Washington, DC – The House of Representatives today unanimously passed tough legislation authored by Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, to squeeze the brutal military junta now ruling Burma.
The Block Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act (H.R. 3890) will block the importation of blood rubies from Burma into the United States and prevent American taxpayer money from subsidizing business activities in Burma by U.S. companies – most notably, Chevron.
“I am deeply grateful that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle stood together today, shoulder-to-shoulder with the Burmese people as they struggle for freedom,” Lantos said. “The vile reaction of the Burmese junta to peaceful calls for democracy showed the world the moral bankruptcy of this regime. Unfortunately, the thugs in charge are not in a state of economic bankruptcy to match. Today’s legislation hits these military dictators where it hurts – in the pocketbook.”
Two months ago, the world watched as the “Saffron Revolution” unfolded in Burma, where monks took the unusual step of leading citizens in vigils calling for reform. The peaceful protests resulted in a violent crackdown by the Burmese junta, and thousands were detained to enforce a campaign of fear and intimidation. Burma’s Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, remains under house arrest.
H.R. 3890 will halt the Burmese practice of avoiding U.S. sanctions by laundering gemstones through third countries before they are sold here. The bill bans the importation of Burmese jade and rubies into the United States, freezes the assets of Burmese political and military leaders, prevents Burma from using U.S. financial institutions via third countries to launder the funds of those leaders or their immediate families, and prohibits Burmese officials involved in the violent suppression of protesters from receiving visas to the United States. The Foreign Affairs Committee approved the legislation in October.
“It is singularly appropriate that this piece of legislation was passed just after International Human Rights Day,” Lantos said. “The peaceful protesters of Burma are human rights heroes, and the reprehensible military dictators ruling them deserve to be nothing less than international pariahs for their dismal human rights record.”
By blocking the import of Burmese gems into the United States and expanding financial sanctions, the legislation will take hundreds of millions out of the pockets of the regime each year. The measure is supported by the 11,000-store Jewelers of America, and major retailers such as Tiffany’s and Bulgari have voluntarily implemented a ban on Burmese gems.
The legislation passed today also cuts off tax deductions for Chevron’s major gas investment in Burma, closing a large loophole and increasing pressure on America’s allies to demand that firms based within their borders also divest themselves of Burma holdings.