DESPITE denials, there can be little doubt that the government of the Sudan has sanctioned the atrocities that have taken as many as 450,000 lives (the United Nations' estimate) in that sprawling, largely impoverished East African nation's Darfur region in the last four years. Men, women, and children are dying daily, some violently, others more slowly through disease and starvation.
President Bush has called what is going on genocide, and has talked about sanctions. Michigan State Rep. Alma Wheeler Smith (D., Salem Twp.) thinks it is time to stop talking and actually do something. She sponsored a bill requiring state pension systems to pull their investments from any foreign companies that do business with the Sudan that might aid its government, the military and militias, or the genocide.
Her bill passed the House easily. It faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled Senate, but it is morally certain that it should pass overwhelmingly.
The atrocities in Sudan are nothing short of sickening, and to some extent involve Muslim persecution of followers of Christian and animist religions.
Ms. Smith's bill does not call for a policy that is radical or risky. The bill prudently allows either the Congress or President to overrule it by simply declaring that it interferes with the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.
Additionally, any state retirement system would not have to divest if "clear and convincing evidence" shows that doing so would harm the pension fund's value by as little as one-half of 1 percent. That means this is largely a no-risk policy for Michigan - but one of great symbolic importance.
Twenty-odd years ago, states repulsed by South Africa's apartheid policy began to adopt divestment policies. These were hotly opposed at first by the Reagan administration, which argued in favor of a policy called "constructive engagement." That meant, essentially, asking the nation's white rulers to treat the black majority population a little better.
Before President Reagan left office, even he had to acknowledge that constructive engagement was a total failure. Economic sanctions were not. When the rotten system finally collapsed, we learned that economic sanctions had a good bit to do with speeding its demise.
What's going on now in Sudan is a good bit worse than most of what went on in South Africa. Sanctions against a regime that embraces genocide are more than justified. They should be required.
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