“Blood Money” in Darfur

A House bill to impose economic sanctions on companies doing business in Sudan has 48 co-sponsors.

Black congressional leaders and activists are urging the United States to help end genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan by placing economic sanctions on companies earning profits in the African nation.


Last week, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and 48 co-sponsors announced a bill that would bar companies benefiting from the conflict in Darfur from receiving federal business contracts.


Meanwhile, activists are calling for a United Nations peacekeeping force to seize control of the volatile situation.


"No one should have to worry that their tax dollars are supporting genocide," Lee said at a Capitol Hill press conference. "The bill is designed to wash the blood off of our federal contracts, protect the rights of states to divest their own public pension funds from companies doing business in Sudan and increase financial pressure on Khartoum to end the genocide in Darfur."


It is estimated that companies associated with the conflict have amassed about $600 billion since 2004, according to data from the General Services Administration Procurement Data System. Precise figures cannot be known since no comprehensive list of businesses said to profit from the conflict exists.


The bill, the Darfur Accountability and Divestment Act, would require that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission compile such a list. Criteria for making the list would include doing business with Sudan’s government-related entities or selling them military and other equipment that could be used to hurt civilians.


"It is urgent that the international community come together to take decisive action to save the lives of those in Darfur," U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), a co-sponsor of the bill. "I urge my colleagues to adopt, the Darfur Accountability and Divestment Act of 2006 and to support the effort to end genocide in Darfur."


The legislation is supported by activists, though many insist stronger action is needed.


As activist organizations mount pressure and the situation further deteriorates, Darfur is beginning to receive more attention from the international community. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice issued an ultimatum to the Sudanese government on accepting a UN peacekeeping force last week. President Bush has appointed a new special envoy to the region, whose task will be to employ diplomacy to end the conflict.


Human rights organization Africa Action still questions U.S. commitment to ending the conflict. In a statement, acting Co-Executive Director Anna Louise Colgan praised President Bush’s recent appointment of a special envoy, but called it insufficient.


"The appointment of a special envoy for Darfur cannot substitute for a U.S. plan of action to break the deadlock and stop the genocide. The credibility of the U.S. on Darfur will be judged by the successful pursuit of a diplomatic offensive … to overcome [Sudan’s] opposition to a UN force and galvanize Security Council Action to protect the people of Darfur."


A resolution approved by the UN would place 17,000 peacekeepers in the region. Sudan’s government has objected, saying the nation’s sovereignty would be violated.


The African Union, an organization of African states, maintains a peacekeeping force of 7,000 in the region. It was just given UN approval to continue its efforts in the region, which have so far failed to end violence.


The conflict began in Feb. 2003 when Arab militias believed to be supported by the government began attacking the western region known as Darfur, where rebel groups live. The conflict has largely been cast as racial and religious, given the targeting of blacks and Christians. Both groups have historically lacked political power.


Death toll estimates vary wildly, though it’s now believed that at least 200,000 have died since the conflict began. This figure, taken from a scientific study from journal, “Science,” differs sharply from estimates once putting the toll at just 70,000. Africa Action says 500,000 have died; the UN estimate is 400,000.


Last month, the NAACP joined other humanitarian and civil rights groups at rallies in front of the White House and in New York City as part of a continuing campaign to stop the genocide in Darfur.


"In recent months, the media has begun to display the desperation in Darfur to the world community, but the situation continues to worsen," Crispian Kirk, NAACP director for international relations, said in a statement. "We must take action. Without our help, thousands more will suffer and die."