Since early October international news agencies from CNN to the Australian Broadcasting Corp., have been reporting that gemstones from Burma are financing the Myanmar military government, and that selling Burma rubies is equivalent to selling conflict diamonds. The following is a listing of some of the reports:
* Two early reports, Reuters’s “Blood Rubies Bankroll Burmese Junta,” reported on ABC’s Web site, and CNN Jonathan Mann’s video report, “Myanmar Gems; Trade keeps military junta amply funded in Myanmar” both focus on international response to the brutal crackdown on “civil disobedience,” peaceful pro-democracy rallies. The reports note that the European Union is considering a trade ban on gems from Burma, and that the US Congress has been asked to amend its ban to include gems “mined” in Burma. Current U.S. policy bans all Burmese products but allows Burmese gems cut and polished elsewhere to be legally imported.
* In a feature story titled “US Jewelers Want Myanmar Gem Loophole Plugged,” from Agence France-Presse, the conditions at Burmese gem mines is also reported. “The stones are mined at a huge human cost, with reports of horrific working conditions in Myanmar’s ruby mines, whose access is forbidden to outsiders. Groups of Myanmar exiles have called for a boycott of the gem auctions held by the ruling junta, claiming that the mines rely on forced labor.”
* Jeremy Woodrum, director of an organization called the U.S. Campaign for Burma was quoted as stating “Burma’s gem industry is dominated by the military regime and its cronies. No one with a conscience should buy a ruby because it is almost assuredly from Burma.”
As CNN’s Mann states, “In Myanmar, they have Blood Rubies. The ring on your finger could be helping keep the Junta in power there.”
Mann also talks about the U.S. ban on Burmese products, and how Burmese gems are legally sold here because of the “loophole you could drive truck through,” says Mann.
* In their press release, Peggy Jo Donahue, director of Public Affairs for Jewelers of America notes that JA has asked Congress to amend the Burmese Freedom & Democracy Act of 2003, which bans the importation of products from Burma, so that it includes gemstones “mined” in that country. This would effectively close the loophole which allows the purchase and sale of Burmese gems which are cut, polished, and sold once outside of Burma.
“Please note, JA has made it very clear that members should seek, on all future orders placed, written assurances from their suppliers that they will not knowingly supply any gems mined in Burma, until the process of democratic reform has started in that country.”
While there are many in the gem business who can easily justify and defend the buying and selling of Burmese gems as helping the Burmese people and not the military government as these reports state, the jeweler is going to be hard pressed to overcome the power of the international press.
* As Dave Federman, editor-in-chief of Colored Stone magazine writes, “looks like we’re going to have a ruby-less Christmas.”
“Tiffany’s Ban On Rubies From Burma Continues
Since 2003, Tiffany & Co. has not purchased rubies or other gemstones of known Burmese origin. Today, we are more committed than ever. We will continue our ban on the purchase of Burmese gemstones until democratic processes are restored in Myanmar.”
* Cartier released its own statement on the issue, which reads:
“Given the current crisis, and in accordance with our commitment to continuous improvement, Cartier has stopped buying gemstones which may have been mined in Burma (wherever those stones have been cut and exported from) until further notice. Cartier has issued instructions to this effect to its suppliers, requesting that they confirm on all relevant shipments that the gemstones provided have not been mined in Burma.”