Burma’s Blood Rubies


Despite Myanmar’s (formerly Burma) democratic progress, there have been reports that perhaps the import sanctions on gemstones would be lifted. Recently, President Barack Obama has extended the ban on Burmese rubies and jade.

While the U.S. government lifted broader sanctions on imports from Myanmar, Obama signed an executive order Wednesday which prohibits the import of “any jadeite or rubies mined or extracted from Burma and any articles of jewelry containing jadeite or rubies mined or extracted from Burma.”

The order became effective on Wednesday, extending the ban that lapsed on July 28. The U.S. Department of the Treasury said it opted to extend the embargo on jewelry specifically “due to continuing concerns, including with respect to labor and human rights in specific sectors,” as the sale of gemstones benefits the country’s ruling military junta.

The United States first banned the import of rubies and jade from Myanmar in 2003, it was a ban that definitely caught the attention of the jewelry industry. Much like emeralds from Colombia, rubies from this country, known in the trade as “Burmese rubies,” are considered the world’s best rubies and are prized for their color, which is often described as “pigeon-blood red.” They comprise an estimated 90 percent of the world’s rubies.

The ruby and jade restrictions were tightened under President George W. Bush in 2008 when he signed the Tom Lantos Block Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act of 2008 into law. The JADE Act closed a federal loophole in the law by also banning gemstones mined in Myanmar but processed or treated in other countries, such as Thailand.

This is the second time Obama has opted to extend the ban; he first renewed the sanctions against Myanmar in 2009. The ban does not prevent U.S. sales of Burmese jadeite or rubies that were in the country prior to 2008 and it does not extend to exports of Burmese rubies or jadeite from the U.S.

It also does not apply to stones that were in the country and then exported, including for personal use, so long as they are re-imported by the same person who can prove they left with it and the stone hasn’t been improved in condition or value outside the U.S.


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