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US Senate Bans Import of Burmese Gems

Over 90% of the world’s rubies originate from Burma. Given the human rights abuses and totalitarian regime in Burma, Brilliant Earth has never sourced any gemstones from Burma. All of our gemstones are sourced in accordance with fair trade principles. A new law has been passed banning the import of Burmese Gems into the US. This is great progress, since it prevents Burmese gems from entering the US through third-party countries, which was an often-exploited loophole.


NEW YORK — Exactly one week after the United States House of Representatives passed the Block Burmese Jade Act, the Senate on Tuesday unanimously approved the bill, which blocks American companies from importing gemstones from Burma and expands financial sanctions against the country’s military junta.


The act, which was initially introduced in the Congress last year by late Congressman Tom Lantos, is now being sent to US President George W Bush to sign it into law. In the US Senate, the bill was introduced by Senators Joseph Biden (D-DE) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Bush is expected to sign the Block Burmese Jade Act into law in coming days, knowledgeable sources said.

Graphic showing the main gem producing areas of Burma. The US Senate on Tuesday approved legislation to block gems from Burma entering the US via a third country. (Graphic: AFP)


Welcoming the passage of the bill by the Senate, Congressman Howard L Berman said:
“We cannot allow this (Burmese) regime to prosper financially while they continue to violate the human rights of their own people.” Berman, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, introduced the legislation in the House.


“This bill hits the Burmese leaders where it hurts—in the wallet. It’s our hope that these sanctions will push other countries to examine their own financial dealings with Burma,” said Berman, who was in New York on Tuesday leading a congressional delegation to the UN and meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.


Though it is already illegal for American companies to directly import Burmese products, the Block Burmese JADE Act will keep Burmese gems, including jade and rubies, from entering US markets via third-party countries.


Stopping US sales of these Burmese gems is expected to prevent the Burmese regime from earning hundreds of millions of dollars each year. The bill also makes Burmese regime leaders, military officers and their families ineligible for visas to the United States.


Congress began to consider the legislation in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis, when the Burmese regime placed restrictions that severely limited the ability of international aid workers to help the tens of thousands of families that were affected.


Referring to the crackdown on monks last year and the junta’s decision to place restrictions on international aid for cyclone victims, Berman said: “These brutal actions demonstrate the regime’s moral bankruptcy, but unfortunately it is far from financially bankrupt.”


While the Burmese people live in abject poverty, Burma’s military leaders continue to take Burma’s vast natural resources as their own, he said.


The legislation has already received support from Jewelers of America, which represents more than 11,000 jewelry stores nationwide. Major retailers such as Tiffany’s and Bulgari have voluntarily implemented a ban. Similar restrictions have also been imposed by the European Union and Canada.


The unanimous passage of the bill by the Senate was welcomed by Burmese activists.


“The blood color of rubies not only brings Than Shwe’s military regime $300 million per year, it signifies all the blood lost by innocent civilians in our struggle for human rights,” said Aung Din, a former political prisoner and co-founder of the US Campaign for Burma.


“We want to thank the United States Congress for taking strong and meaningful action,” he said in a statement.


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