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UC Regents discuss Sudan investments

For the first time since students began their campaign for divestment from Sudan earlier this year, the UC Board of Regents publicly discussed its investments in the country in a meeting at UCLA on Wednesday. Visit UC Sudan Divestment Taskforce http://www.ucdivestsudan.com

The UC currently has $66 million in companies that invest in Sudan - UC Treasurer for Investments David Russ

For the first time since students began their campaign for divestment from Sudan earlier this year, the UC Board of Regents publicly discussed its investments in the country in a meeting at UCLA on Wednesday.

It did not address divestment or talk of a genocide, and for now the official response from all regents is "no comment."

The topic has come to the regents because some students feel the UC should take a stand against alleged human rights abuses that have occurred over the last two years.

But the board did address the holdings the university has in the region.

In a brief discussion on Sudan, Treasurer for Investments David Russ said the UC currently has $66 million in companies that invest in Sudan. These are mainly oil companies which work in the region, he added.

The treasurer also expressed an interest in cooperating with students in examining the UC's records and determining exactly which companies support the Sudanese government.

Students say this public discussion of the investments in the region and openness to cooperation was a victory.

"It was a success ... because they brought up the issue of Sudan," said Bridget Smith, the chairwoman of the UC Sudan Divestment Taskforce.

For today, that was the main goal.

"We basically used the meeting as a forum to introduce the program for divestment," said Tristan Reed of the Taskforce.

The Taskforce hopes to see divestment on the agenda for the next regents meeting at the end of this month and officials seem to see this as a possibility. Regent Chairman Gerald Parsky said he would refrain from making comments until the issue was officially brought up at a meeting.

Dozens of students were at the meeting to show the regents their support for divestment in Sudan due to the actions of the government, which have been labeled as genocide.

The government of Sudan has conducted and continues to carry out an "ethnically based campaign against the different African peoples of Darfur," said Edward Alpers, a professor of African history at UCLA.

Estimates of the death toll range from 180,000 to 400,000 people, and almost 2 million individuals have been displaced, he said.

Students say the university has a responsibility to take a stand against crisis by taking money out of Sudan.

"One of the goals right now is really conveying to the regents why divestment is so important ... (and) remind them of the historical moral tradition," Reed said.

The UC played a key role in divesting from South Africa in the 1980s, Smith said. "Once they divested, it sent ripples through the world."

Harvard has now set a precedent for taking action on Sudan by divesting $4.4 million from nation, she said.

Members of the Taskforce also compared the crisis in Darfur to times when the UC did not act against human rights violations.

"Eleven years ago the world watched helplessly as some 800,000 people were slaughtered over three months ... (in) Rwanda," Alpers said.

The world, and the UC, would not stand by again as Africans are being killed, he said.

The crisis in Darfur has been building for two years and is well-known internationally and can be stopped in a way the Rwandan genocide could not, due in part to the short time period of the events, he added.

The issue of divestment is complicated by various factors.

For one, the $66 million is connected with investments that amount to billions of dollars � to withdraw money from a few companies may mean withdrawing from many others as well, Smith said.

For another, the university's decisions on investments are made on financial � not social � grounds, said Trey Davis, a spokesman for the UC Office of the President.

"The regents have a policy of making investment decisions on the basis of financial criteria," he said. "Strictly on the basis of financial criteria."

And even if the UC were to make investment decisions for so-called social reasons, it would be faced with a multitude of different groups clamoring for divestment from one area or another.

"For every stock in the portfolio, there's a group who would be opposed to it," Russ said.

But Reed said Darfur was not the same as just any plea for divestment because of the magnitude of the crisis.

"Darfur is a special case," Reed said. "They are confronted by divestment (requests) all the time, but Darfur is a unique case."


By Sara Taylor