Divesting from Genocide

The genocide in Darfur has galvanized student groups across the country, and this week one group achieved a victory that even anti-apartheid activists couldn’t win: getting Harvard to divest. In response to petitions and protests, Harvard agreed to sell approximately $4.4 million worth of shares in PetroChina — a subsidiary of state-owned China National Petroleum, the world’s fifth-largest oil company — which has invested more than $1 billion in the Sudanese government to secure oil outputs.

The anti-apartheid activists in the ’70s — though they never managed to get Harvard to crack — did manage to put pressure on South Africa and raise awareness through numerous other divestment victories. For today’s activists, the biggest victory would be to get California’s Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) — which has an estimated $7.5 billion invested in companies active in Sudan — to relent to state pressure, as it did in 1986 when it divested from apartheid South Africa. Putting this kind of pressure on the financial backbone of Khartoum is an essential part of any successful strategy for bringing peace to Darfur and for living up to our responsibility to protect victims of genocide.

— Pete Ogden, International Rights and Responsibilities Project