As world acts on Darfur, NU sits

Rosenblatt, Jonathan

I had a dream the other night. I guess it was a bit more of a nightmare really. The details have become blurry as days have passed, but suffice it to say the setting was Nazi Germany and my life was in danger. One could argue quite convincingly that being a Jew and bookmarking BBC Africa on my computer would predispose me to these types of nights.

But usually nightmares end once one awakens. Not so with mine.

When I woke up, there was still a genocide occurring. This genocide is in Africa – Sudan, specifically – at the hands of that country’s diabolical president, Omar al-Bashir, and his camarilla of murderers and crooks. In the four years since the genocide began, they have succeeded in murdering up to 400,000 innocent civilians and forcing over 2.5 million innocent civilians to flee their homes. And the violence rages on.

After years of collective inaction from the international community, a sign of progress has finally emerged from this dismal status quo. Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, has sought an arrest warrant for President Bashir on charges of genocide and war crimes.

There happen to be a couple of major snags that have many skeptical as to the efficacy of this move. For one, the proceedings are sure to be arduous, potentially granting a recalcitrant Bashir many more years of unpunished violence. Sudan’s amiable relationships with Russia and China also make gaining international leverage difficult. Even more troubling is the fact that Sudan does not recognize the legitimacy of the ICC.

So why in the face of all this discouraging evidence I am filled with a tempered feeling of relief? Because at the very least, this is a step in the right direction.

But even as the ICC continues its grand-scale legal proceedings, the question turns to what each of us can do both as individuals and members of the larger Northwestern and Evanston communities to affect change in this seemingly intractable tragedy.

Over the past few years the word “divestment” has certainly become part of the Northwestern jargon. A strong, sometimes vociferous push has been made to convince NU to divest from companies that do business in Darfur.

Divestment was arguably the key diplomatic strategy that led to the demise of the apartheid regime in South Africa. In distinction to this former example of divestment, NU is being encouraged to adopt a targeted divestment model that isolates the most egregious offenders and protects industries that provide necessary revenue to Darfurian civilians (for instance, 80% of Darfurians are employed in the agriculture sector). Targeted divestment not only depletes Sudan of its resources, but also allows for a swift and smooth transition once the genocidal regime has been removed.

Northwestern has not been completely idle in the face of the genocide. In February 2007, Senior Vice President of Business and Finance Eugene Sunshine issued a statement of divestment from four companies – only two of which still conduct business in Darfur. The fact that two of these businesses have ceased operations in Darfur shows not only the effectiveness of divestment, but also the diminishing significance of NU’s statement.

In that same statement, Sunshine wrote with a sense of pride that Northwestern was on the vanguard of universities to take such action. He then acknowledged the request for further action from the student body and assured that “we will consider their requests thoughtfully.”

When I asked ASG president Neal Sales-Griffin about the administration’s alarming hesitance, he explained that he would “give the university and the administration the benefit of the doubt in this situation.” He said further “the issue is definitely on their priority list, I don’t know where it is on it, but it’s on there for sure.”

I too have given the administration the benefit of the doubt. But here I sit, one year and a half later – following several private meetings, a police escorted rally, and the delivery of 2000 postcards signed by students – and the administration continues to “consider thoughtfully.” If Northwestern really wishes to tout itself as a leader in this campaign, and to be completely removed from the mire of doubt, why hasn’t Northwestern taken this necessary step?

In meetings with university officials, I have been told that NU does not have direct investments in the highest offending companies as determined by the Sudan Divestment Task Force. While this fact is encouraging, it is also perplexing.

Taking a strong institutional stand against human rights abuses is something of which to be proud. If NU already has no ties to these companies, then making a public statement is a simple, important and rational next step.

If NU is worried about hurting the growth of our endowment, there are provisions in place to deal with potentially deleterious divestments. If the administration does not wish to give the impression that it can be bullied to action by a group of students on any given issue, I believe it is safe to say that genocide resides on a plane of its own.

During my conversation with Sales-Griffin, he said that NU is “producing the type of people who will be in positions of influence and who will affect change on these sorts of issues when we step out into the real world.”

While Sales-Griffin’s words are certainly true and indicative of his forward-looking philosophy, I don’t think we have to wait until we procure a job at the state department in order to support this effort. We are in the real world now. We must use the tools we have at our discretion to make a difference immediately.

Making a public statement of targeted divestment is an easy, safe and effective way for the NU community to make a difference. It won’t end the twenty first century’s first genocide, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

For more information on the divestment movement or the Sudan Divestment Task Force, visit

Jonathan Rosenblatt is one of the co-coordinators of the Northwestern University Darfur Action Coalition and the treasurer of NU’s chapter of STAND: A Student Anti-genocide Coalition.

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