US Sentate urged to pass Sudan disinvestment bill

By staff writers
November 1, 2007

Campaigners are calling on the US Senate to swiftly pass legislation introduced yesterday by two senators, which is aimed at cutting off economic support to the government of Sudan.

"This past August, I travelled to refugee camps in Chad," said Ruth Messinger, President of American Jewish World Service (AJWS). "While there, I met with refugees from Darfur, many of whom implored me to give one message to the rest of the world, saying: 'We simply want to go home in peace.'"

"Achieving that peace," she added, "will require a comprehensive approach that includes dramatically increasing international economic pressure on the government of Sudan to cease its own efforts to foment conflict throughout the region.

"And one way to increase that pressure right away is to ensure that the U. Senate swiftly passes, and the President signs, the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act."

Divestment legislation in the House of Representatives, spearheaded by Democrats Barbara Lee and Barney Frank, passed in July by a vote of 418 to 1. This bill prohibits US government contracts with all foreign companies in critical sectors such as oil and mineral extraction whose business investments support the current government of Sudan.

Since 1997, US sanctions have prevented US-owned companies from doing business in Sudan. However, many U.S. companies, mutual funds and individuals are invested in foreign companies that operate there.

The House bill further protects the rights of states and local governments to divest from such companies; provides safe harbour for asset managers of investment companies and employee benefit plans to divest from these companies; and provides a benchmark for lifting sanctions on Sudan.

10 cities and 20 states have already enacted Sudan divestment measures.

The Senate, however, has yet to act on similar legislation. Efforts by Senator Christopher Dodd in August to move a similar version of the house bill through the Senate by unanimous consent failed due to opposition by key Republican Senators. A new bipartisan Senate divestment bill--dubbed the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act (SADA) of 2007--was introduced yesterday by Senators Dodd and Richard Shelby.

It mirrors the House bill in many key respects. But advocates are worried it faces an uphill battle due to continued opposition by the Administration.

"AJWS funds local organizations working throughout Africa, Asia, and Latin America, many of whom work in conflict zones. We therefore have firsthand experience with the devastation wrought by ongoing conflict and war. Divestment is one part of the comprehensive approach, outlined in our Call to Action on Darfur, that we believe the US must take to end the violence in this region," Messinger said.

"Congress and the Administration must work together to fully fund all humanitarian and emergency relief accounts, sharply increase the rate of processing refugees who wish to or need to leave the region, increase the capacity of the U.S. Special Envoy for Sudan, and increase support for peace-keeping efforts, among other things.

"But we must also act swiftly to dramatically increase economic pressure on the Bashir regime by passing the Senate bill and holding both companies and the government of Sudan accountable for their support of this conflict, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, and the generation of millions of displaced persons and refugees. For those people I met in Chad and millions of others, there is no time to wait."

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