Senator Sampson Introduces Legislation To Prohibit Investments That Support Genocide

John L. Sampson

January 22, 2007

Senator John Sampson is introducing legislation to stop New York State from investing in companies doing business in the Sudan. This bill ensures that New York does not support business activities with a state that sponsors terrorism and perpetuates genocide in Darfur.

The atrocities in Darfur, the Southern region of Sudan, have resulted in the deaths of 400,000 people and the displacement of 2.5 million, inciting outrage throughout the world. Thousands of lives have been ruined from systematic rape, wholesale destruction of vital living resources, malnutrition and appalling conditions in refugee camps. "Our world proclaimed ‘Never Again’ to genocide after World War II and sat in humiliation after Rwanda and Srebrenica. It is vital to prove that we have not lost our resolve and equally essential to ensure that we are not supporting state-sponsored terrorism," explained Senator Sampson.

"In 1997, the federal government classified Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism and subsequently sanctioned U.S. companies from doing business in the country. Investing New York pension funds in companies that conduct business in the Sudan does not support efforts against terrorism and additionally poses certain financial risks," Senator Sampson said. "While efforts made at the federal or international level deserve applause, if factors at the state level contribute to terrorism and the ensuing inhumanities, states too must respond."

Currently, 6 states have passed Sudan divestment laws and there is legislation pending in 15 others. Over 30 universities including Cornell, Columbia and Vassar have also adopted divestment policies. In applying a targeted divestment strategy, strict criteria are set for only the most severe abettors while avoiding unintended negative consequence to civilians. "State divestment of pension funds has received heightened attention as a potentially effective and morally consistent response, especially in the wake of decreasing options at the international and federal level," said Senator Sampson.

"Changes to pension funds should not be taken lightly," noted Senator Sampson. "However, in the case of genocide, the severest of crimes and human atrocities, all avenues must be pursued to ensure that New York is not financially contributing to genocide as well as seeking to halt it. Particularly in this age of corporate responsibility, New Yorkers expect the government to be socially responsible with their public funds."

Using a fiscal strategy to respond to moral conflicts is not an unprecedented proposition for the legislature. The New York State legislature responsibly employed the MacBride0 Principles as a ‘code of conduct’ for companies doing business in Northern Ireland to combat employment discrimination and ease tensions in the region. Divestment at the state and municipal level, including 28 states and 92 cities, was also one of the most effective methods for ending Apartheid in South Africa.

Senator Sampson emphasized that, "New York has always been at the forefront of tackling gross violations of human dignity through effective and consistent policy. Moral authority and legal legitimacy is diminished when we fail to recognize the consequences of our actions or are unwilling to act accordingly in moments of consciousness. As an issue critical to both Democrats and Republicans, NY State’s financial contribution to this human tragedy can be addressed through cooperative efforts and should be done with expediency to save those lives that hang in the balance.