Column by Bob Goodlatte
Last year, I had the opportunity to travel as part of a bipartisan congressional delegation to the war-torn nation of Sudan and see first-hand, in Darfur, one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent times. As a nation dedicated to freedom and the rights of the individual, the United States has a responsibility to speak out and act to prevent mass genocide from occurring.
I have since traveled with the same bipartisan delegation to the United Nations to press the UN secretary-general for immediate UN action in Darfur. In the past, the UN has not adequately handled genocide in other countries, most recently in Rwanda, but this is an opportunity for the UN to aid millions of people and bring about a real and lasting change.
Many people share my frustration that the UN is not working effectively to end the genocide in Darfur. These people, who, like me, are deeply troubled by the deplorable situation there, want to know what we can do to bring about change.
Just two weeks ago, President Bush signed bipartisan legislation into law which gives us the tools to apply economic leverage against Sudan to encourage that government to end the crisis in Darfur. The Darfur Accountability and Divestment Act requires companies to disclose their business dealings in Sudan which directly or indirectly support the genocide. Furthermore this legislation bans federal contracts with such companies. This ensures that no federal dollars – the hard-earned tax dollars of American families – go to support the Sudanese government and businesses complicit in genocide in that country.
Many states, including Virginia, have also looked at legislation to divest from these companies. The Darfur Accountability and Divestment Act allows states and localities to divest from these companies without fear of lawsuits charging that states are regulating foreign policy. Now that this important legislation has been signed into law by the president, it is time for the Virginia General Assembly to act by passing state legislation requiring the Virginia Retirement System, a public retirement plan for state and local government employees, to sell stocks it owns in companies that directly or indirectly support the atrocities in Darfur.
The Darfur Accountability and Divestment Act does not require individuals or states to take action, but protects them if they so choose. Furthermore this legislation would sunset all sanctions when the genocide in Darfur ends.
While I have never seen anything like what I saw in Darfur, the situation is not completely hopeless. The United States has taken the lead in providing humanitarian aid that is helping millions of people in desperate circumstances and passage of legislation like the Darfur Accountability and Divestment Act will reduce the amount of money flowing into the hands of those responsible for the deaths of almost 500,000 people.
Bob Goodlatte represents Virginia’s Sixth Congressional District in the United States Congress. Contact him at www.house.gov/goodlatte/emailbob.htm.