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Gems And Justice In Burma

Despite growing international pressure for democratic reform, the military junta that has ruled Burma for decades shows no inclination of loosening its repressive grip. Hoping to get the attention of the generals where it can't be missed – in their bank accounts – the United States has tightened economic sanctions on regime leaders, its supporters and companies that are linked to them.

President George Bush approved legislation enacted by the U.S. Congress to strengthen financial sanctions against regime leaders and their supporters and to outlaw the importation of rubies and jade mined in Burma. The East Asian nation is a major supplier of the world’s jade and rubies, and the gem trade provides substantial income to the regime. After timber and oil, gems are Burma's third largest export. The trade provides crucial revenue to the military government and the generals themselves since it is believed that members of the junta own a majority interest in each of the country's mines. Many of the operations sit on land confiscated from private owners or local communities.

Some large jewelry companies around the world, worried about being associated with the junta, already have given up sales of Burmese gems. But it is also possible to mask the origin of a stone as it often changes hands many times and in many countries, before it ever reaches the U.S. as a finished necklace or ring. The new sanctions now make it harder for unscrupulous traders to circumvent the ban on trading in Burmese gems.

These new sanctions aim to increase financial pressure on the regime. At the same time, the U.S. and others continue to apply political pressure on the regime leadership to move towards democratic transition.

"On the Burmese regime, our message is: The United States believes in democracy and freedom," President Bush said.