After 11 years of war, human rights violations and genocide, the conflict in the Sudanese region of Darfur persists. A brief cease-fire brought temporary peace to the area, but 2014 has ushered in a flare-up of atrocities in the region. The International Criminal Court has charged Omar al-Bashir, the current president of Sudan, with three counts of genocide

That genocide has claimed the lives of 400,000 Sudanese and displaced millions more, yet, despite international outcry against the atrocities in Sudan, the UT System continues to maintain its financial holdings in companies involved in Sudan — companies that contribute to the country’s genocide.

The University of Texas Investment Management Co., known as UTIMCO, manages the System’s $20 billion endowment. According to a 2011 Texas Observer article, roughly $5 million of the endowment is invested in companies that have directly helped contribute to Sudanese genocide (although that number may have changed since then). Companies on the list include PetroChina, which has bought oil from the Sudanese government, thereby indirectly contributing to the state-sponsored slaughter of non-Arabs in the Darfur region, and Dongfeng Motor Co., a company that has sold military equipment to Sudanese militias. 

UTIMCO’s dirty investments have led me to start Texans Against Genocide, a group founded with the intention of trying to get UTIMCO to draw the line at genocide, an incontrovertibly bad thing.

Bruce Zimmerman, the chief executive officer and chief investment officer of UTIMCO, is clearly good at the financial side of his job. He has grown the endowment tremendously, and as of 2011 he has regularly beaten general market returns. Regardless, good business doesn’t make good ethics.

Zimmerman declined to comment for this piece.

Zimmerman has said in the past that UTIMCO doesn’t “take social or political concerns into account.” He has said that factoring social responsibility into UTIMCO’s investment could lead to a slippery slope of investment restrictions that could potentially hurt the fund.

Zimmerman told the Observer in 2011, “What you’ll learn in Econ 101 is any externality has an economic cost. That’s not a presumption. It’s an economic reality.”

Zimmerman is right. Taking ethics into account does make investing harder but does not make it impossible. In the last decade, several universities, including Harvard, Stanford and Yale, among others, have divested or eliminated their holdings from companies linked to the genocide in Sudan. These colleges have endowments comparable to UT’s, and show that an endowment can still thrive while making ethically sound investments.

Moreover, the logic that a business’ sole responsibility is to make a profit, irrespective of its social or ethical cost, is riddled with problems. Ostensibly, we hold human beings to a general set of normative ethical and social standards. We expect people to respect our autonomy and not to hurt us or do generally bad things. The idea that a group of people working together to make money is somehow exempt from these standards doesn’t make sense. If I personally gave a government committing genocide millions of dollars and military supplies, you could call me a bad person. UTIMCO participating in these sorts of investments for the betterment of the UT System doesn’t absolve it from this. It just makes it opportunistic.

Obviously, issues like this aren’t cut-and-dried. If UTIMCO is forced to invest in accordance with sound ethics, the group could lose out on potentially lucrative investments. But while investment in morally gray areas, such as tobacco and fossil fuels, is up for debate, an investment in genocide is not.

We can avoid Zimmerman’s slippery slope by making it clear that we draw the line at mass murder. Right now, the UT System doesn’t draw the law line anywhere. Until it does, it implicitly supports genocide.

Breland is a Plan II senior from Houston and the president of Texans Against Genocide, an organization founded in the interest of getting UT to divest its endowment from corporations that fund or facilitate genocide.

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — The U.N. and African Union peacekeeping force in Sudan says more than 100 people have been killed and other 70,000 displaced from their homes because of recent tribal warfare in Darfur.

The United Nation-African Union Mission in Darfur says in a report issued Thursday that the deaths and displacement resulted from clashes between the Abbala and Beni Hussein tribes in Jabel Amir, the site of gold mines in North Darfur state in western Sudan.

Darfur has been in turmoil since 2003, when ethnic Africans rebelled, accusing the Arab-dominated Sudanese government of discrimination. Rights groups charge the regime retaliated by unleashing Arab militias on civilians.

The U.N. estimates that 300,000 people have died and 2.7 million have been displaced in the long-running conflict.

James Garang had to leave his home in southern Sudan at the age of 10 when a civil war broke out in the country in 1983.

“About 2.5 million people were killed and 7 million were displaced both internally and externally,” Garang said. “Four million were displaced externally.”

Sudan has faced two major civil wars in the late 20th and 21st century, including an ongoing conflict in Darfur, Garang said at the White Rose Society’s Human Rights Symposium on Monday.

Corrupt politicians split the country into south and north. The northern region was given access to more economic resources while people in the south suffered extreme neglect from 1955 to 2003, when the civil war ended, Garang said. The army had the power to unleash horror upon Sudanese citizens if they rebelled against government policies.

It took Garang three months to reach the Ethiopian border safely, where he received education for three years before undergoing military training. After a civil war broke out, he fled back to Sudan only to be attacked by the Sudanese government troops in the southern Sudanese village where he was living.
Finally, he reached Kenya, where U.S. delegates decided to bring 3,000 men like him to the United States in 2000. During the conflict, the militia killed people and wiped out villages indiscriminately.
“They [would take] a lot of people and put them in a house and set it on fire,” Garang said.

Sometimes, they would tie people to running horses and watch them die or dump dead bodies in the wells so that people wouldn’t be able to drink water.

Garang said he often wonders why the world looked the other way while all this was going on. He encouraged students in the U.S. to become more involved in spreading the word about what’s going on in Darfur.

African history professor Oloruntoyin Falola said people like Garang help mobilize efforts against genocide.

Looking at the Holocaust and genocide in Rwanda, we must realize that the situation in Sudan should have never happened, Falola said.

International relations sophomore Lauren Guerrant said it is hard for people to relate to atrocities happening far away from their homes.

“I did a project about Darfur, and it is something that people really need to know about,” Guerrant said.