Bush Signs Bill to Pressure Sudan, Letting States and Localities Curtail Investments

By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 1, 2008

CRAWFORD, Tex., Dec. 31 -- President Bush signed a bill Monday allowing states, local governments and private investors to cut investment ties with Sudan as a way to pressure the Khartoum government into ending violence in the country's Darfur region.

But Bush qualified his support by saying that the measure could allow state and local actions to interfere with national foreign policy. The president said he has instructed his administration to enforce the law in a manner that prevents that outcome.

"The constitution vests the exclusive authority to conduct foreign relations with the federal government," Bush said in a statement accompanying the announcement.

Human rights advocates urged Bush to implement all provisions of the bill, which passed unanimously in the House and Senate, to pressure Sudan to comply with international peacekeeping efforts. The legislation targets four economic sectors regarded as crucial sources of revenue for the Sudanese government: oil, power production, mining and military equipment. The law permits states and localities to divest from companies involved in those sectors. It also allows managers of mutual funds and private pension funds to cut ties with companies involved in those sectors and provides protection from lawsuits.

Several lawmakers also applauded the president for signing the measure, although they expressed bafflement at his reservations. "It's genocide!" exclaimed Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), a longtime advocate of sanctions in Sudan.

"This measure is intended to change Khartoum's behavior by putting pressure on the foreign companies lining the pockets of the ruling National Congress Party," said a joint statement released Monday by several Darfur activist groups, including the Save Darfur Coalition, the Genocide Intervention Network and STAND. "It presents a stark choice -- stop enabling genocide in Darfur or lose our business. The people of Darfur cannot afford an empty law on the books, which is why the president must vigorously enforce this critical legislation."

The armed rebellion in Darfur stems from long-standing strife between African farmers and Arab herders over land, and a failure by the government in Khartoum to redress local grievances. The government armed local Arab militias known as the Janjaweed, which rampaged throughout Darfur starting in mid-2003, burning hundreds of villages, raping women and summarily executing African villagers, according to numerous human rights reports. More than 200,000 people have died in Darfur since the crisis erupted, according to U.N. estimates. Some estimates place the figure as high as 450,000. The conflict has displaced more than 2.5 million.

On Monday, a joint United Nations-African Union mission of 9,000 soldiers and police officers took over peacekeeping duties in Darfur from a beleaguered A.U. force, the Associated Press reported from El Fasher, capital of North Darfur state. Most of the troops present for the handover ceremony, in which they donned blue U.N. berets, were from the previous A.U. force. The mission is planned to reach a strength of 26,000 over several months.

Bush has adopted Darfur as a special cause and has become one of the few world leaders to describe the killing there since 2003 as genocide. But he has been repeatedly stymied in his efforts to marshal an effective international response.

Among the difficulties has been tension between the president's desire for direct intervention and the concern over sending U.S. troops to yet another Muslim nation. Other concerns include the effect of economic sanctions on the U.S. relationship with China, a significant investor in Sudan, and that the Khartoum government has cooperated with the United States in providing intelligence about al-Qaeda.

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