Rings and necklaces displayed at a jewelry fair in Bangkok. International pressure to block sales of rubies and sapphires from Burma increased after the country's military rulers launched a brutal crackdown against peaceful pro-democracy protesters in 2007.

© Reuters 2007

(Washington, DC) - Consumers should support a new US law banning Burmese gems by refusing to buy from jewelers unless they ensure their gems are not from Burma, Human Rights Watch said today.

The US government began enforcement on October 27, 2008, of a law that strictly bans the import of rubies and jade from Burma. The Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta's Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act of 2008 was approved unanimously by both houses of Congress, and on July 29, 2008 was signed into law by President George W. Bush.  
 
"For years many American jewelry retailers have bought Burmese rubies and jade that help finance the military junta's brutality," said Arvind Ganesan, director of the Business and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch. "Now it is illegal to support that trade."  

The new US measure tightens an existing ban on the trade in Burmese gems. The earlier ban blocked the import of gems sent directly from Burma, but a loophole allowed the import of Burmese gems cut or polished in third countries, such as India and Thailand. The Block Burmese JADE Act closes that loophole and blocks the import of any rubies or jade mined in Burma, regardless of whether they may have been processed and imported via a third country.  
 
The law went into effect after 60 days, on September 27, but US Customs and Border Protection developed a phased-in implementation plan and granted a 30-day grace period for the jewelry industry to adapt to the new rules. That grace period expired on October 26.  
 
Human Rights Watch said that, in addition to compliance with the Block Burmese JADE Act, gem dealers and retailers should also carefully screen their purchases of other gems Burma is known to produce, such as sapphires and spinel, to guarantee that they do not support the unethical trade in Burmese gems.  
 
Consumers should ask retailers about the origin of the jewelry they sell and decline to buy from retailers who will not identify in writing the country where the gemstones were mined, such as on the sales receipt, Human Rights Watch said.  
 
In addition to the import ban, the US Treasury Department has put in place targeted sanctions on a number of Burmese companies that are involved in the gem business, including the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Company (a military-owned conglomerate), Myanmar Gems Enterprise, Myanmar Pearl Enterprise, Myanmar Ruby Enterprise, and Myanmar Imperial Jade Company.