Bush signs into law Sudan divestment measure
By Jeremy Pelofsky
CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) - President George W. Bush on Monday signed into a law a measure aimed at allowing states, local governments, mutual funds and pension funds to divest from Sudan businesses, particularly its oil sectors.
Some 20 U.S. states have initiated divestment efforts because of the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region, which has taken some 200,000 lives and displaced some 2.5 million since rebels took up arms against the government in 2003.
But the effort in Illinois was challenged in court so the new law seeks to provide a legal framework for divestment from companies involved in Sudan's oil industry, mineral extraction, power production and the production of military equipment.
Bush has called the deaths in the Darfur conflict genocide, a charge the Sudanese government has rejected.
"My administration will continue its efforts to bring about significant improvements in the conditions in Sudan through sanctions against the government of Sudan and high-level diplomatic engagement and by supporting the deployment of peacekeepers in Darfur," Bush said in a statement.
But at the same time, he argued some provisions of the new law could interfere with his ability to conduct foreign policy and therefore he would "construe and enforce this legislation in a manner that does not conflict with that authority."
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said the administration would review divestment policies adopted by states and local governments to ensure they are consistent with the president's foreign policy and take action if necessary.
But Stanzel stressed that Bush signed the measure because "the president broadly agrees with the aim of the sponsors, that doing business with Sudan should be discouraged."
STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
The chief sponsor of the new law, Sen. Chris Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat and long-shot 2008 presidential hopeful, said the divestment is a vital step in the right direction.
"As we enter the new year, I urge states and local governments, as well as private investors, to take action, exercise your rights under this law and stop the genocide in Darfur," Dodd said.
The new law also requires the State and Treasury Departments to report to Congress on the effectiveness of sanctions on Sudan. Contractors doing business with the U.S. government will have to certify they are not involved in those areas as well.
Bush signed the law at his Texas ranch where he was spending a weeklong holiday.
The Save Darfur Coalition and other advocacy groups hailed the signing and urged Bush to ensure the law is enforced.
"The people of Darfur cannot afford an empty 'law on the books,' which is why the president must vigorously enforce this critical legislation,' the groups said in a joint statement.
The coalition says the Sudanese government uses up to 70 percent of its oil revenues, generated mainly through foreign direct investment, to give arms and supplies to the Janjaweed militia accused of the killings in Darfur.
Activists have pressed investors to divest their holdings in companies such as Malaysia's state-owned Petronas, India's Oil and Natural Gas Corp Ltd, and PetroChina Co Ltd, whose parent company, China National Petroleum Corp, is helping Sudan drill for oil.
(Editing by Doina Chiacu and Cynthia Osterman)