September 17, 2007

Cornell Considers Strategy to Combat Genocide in Darfur

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It has been over a year since President David Skorton announced Cornell’s plans to divest from Sudan, but Cornell is still investigating other ways to put an end to the still-ongoing genocide in Darfur and raise awareness about the region.
Last year, the University participated in a “selective” divestment: Rather than pulling investments from all companies that do business in Sudan, assets were only divested from obligations to the Sudanese government and oil companies that directly benefit the Sudanese government and thus fund the government-sponsored genocide. This is a narrower approach than that taken by many other colleges and universities, which halted investments in all companies doing business in Sudan, not just oil companies.
“Given that more than half of the Sudanese government’s revenues are derived from oil, the Cornell community is sending an unequivocal message to the oil companies about the impact of their own actions in this crisis,” Skorton stated in a press release at the time of the announcement.
“Divestment has the advantage of allowing the University to make a gesture and brings Darfur to people’s attention,” said Prof. John Weiss, history the founder of Darfur Action Group Cornell. “It allows them to chance to continue to be interested in the subject.”
As of August this year, 20 states and 52 colleges and universities had divested from Sudan, including the State of New York. All eight schools in the Ivy League have divested from companies supporting the genocide in Sudan in some way.
“As an actual policy that will help end the genocide, divestment will have about zero impact, and that has been pretty much established,” Weiss said. “The Sudanese government is well aware of the divestment campaign and has been planning how to counter any economic or financial measures for a long time.”
Last March, the Sudanese government paid for a full color insert in the New York Times advertising Sudan’s economy and encouraging investors to put their money in Sudanese companies. This represents just one of the government’s attempts to counter the economic fall taken because of the divestment effort in the United States.
The real growth rate of Sudan’s GDP last year was close to 10 percent, ranked 20th in the world. Comparatively, the U.S. had a real growth rate of 3.4 percent, ranked 140th.
“Regardless of the growth in Sudan, Cornell did the right thing by pulling out,” said C.J. Slicklen ’09, executive vice president of the Student Assembly.
Shortly after the announcement that Cornell was going to divest from Sudan, the S.A. drafted a resolution commending the decision and pledging to support it. The resolution pledged that the S.A. “will work with President Skorton and Provost Biddy Martin to investigate additional ways to assist the people of Darfur.”
“The administration never contacted us seeking input or additional ways to help,” Slicklen said. “But we would try to create an ad-hoc committee within the S.A. to work with individuals to see what else we could do to help, if needed.”
Other than the divestment, Cornell has supported many other programs and events to raise awareness about the crisis in Sudan. These have included academic conferences, courses on humanitarianism, screenings of documentaries on Darfur, presentations by outside speakers and a Ride Against Genocide, as well as last March’s Darfur Awareness Week.
In addition, last June a group of graduate students from the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs gave a briefing about the situation in Darfur to President George W. Bush’s Special Envoy for Sudan, Andrew Natsios.
Cornell’s Darfur Action Group is also exploring other ways to raise awareness about Darfur, as well as strategies to end the genocide completely.
“Divestment shows that Cornell is interested,” Weiss said. “We can use this interest as a wedge to advocate more effective things. To end the genocide, we must listen to the voices of Darfuris and encourage discussion among them through conferences and other means of facilitated communication. We also need to support the only people who have the possibility of actually intervening.”
According to a statement issued by Skorton last March about Cornell’s continued efforts in Sudan, “we are continuing to look for ways to assist civil society organizations in Sudan in their own efforts to promote peace and secure a better future for all of the people of Sudan.”
“Nobody has figured out how to end the genocide,” Weiss said. “But there are some groups and individuals who share our vision in what needs to be done here, and hopefully it will be done.”