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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Texas Legislators File 'Stop the Darfur Genocide Act'

Texas state Sen. Rodney Ellis (D - Houston) and state Rep. Corbin Van Arsdale (R - Houston) announced the filing of Senate Bill 247 & House Bill 667. The bipartisan legislation calls for the targeted divestment of state pension funds invested in companies doing business with the government of Sudan. Texas Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, state Sen. Florence Shapiro, state Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon and representatives of the University of Texas anti-genocide student coalition, The White Rose Society, joined the legislators in announcing the legislation.

In the past four years, the Sudanese government and their allied organizations have systemically killed more than 400,000 people and displaced more than 2.5 million in Sudan's Darfur region. For the first time in history, the U.S. government declared these ongoing atrocities to be genocide. The U.N. declared the crisis the "worst humanitarian disaster in the world today."

The Sudan Divestment Task Force, a project of the Genocide Intervention Network, developed the model legislation.

"We are grateful for the bipartisan support and leadership of Senator Ellis, Rep. Van Arsdale and Commissioner Williams on this vital initiative. Texas has a unique opportunity to lead the nation and the world by divesting its state pension funds from companies that support and condone state- sponsored terrorism," says Adam Sterling, project director of the task force.

"Stop the Darfur Genocide Act" utilizes a targeted divestment model focusing on the companies in Sudan that have a business relationship with the Sudanese government, impart minimal benefit to the underprivileged and have expressed no corporate responsibility policy regarding the current situation in Sudan. The targeted divestment approach will help to maximize
the desired effect on the Sudanese government while minimizing harm to Sudanese civilians and investment returns.

The legislation ensures that only the most egregiously offending companies will be affected and excludes any company that substantially benefits those outside of government circles such as those involved in medicine, education, general consumer goods, and agriculture, supporters say. The legislation has already passed in six states and is similar to efforts currently underway in over 20 other states.

Sterling adds, "While the exact figure won't be known until Texas fully scans its portfolios, most pension fund systems have somewhere between tens and hundreds of millions of dollars invested in problematic companies tied to Sudan -- a figure that is relatively small compared to
Texas' pension funds size, but is rather large in the context of Sudan."

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