More than two and a half years into the crisis, the western Sudanese region of Darfur is acknowledged to be a humanitarian and human rights crisis of the first order with as many as 500 people – overwhelmingly civilians – dying every month. The situation continues to deteriorate as the international community fails to protect innocent civilians or influence the Sudanese government to do so themselves.
The need for action has never been greater. It is estimated that since the beginning of the conflict up to 400,000 people have been killed and 2.5 million have been displaced from their homes by the government militia, the “janjaweed”. Currently, 25% of Sudanese children do not live past the age of five.
Since being placed on the “Terror Watch” list by the Clinton Administration, the Sudanese government has been supplying us with information on terrorist activity within their own country, despite the fact that this information is often outdated and “cherry-picked” for minimal importance. It is because of these ties that we continue to avoid confronting Sudan on the issue of genocide. How can President Bush say that “we cannot ignore” their suffering and then feed the very beast responsible for their destruction? How can he allow these fruitless ties to the Sudan take precedent over the lives of the millions suffering in Darfur? Because steps are not being taken on the federal level, California must take a lead to prevent this tragedy from escalating any further.
This year, I, along with Assemblymember Paul Koretz, have introduced a bill in the State Assembly, AB 2941 (Koretz), to address this atrocity. This bill would require two of the nation’s biggest pension systems, CalPERS and CalSTRS, to begin a targeted divestment of holdings in companies that continue to do business with a government that slaughters, rapes, starves and displaces their own people. One would think that after the Holocaust and the genocides in Armenia, Rwanda, and that of California’s Indian population, we would not stand idly by while people suffer from such inhumane treatment.
AB 2941 will affect the revenue that the Khartoum government receives. The Khartoum government has used the funds it receives to purchase Russian MIGs which have been used in the attacks in Darfur and to arm the brutal Janjaweed militia. The Darfurians receive no benefits from the central government, but more significantly, their destruction is enabled by the wealth of the Khartoum government.
AB 2941 will be heard on Tuesday, August 8th in the Senate Judiciary Committee. That same day the Sacramento Committee on Conscience will be holding its 2nd Annual Call to Conscience: Darfur, a rally in support of the bill. Speakers will include myself, Assemblyman Jerome Horton, and Assemblymembers Paul Koretz and Joe Coto, as well as representatives from groups sponsoring the bill, including the California State Conference of the NAACP.
We in California are in a unique position to affect the direction of the entire country on yet another important social goal. Although other states have chosen to divest, none of these states have the holdings in Sudan that we do, and consequently none of these states could have an impact as powerful as ours could be. The federal government is wrestling with the question of how to act, but they have been reluctant to act due to foreign policy allegiances. It is up to the states themselves to lead the charge, and while it may be too late to begin the divestment charge, it is not too late for us to lead it.
Assemblyman Jerome E. Horton was elected in November 2000 to represent the 51st District. He is the Chair of the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee.