July 22, 2008

Washington, DC – Congress is sending legislation to President Bush that will block United States firms from importing Burmese gemstones and expand financial sanctions against Burma’s military regime.

It is already illegal for United States companies to directly import Burmese products. The Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE Act (H.R. 3890) will keep Burmese gems, including jade and rubies, from entering U.S. markets via third-party countries. Stopping U.S. sales of these Burmese gems will prevent the regime from earning hundreds of millions of dollars each year. The bill, which originated in the House and passed the Senate this evening, also makes Burmese regime leaders, military officers and their families ineligible for visas to the United States

“We cannot allow this regime to prosper financially while they continue to violate the human rights of their own people,” said Congressman Howard L. Berman (D-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “This bill hits the Burmese leaders where it hurts – in the wallet. It’s our hope that these sanctions will push other countries to examine their own financial dealings with Burma.”

An earlier version of the legislation had been introduced last fall by Lantos, the late Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, in response to the beating, shooting and jailing of monks in Burma who had conducted peaceful marches calling for nonviolent change and democracy.

Congress began to consider the legislation in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis earlier this year, when the Burmese government placed restrictions that severely limited international aid workers to help the tens of thousands of families that were affected.

“These brutal actions demonstrate the regime’s moral bankruptcy, but unfortunately it is far from financially bankrupt,” Berman said. “While the Burmese people live in abject poverty, Burma’s military leaders continue to take Burma’s vast natural resources as their own.”

The Jewelers of America, representing more than 11,000 jewelry stores nationwide, support a ban on Burmese gem and jade imports to the United States, and major retailers such as Tiffany’s and Bulgari have voluntarily implemented a ban. The bipartisan bill promotes a coordinated, multilateral approach to apply economic pressure on the Burmese regime to move toward democracy and respect for human rights. The European Union and Canada have similarly banned the import of Burmese gems.


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