WASHINGTON, D.C. – On August 7, 2013, President Barack Obama acted through Executive Order to renew the sanctions placed on Burmese rubies and jadeite.
This action, called for by multiple human rights organizations and activists, is due to the continued ties of the gem trade to massive human rights abuses in Burma. While the previously stricter sanctions have lapsed, Obama’s Executive Order is still considered a great feat as it takes a notable stand against the Burmese government.
Jadeite is largely considered among the rarest and most expensive gems per carat in the world, with those mined in Northern Burma considered the best quality. The mining of these precious stones, along with highly touted blood rubies, have been directly linked to child labor, forced labor, and egregious abuses against ethnic minorities who often live on the land where these gems are found.
Besides the contraction of the original sanctions dictated in Executive Order 13310, which called for a complete ban on all imports to the U.S. from Burma, human rights groups and activists have also taken an issue with the White House’s messaging on the issue. Rather than focusing on the cause for the Executive Order, White House press chose to highlight the “progress” made in U.S. and Burma relations and the optimistic nature of lowering some of the original sanctions.
Even with this new round of sanctions comes the continuation of massive human rights abuses in Burma. The military junta that controlled Burma for the previous four decades was replaced in 2011 by a representative government. Unfortunately the abusive systems for mining put in place by the junta have yet to be addressed and continue with impunity. The military also still enjoys political primacy in line with the constitutional changes made during its power in 2008.
Additionally, ethnic conflicts continue to plague Burma and thousands of civilians have been uprooted due to ethnic fighting in addition to those ousted due to gem mining. The most disturbing news are the newly recorded increases in anti-Muslim violence. The Rohingya ethnic group is Muslim, making it a minority in the largely Buddhist Burma. 2013 saw a beginning of open persecution of Rohingya Muslims with no comment of repercussions from the Burmese government.
While this new round of sanctions by the U.S. government continues the stand against Burma’s human rights abuses, it does not seem to be speaking loudly enough. Atrocious abuses related to the gem trade remain consistent with seemingly no actions underway to curb this trend.
– Sarah C. Morris
Sources: United To End Genocide, Daily Mail, The White House, BBC