Today, two movements for the promotion of human rights in Sudan and Palestine seek to emulate the successful role played by boycotts, divestment, and sanctions in achieving democracy and equality in South Africa. The two movements, however, have received radically different receptions on Capitol Hill. This double standard testifies to official Washington’s selectivity when it comes to promoting human rights around the globe and its tendency to overlook the faults of its allies while using human rights as a pretext to punish its adversaries.
On December 31, President Bush signed into law the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act of 2007, which was passed unanimously by Congress earlier in the month. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Chris Dodd, authorizes state and local governments to divest their holdings from corporations that profit from dealings with the Sudanese government and immunizes mutual fund managers from lawsuits for doing the same.
The practical impact of this legislation, however, is doubtful. U.S. corporate investment in Sudan is minimal due to a host of sanctions and the connection between U.S. corporate profits and human rights abuses committed by the Sudanese government or the Janjaweed militia is indirect at best. Nevertheless, any encouragement for divesting from corporations that profit from human rights abuses is a welcome step towards increasing corporate accountability.
If Congress believes that institutions should divest from corporations that profit from human rights abuses in one country, then morality and logic dictate that U.S. policy should promote divestment from any corporation that profits from human rights abuses anywhere in the world.
The dictates of politics, however, intrude on the ability of Members of Congress to act in an ethically consistent fashion when it comes to Israel and the human rights abuses it inflicts daily on millions of Palestinian civilians living under its 40-year military occupation and siege of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip.