Your investments might be financing genocide in Darfur

February 08, 2007|By Mia Farrow

During three visits to Darfur and neighboring Chad, I have been witness to the first genocide of the 21st century.

In a displaced-persons camp called Zam Zam, I met Halima, who described the day her village was attacked, first by Sudanese government bombers and then by the merciless, government-backed janjaweed militia. She said, "The janjaweed tore my baby son from my arms and bayoneted him in front of my eyes."

Another young mother, Fatima, told how she had fled her burning village with her baby tied to her back. When the janjaweed shot her, the bullet passed through the child, killing him.

During my visit, I watched a small boy, shot in the lungs, struggling to breathe, and I saw others whose eyes had been gouged out with knives.

So you can imagine my horror when I recently discovered that I had inadvertently been helping to finance the genocide in Darfur. My own pension money was in Fidelity Investments mutual funds. Fidelity has immense holdings in PetroChina Co. and Sinopec Corp., two oil companies that have poured billions of dollars into Khartoum's coffers.

From 70 percent to 80 percent of the oil revenue, according to Human Rights Watch, has been used by the government of Sudan to purchase assault helicopters, bombers, armored vehicles and small arms, as well as to train and arm the janjaweed - the people and weapons responsible for murdering Halima's and Fatima's babies, along with more than 400,000 other people.

I have always taught my children that with knowledge comes responsibility. Who among us would knowingly be complicit in the murder of innocent people? So I withdrew my savings from Fidelity and wrote a letter to the company explaining why. I didn't expect my letter alone to make the difference, of course, but I hoped that my action, together with that of others, would persuade them to take a responsible course.

But so far, rather than divesting, Fidelity has, over the last year, significantly increased its holdings in PetroChina.

Fidelity says: "We believe the resolution of complex social and political issues must be left to the appropriate authorities of the world that have the responsibility, and capability, to address important matters of this type."

Well, I disagree. It's true that Asia and the West have failed to take the necessary steps to end the genocide, but that doesn't mean the rest of us (corporations included) can shirk our moral obligations. Fidelity's effort to shift the responsibility away from its decision to invest in companies that fund atrocities is cynical and hypocritical.

A new public campaign, Fidelity Out of Sudan, asks the company to own up to its responsibility. The moral necessity of divesting from commercial and capital investments in Sudan is broadly recognized and growing. Colleges and universities have divested, particularly from Sudan's oil industry, with Harvard leading the way, citing a "compelling case for action in these special circumstances, in light of the terrible situation unfolding in Darfur and the leading role played by PetroChina's parent company in the Sudanese oil industry, which is so important to the Sudanese regime."

When the University of California divested, it was a huge victory. Six states, including California, have already taken a moral position by divesting. Twenty-four other states are considering such legislation.

And, of course, we are all responsible for our own savings and retirement accounts. Each of us must send a clear message to our investment advisers that we refuse to have our savings used to slaughter innocent people.

Mia Farrow, an actress, has made three trips to Darfur and neighboring countries. This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Thomas Sowell's column will return next week.

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