It is lamentable that the issue of genocide in Sudan has remained mostly absent from our newspapers and television screens. The issue, however, deserves our attention and calls us to consider our relationship to it.
As distant as Sudan’s Darfur region may seem to us, the tangled web of international investment may actually tie us into the humanitarian crisis happening there. While semantic debate over what to call the situation in Darfur makes some hesitant to label it, President Bush concluded that it was “genocide” in 2004.
Whatever one calls it, the statistics that surround the humanitarian crisis in Darfur are staggering: 400,000 Darfuri have died and another 2.5 million have been forced into refugee camps in Southern Chad and central Sudan. In these camps, many Darfuri suffer from a shortage of clean water, and women face the daily risk of rape when they venture away from the camps in search of firewood.
The Yale Corporation, in which we all have a stake, may have some leverage on this deteriorating situation and the historical precedent to justify action. In 1972, following the publication of “The Ethical Investor” — a definitive work on the issue of ethical institutional investment and the product of a Yale seminar – the Yale Corporation adopted guidelines for ethical investment.
Since then, the Corporation has taken an active role on a number of issues. When it determined that the inflexible policies of the apartheid South African government contradicted the Corporation’s values, it formulated a proxy on investment in South African companies, resulting in a number of divestment actions. The Corporation only invests in tobacco companies that comply with ethical criteria that have been established by Yale.
Still, the Corporation has not yet developed a policy on the issue of genocide. Although Yale does not disclose its specific investments, there is evidence to suggest that the endowment of a university like Yale may be partly invested in corporations that deal in Sudan and negotiate with its government. In April, Harvard divested its endowment from China’s PetroChina; in June, Stanford divested from its stock in Russia’s Tatneft, China’s Sinopec and Switzerland’s ABB.
The impact of these actions should not be underestimated. Eric Reeves, a professor at Smith College and founder of www.divestsudan.org, believes that the Sudanese government could not survive without the investment of European companies. If the corporations realize that their investors do not support their entanglement with the Sudanese government, they are likely to withdraw from Sudan, as the Canadian energy company, Talisman, did in 2004.
While sanctions exist that prevent American companies from dealing in Sudan, there are 83 international companies, traded at the Stock Exchange, that are willing to do business in Sudan. Some of these corporations, including Sinopec, PetroChina, ABB, India’s ONGC Vinesh Limited, Germany’s Siemens and France’s Alcatel have evident relations with Sudan and the Sudanese government.
For example, the Web site of ONGC Vinesh Limited indicates that it has acquired 25 percent participating interest in the Greater Nile Oil Project (GNOP), an oil consortium that runs ten oil fields in Sudan, bringing in 300,000 barrels of oil per day. It is likely that much of the profit generated by the GNOP is falling into the hands of the Sudanese government.
While we ought to follow the lead of Harvard and Stanford in taking a stand against these corporations, we are in a position now to go one step beyond and develop a policy on the issue of genocide. Such a policy could delineate Yale’s position not only on ad hoc cases of human rights abuses, but on the central ethical issue itself. The Rwandan genocide of 1994 took hundreds of thousands of lives in a matter of 100 days; a formal University policy on genocide would facilitate a more rapid response to such a situation.
Each one of us, by virtue of our status as students and the tuition we pay, is an investor and deserves to be heard. We have a right to know where the University’s money is being invested, especially if it is helping to sponsor genocide in Sudan.
This isn’t just another dotted line to sign. It’s the best way that Yale, as a community, can make a formal statement about its position on genocide and its insistence on ethical investment.
Eric Bloom is a sophomore in Morse College. He is the president of STAND.