March 23, 2007

Bill to pressure Sudan government to end genocide advances

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

What can the state of Indiana do to put an end to the Sudan government’s genocide in Darfur? Indiana lawmakers want to hit the Sudanese government where it counts—their pocketbook.

House Bill 1484, which passed the House last month 97-0 and was heard by the Senate Pensions and Labor Committee on March 14, is now eligible for a vote by committee members. The bill would require two of the largest Hoosier funds to end investments in companies that support the Sudanese government’s military efforts against the people of Darfur.

Rep. Cindy Noe (R-Indianapolis), original author of the bill, and Rep. Phil GiaQuinta

(D-Fort Wayne), current lead author of the bill, believe Indiana can have an impact by cutting off investments to 24 targeted foreign companies which provide vital services to the Sudanese government’s strategic elimination of the people of Darfur. Indiana’s Public Employees Retirement Fund (PERF) and the Teachers’ Retirement Fund (TRF) hold investments in at least 13 of the targeted companies.

Rep. Noe said she became familiar with the situation in Sudan through World Magazine. After reading about it and seeing photos, she felt compelled to do something, but didn’t know what role she could play.

Then Rep. Noe said she became aware of model legislation which “takes a very surgical approach of bringing economic pressure upon the Sudanese government, pressure which the Sudanese government is very sensitive to” and which has been effective in the past.

The other motivating factor for authoring the bill for Rep. Noe was the fact that this is the first time in history that genocide was declared while the genocide was still taking place, giving the U.S. government, state governments and individuals an opportunity to act to end the violence.

Twenty-five other states have introduced legislation similar to House Bill 1484 to put economic pressure on the Sudanese government.

“We’re not going after companies that are beneficial to the people of Sudan,” Rep. Noe said.

“The bill goes after companies which are aiding and abetting the government’s genocide, including oil and power companies, among others,” she said. “The targeted companies are those that provide services which can greatly help the military.”

Since 2003, the Sudanese government has systematically killed at least 400,000 of its own people in Darfur, and more than 2.5 million persons have been victimized and displaced with their homes and villages devastated. Roughly 2,000 villages have been destroyed, which is more than 90 percent of the villages in the Darfur region.

Rep. Noe explained that the extermination is taking place based on a classist, elitist mentality with Muslims of Arabic heritage believing they are superior to Muslims of African heritage. She said that years ago when genocide was taking place in Sudan, it was the Muslims killing the Christians, but since 2003, Muslims of Arabic descent have been killing Muslims of African descent.

Rep. GiaQuinta, a freshman lawmaker, said he got involved with the issue during his campaign when he was asked to speak at a general rally to protest what was going on in Sudan. He also learned that Fort Wayne has the highest percentage of refugees from Darfur in the state and possibly the nation.

“This targeted divestment is not targeting companies that provide educational services or humanitarian needs to the people, but companies that are funneling resources into the [Sudanese] government,” Rep. GiaQuinta said. “The bill also gives the companies an opportunity to correct their behavior, and if they do within the allotted time frame, they will not be sanctioned.

“The bottom line for me is do I really want my retirement funds tied up with companies that are funneling money into a terrorist group? It’s like blood money, and I don’t want to be any part of that,” Rep. GiaQuinta said.

Sen. John Broden (D-South Bend), Senate sponsor of House Bill 1484, said he became involved with the bill when the U.S. government declared the situation in Darfur to be genocide. He began looking for ways that Indiana could make a difference where the unjust situation is concerned.

As an example of the impact Indiana could have, Sen. Broden said, “There is $16 billion in the PERF, and $40 million is invested in the scrutinized companies. I don’t want to sit idly by when there is at least one way we can have an impact on this situation.”

Glenn Tebbe, executive director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, who testified in support of House Bill 1484 on March 14 before the Senate panel, said, “Morally, we have an obligation to take steps to help the people and to try to stop the harm being committed by the government of Sudan.”

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion.) †

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