight sanctions against Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism, many multinational corporations do business with the regime. The money that Khartoum makes from these arrangements – especially in the growing oil sector – funds the government’s appetite for weapons to arm the troops and militias that terrorize civilians in Darfur.

Following Harvard’s April decision to divest from PetroChina Company Limited, a firm with extensive oil holdings in Sudan, Stanford University’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to divest from PetroChina and three additional companies: Sinopec Corp., Tatneft and ABB. The divestment ball has started rolling, but it needs momentum.

This fall, universities should make it a priority to review their portfolios and divest themselves of any holdings in companies that act as patrons to human rights violators and war criminals. The divestment should also be made publicly to generate media coverage and send a clear message that the actions of the Sudanese government and the companies that support it are intolerable.

It is unlikely that universities will take on this task without some encouragement from students. At Stanford and Harvard, student pressure was instrumental, and student-led activist groups such as Students Taking Action Now: Darfur and the Genocide Intervention Fund have made their voices heard throughout the country.

Now is the time to build upon the success of these groups to push university divestment to the next level. University administrations need to hear directly from students and alumni that investments in companies that partner with the Sudanese government, which funds ethnic cleansing, are unacceptable, and that universities that fail to take the simple step of reviewing their portfolios have chosen to be bystanders to what President George W. Bush has clearly defined as genocide.

For more information on divestment, visit the International Crisis Group’s Darfur advocacy page at:

Don Cheadle was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in “Hotel Rwanda.” John Prendergast is special adviser on Africa to the International Crisis Group. Please send comments to [email protected].

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