Rachel Merkin writer
This past April, Wellesley Town Meeting members passed a very important resolution, Article 62, asking the citizens of the Town of Wellesley to help put an end to the genocide in the Darfur region of the Sudan. The fact that the citizens of Wellesley showed their support to stop these atrocities will hopefully set a precedent for surrounding communities, and will make an impact at higher governmental levels.
Article 62 could help to save thousands of lives. The villages of Darfur are being pillaged and burned by Janjaweed militias who are being funded by Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir and his government. Al Bashir gets the funds to pay the Janjaweed militias from the oil revenues he receives from companies like Chinese oil giants Sinopec and PetroChina. The money trail goes directly from personal dollars and public retirement funds to the guns being used to slaughter the men, women, and children of Darfur. As the situation worsens there, humanitarian relief efforts from some major international agencies are being pulled from the region because of fear for their volunteers’ safety.
Divestment is drastic. However, the situation in Darfur is tragic. Historically, President Bashir has succumbed only to economic pressure, not political pressure from the international community. He has dismissed attempts to send in United Nations peacekeeping forces, as well as attempts to deploy more African Union troops into the Darfur Region. Divestment has worked in the past with Bashir. In the 1990s, a conservative Christian movement led a divestment campaign against oil companies doing business in Southern Sudan. This led to three major oil companies pulling out of Sudan altogether, which is what many believe led to the peace agreement reached between the Khartoum government and the southern rebels. Cutting off Bashir’s oil revenues again now is a necessary tactic to stop the genocide as quickly as possible, before the people of Darfur are wiped off the face of this planet. In passing Article 62, the citizens of Wellesley have done all they can at the local level to get the humanitarian aid back into the Darfur region, and to the people who have survived the attacks, many of whom are starving to death in over crowded and under staffed refugee camps.
What happened at the Wellesley Town Meeting in April is a great start. By leading the way at the smallest level of government, the citizens of Wellesley will hopefully create momentum for state and federal governments to act sooner on Darfur. The passage of Article 62 will prove to the state senate that Wellesley also supports Massachusetts Senate Bill 1474, which calls for divestment of state pension funds from companies doing business with Sudan. Support for the state bill, it is hoped, will carry over to the federal level, increasing momentum for President Bush’s Plan B for Darfur. These measures, and the building of overwhelming support from the international community, will put even more effective financial pressure on Bashir to end the genocide in Darfur.
In the 1980s, American communities divested from companies doing business in South Africa during the apartheid era. Massachusetts was the first state in the country to divest their state pension funds from South Africa. If Senate Bill 1474 passes, Massachusetts will be the eleventh state to divest from Darfur. Divestment worked in South Africa because economic pressure affects the entire country, not just its politicians. If the economy begins to suffer as a result of economic sanctions, it leaves the government no choice but to reform its ways so that the sanctions will be lifted and the economy will return to normal. Withdrawal of economic funds can sometimes speak louder than withdrawal of political and moral support when an individual government is carrying out mass atrocities. If a grassroots divestment campaign can end approximately 45 years of apartheid, it is possible to believe that a divestment campaign against the oppressive Khartoum government of Sudan can end this genocide sooner rather than later.
As good a beginning as the passing of Article 62 is, this is not the time to become complacent because of one step in the right direction. We must continue to fight for the people of Darfur; to give a voice to the voiceless. We must continue to campaign for political and economic actions that will increase pressure on the government in Khartoum, and ultimately end the genocide being carried out against the people of Darfur.
There are many ways to get involved here at home. If you are interested in finding out how you can help with the Save Darfur initiative in Massachusetts, go to www.savedarfur.org. To learn more about divestment, visit www.sudandivestment.org.