Burma's Junta Finds Market for Gemstones

March 13, 2008 10:05 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The suppression of protests in Burma last fall drew worldwide condemnation. But the country remains the source of some 90 percent of the world’s rubies.

30-Second Summary

Burma’s military junta not only holds a controlling stake in all of the country’s gem mines, but the consortium that dominates the national gem trade—the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd.—“is owned by the defense ministry and a clutch of military officers,” The Christian Science Monitor reports.

The United States, European Union and Canada have all banned the importation of gems from Burma, and the U.S. Congress passed the Burmese Freedom of Democracy Act in 2003, which prohibits the importations of all Burmese goods.

The Jewelers of America, the national association of gems traders and sellers, has also denounced this trade, as have prominent jewelry brands Bulgari, Tiffany & Co. and Cartier.

“We didn't want to be supporting a regime using direct violence on civilians,” said Pamela Caillens, the public responsibility director for Cartier.

But not everyone is so conscientious about the source of their precious stones. China, India, Singapore and Thailand continue to buy from Burma despite the efforts of U.S. first lady Laura Bush to encourage a global boycott.

And although the gem trade in Burma seems to recall the trade of African conflict diamonds, some decry such comparisons.

“Ruby mining in Burma, unlike diamond mining in Sierra Leone and Liberia 10 years ago, is not resulting in the deaths of millions of people,” argues blog Keetsa.

Headline Link: ‘Who’s Buying Burma’s Gems?’

Background: China in Burma and the illicit gem trade

Related Topic: ‘China Slams Burma Sanctions’

Historical Context: 1988 anti-government protests

Reactions: The jewelry industry lobbies against Burmese rubies

Opinion & Analysis: Sanctions and their ramifications

Reference: The Burmese Freedom of Democracy Act

Related Topics: Burma and the junta’s recent crackdowns


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