Rights body praises new gem law aimed against Myanmar rulers

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New York, July 29 (UNI) A new US law that bars gem dealers and jewellery retailers from importing rubies and jade from Myanmar is a major step in curtailing the unethical international trade in Burmese gems, Human Rights Watch said today.

US President George Bush is expected to sign this week legislation, unanimously approved by the US Congress earlier this month, to tighten an existing ban on trade in Burmese gems.

''The international trade in Burmese gems helps finance repression and puts millions into the pockets of Burma's abusive rulers,'' Director of Business and Human Rights Program at Human Rights Watch Arvind Ganesan said.

''With the new law, US retailers can no longer legally profit from the trade in Burmese rubies and jade,'' he added.

Since 2003, the US government has banned products from Myanmar, but a loophole permitted the purchase of Burmese gems that were cut or polished in third countries such as India or Thailand. The new law eliminates this loophole for rubies and jade, by far Myanmar's top-selling gem exports.

Beyond complying with the new US law on rubies and jade, gem dealers and retailers should also carefully screen their purchases of other gems Burma is known to produce such as sapphires to guarantee that they do not support the unethical trade in Burmese gems, the New York-based rights body said in a statement.

''Burmese gemstones are tainted by gross human rights abuses.

The jewellery industry should take firm action to assure its customers, as well as law enforcement officials, that it is doing all it can to avoid buying from Burma,'' Mr Ganesan said.

Ganesan said, ''Selling jewels that support human rights abusers doesn't showcase luxury, only the military junta's cruelty.'' Gems constitute Myanmar's third-most important export product, following oil, natural gas and agricultural products. Global gem exports from Myanmar in fiscal year 2007-2008 reached as high as 647 million dollars, according to reports quoting Myanmar's official statistics.

The European Union and Canada already prohibit the import of Burmese gems.

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