WASHINGTON – Since the start of the Darfur genocide,more than $600 million in U.S. federal contracts have been provided to international businesses whose commerce in Sudan may be supporting the killing campaign,Rep. Barbara Lee,D-Calif.,said Thursday at a news conference.
Lee presented new legislation that would effectively withhold further contracts from companies suspected of directly or indirectly backing the government's systematic killing of Darfur refugees.
“No one should have to worry that their tax dollars are supporting genocide,” Lee said. “This bill is designed to wash the blood off of our federal contracts … and increase the financial pressure on Khartoum to end the genocide in Darfur.”
The Darfur Accountability and Divestment Act,co-sponsored by 48 legislators,would require the Securities and Exchange Commission to compile a list of businesses suspected of doing business with Sudan. The bill would also preserve the rights of states to divest public pension funds from these businesses.
Companies would land on the list if they deal directly with the Sudanese government or sell it military equipment.
The House of Representatives voted for previous legislation that included these provisions. The Darfur Peace and Accountability Act was passed in April,416-3.
However,the first bill's progress stalled in the Senate when senators could not reconcile the bill's wording on state divestment rights with the Senate version passed in November. Consequently,Sen. Richard G. Lugar,R-Ind.,chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee,introduced his own version of the bill without the divestment provision.
Some senators said the bill's language would prejudice a current U.S. Appeals Court case,said Lugar's press secretary,Andy Fisher.
The National Foreign Trade Council sued Illinois to protest its law requiring the state pension fund to sell stock in companies linked to Sudan.
“If we were going to have a successful bill on Darfur this year,that language needed to be removed,” Fisher said. “We've succeeded in doing that now,and hopefully we can have the bill move by unanimous agreement in Senate and in the House as well.”
State governments do not violate constitutional mandates by passing divestment legislation,Lee argued.
She said they are simply sending a message consistent with that of the federal government,that “the Darfur genocide is unacceptable and no blood will be on the hands of those investing in state pension plans.”
Committee members said divestment has proven effective,citing South Africa,where divestment helped end apartheid.
Since the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement in May,crimes against civilians have actually increased,according to testimony at subcommittee hearing Wednesday.
The United Nations estimated last week the number of people displaced within Sudan has reached 1.9 million,said Michael E. Hess,assistant administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development. Another 220,000 are refugees in Chad.
The number of security incidents,including the car-jackings of humanitarian workers and armed clashes,has also increased.
Mira Sorvino,a goodwill ambassador for Amnesty International's “Stop Violence Against Women” campaign,also addressed the House subcommittee on Africa,Global Human Rights and International Operations.
“As an actor,I can only do so much,and that's not quite enough,” Sorvino said.
Sorvino implored Congress to take action,saying,”The government has the power.”
In the middle of reading her statement,Sorvino's voice faltered as she paused to add her own “extemporaneous” sentiments,prefaced with the disclaimer,”I was warned not to mention this because it might drive people away,but it's just too upsetting not to bring this to the table.”
Sorvino described an encounter with a Sudanese refugee who confided that he had witnessed children being boiled alive.
“After hearing that … I just felt such a sense of personal failure,” she said.
“We've been promising to come in there and save them for years,” Sorvino said,”and hundreds of thousands have died while we've been talking.”
Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Chris Smith,R-N.J.,told of his visit to Darfur refugee camps 14 months ago.
“When it comes to Darfur,no one can ever say we didn't know,” he said. “Indifference,especially now,makes us complicit in genocide. Ineffectiveness,especially now,makes us unwitting enablers of genocide.”
“We have all chanted ‘Never again' in response to various mass atrocities that have occurred in the past century,” Sorvino said,citing Rwanda. “Unfortunately,again is now.”