Washington, DC – Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, announced today that he will introduce sanctions designed to pressure the military junta currently ruling Burma. The sanctions package, known as the Block Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act, will crack down on the Burmese practice of avoiding U.S. sanctions by laundering gemstones through third countries before they are sold. More than 90 percent of the world’s rubies and fine-quality jade comes from Burma.
“Burmese rubies sold in the United States are laundered through third countries to avoid our sanctions, but nothing can wash away the moral stain of supporting this illicit market,” Lantos said. “There is a direct link between these blood-red gemstones and the bloodied robes of monks who were brutally suppressed when they took to the streets to demand democracy and human rights. It is high time for the world to reject Burmese gemstones, because their sale funds the ruling junta’s ongoing campaign of brutality against its own citizens.”
This year, Burma’s rulers will pocket more than $300 million from the sale of gems, with rubies and imperial jade being the biggest money-makers. In the last year, Burma’s income from gem exports increased 45 percent. Despite sanctions, only three percent of the Burmese rubies entering the United States market indicate their true country of origin, while the rest are imported via Burma’s neighbors, China, Thailand and India.
The Block Burmese JADE Act of 2007 cracks down on the brutal regime by banning the importation of Burmese gems into the United States. It also 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 new sanctions will automatically renew each year until Burma becomes democratic.
“This legislation will turn off a huge cash spigot for the thuggish Burmese regime,” Lantos said. “If my colleagues come together and act quickly to pass these new sanctions, we can put an end to huge profits for the junta and its unscrupulous middle-men. We must ensure that the sale of some of the Earth’s most beautiful natural resources does not continue to enable the horrors inflicted upon the people of Burma.”
Burma also uses third countries to access the U.S. banking system. These overseas banks process accounts in and through the United States for Burma’s rulers, providing the regime with much-needed hard currency. The regime uses these funds to purchase weapons and luxury goods, while the bulk of Burma’s population lives in poverty. Lantos’ legislation tightens existing sanctions to prevent Burma’s military rulers from profiting from sales to the United States, and blocks access to the U.S. financial system not just for Burmese human rights violators but also to those who provide the regime with banking services.
This ban on the import of gems is supported by major jewelry associations, including the 11,000-store Jewelers of America.