TRENTON, June 19, 2005 -- In response to accusations of genocide, torture and rape sanctioned by the government of Sudan, New Jersey lawmakers are trying to force the state pension systems to sell more than $1 billion in investments in companies doing business in the African nation.
The measure is working its way through the Legislature and cleared another hurdle last week, and its sponsors hope to have the bill signed into law by the end of the month.
"The money we are earning there is dripping in blood. It's soaking in blood," said Assemblyman William D. Payne, D-Newark, one of the bill's sponsors. "We are directly or indirectly contributing to the genocide."
The United Nations estimates that 180,000 people have died and more than 2 million have been displaced due to violence between the Arab government and rebels, according to the Associated Press. Human-rights groups accuse the government of supporting militias who have raped and killed civilian Sudanese of African origin. British estimates place the death toll around 300,000.
President Bush has called the situation a genocide.
"We also have the obligation to speak out with whatever tools are appropriate and necessary against the genocide and the horrors that are ongoing in the Sudan," said state Sen. Thomas H. Kean Jr., R-Westfield, the bill's Senate sponsor. "There are certain things that cry out for a response from the international community."
The bill would require the state to sell off any pension investments in foreign companies, banks and financial institutions that have ties to Sudan. In response to concerns raised by Treasurer John E. McCormac, the state Senate last week amended the plan to exempt businesses doing humanitarian work.
Payne will back a similar change in the Assembly, which must vote on the new bill in the wake of approval, by 76-1, of an earlier version. The Senate version has passed one committee and must now clear the Senate budget committee, then the full Senate, before it can head to acting Gov. Richard J. Codey for his signature.
Payne said American companies are already barred from doing business with "terroristic governments," but he added that if any are still working in Sudan he will push to divest from those as well.
Payne said the measure has Codey's backing.
"We support the bill," said Codey spokeswoman Kelley Heck.
Under the amended version of the bill, the state would have to sell off about $1 billion to $2 billion in investments, said Tom Vincz, spokesman for the Department of the Treasury.
The original bill, as it was approved by the Assembly, would have forced the state to sell around $7 billion in investments, McCormac told lawmakers in May, including the state's interests in companies doing humanitarian work.
The change approved by the Senate last week "has come a long way to address the key concerns that were raised by the treasurer," Vincz said.
McCormac has argued, however, that the state can do more good by holding onto its investments and pressuring company managers to change their policies.
"Selling to someone else does not necessarily achieve the goal," Vincz said.
The sales would have to take place within three years, according to the bill.
Payne said the state would consult with an independent research firm to help determine which companies are doing business in Sudan.
Officials in California, Illinois, New York and Texas have also considered similar divestment plans, according to published news reports. To date, no states have ordered their pension funds to divest from companies doing business in Sudan.
In the 1980s, New Jersey divested from South Africa to protest apartheid.
from the Courier News website www.c-n.com