Time is now to divest from Sudan holdings

In September 2004, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell used the G-word. He declared that the government-sponsored and janjaweed militia-executed campaign of targeted displacement, rape and mass murder in the western Sudanese region of Darfur was tantamount to genocide under the criteria of the Genocide Convention.

Just last week, the Senate unanimously passed the bipartisan Darfur Accountability Act as part of the supplemental appropriations bill. The legislation’s stated objective is “to impose sanctions against perpetrators of crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur, Sudan” — just about the only thing Washington Democrats and Republicans appear to be able to agree on these days.

Now it is President Bush’s turn to take forceful action on Darfur. With 300,000 dead and 10,000 dying each month, the people of Darfur don’t need our labels and our outrage, but our action.

Perhaps Bush’s alma mater can still teach the president a thing or two even though he is no longer a student here. In early April, Harvard chose to divest from PetroChina, an oil company with substantial investments in Sudan. As Harvard noted in its announcement, “Oil is a critical source of revenue and an asset of paramount strategic importance to the Sudanese government,” and PetroChina is “a leading partner of the Sudanese government.” Yale has the opportunity to join Harvard in providing a strong statement of moral repulsion against the situation in Darfur by divesting any financial holdings it may have in PetroChina Company Limited. Since Yale does not publicly report most of its investments, we cannot know for a fact if it has these holdings. Nevertheless, the point remains: Because the janjaweed attacks in Darfur show no sign of subsiding, it is imperative not only that the Yale Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility act but act quickly to recommend a withdrawal of any potential investments the University may hold in PetroChina.

Sudan’s oil exports have been growing rapidly since 1999 and now account for 73 percent of the country’s total export revenues, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s July 2004 Sudan Country Analysis Brief. The Sudanese government created the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company, the dominant player in the country’s oil industry while the Chinese government, in the form of the China National Petroleum Corporation, is GNPOC’s largest single shareholder. When CNPC declared its intention to make an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange in 1999, the outcry from human rights groups forced the organization to create PetroChina, a subsidiary which would be 90 percent-owned by CNPC and operate entirely within China.

In examining the extent to which PetroChina is tied up with its parent company CNPC and thus generating oil revenue for the Sudanese government through the GNPOC, the Harvard Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility found significant overlap between the management of PetroChina and CNPC: “The chairman of PetroChina is the president of CNPC … PetroChina’s vice chairmen, executive directors, and non-executive directors are also CNPC’s vice presidents … [and] the investment and development subcommittee of the board of PetroChina is comprised solely of two vice presidents of CNPC.” Moreover, recent reports included rumors of corporate restructuring that would make PetroChina the direct owner of CNPC’s current holdings in Sudan.

At the last open meeting of the Yale Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, a committee member expressed concern that divesting from a Sudanese company might inadvertently harm the very people the gesture was intended to help, by endangering an important local source of employment and income. Although the concern is legitimate, all evidence points to the contrary; a comprehensive 2003 Human Rights Watch report on the impact of Sudan’s oil industry on human rights exposes that “GNPOC did not hire local southern Sudanese laborers, even for the most menial work,” instead employing subcontracted Chinese and northern Sudanese workers for the area’s construction projects. Furthermore, such construction often entailed the violent displacement of local agro-pastoral people from their land so that the necessary infrastructure could be put in place to develop the oil fields.

Noting that Sudanese oil corporations have been linked to egregious human rights violations in the course of their operations and that oil industry revenues fund Sudanese military expansion (with weapons being funneled by Sudan’s army to the janjaweed perpetrators of genocide in Darfur), Harvard took a cue from the U.S. government, which has passed sanctions prohibiting American investors from owning shares of GNPOC.

It has now been documented beyond all doubt that atrocities against innocent civilians are occurring in Darfur, and that the perpetrators of rape and murder in the region are receiving direct support from the Sudanese government. In light of the Harvard report’s compilation of sources pointing to the role of PetroChina oil revenues in augmenting Khartoum’s ability to arm the janjaweed, the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility should act promptly to join our sister institution in building a movement to shame and punish both Sudan and China for complicity in the ongoing killings.

It is understandable and appropriate that the committee has expressed reluctance to use the University endowment as a political tool, but in the face of such clear and compelling evidence that PetroChina may have funded the murder of 300,000 Darfurian civilians, it would be equally inappropriate to maintain investments in this and other Sudanese oil corporations. As Yale becomes an increasingly global University, it must act as a responsible global citizen. The University must not knowingly finance the terrible abuse in Darfur.



Natalie Spicyn is a senior in Pierson College and a member of Students Taking Action Now: Darfur.

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