‘Genocide gems’: Highly-sought Burmese rubies and sapphires may be enriching Myanmar’s military – National

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Jewellers have made it simple to purchase a diamond whereas maintaining your conscience clear. They’ve adopted a passport system displaying the origin of each stone, so you may ensure that your hard-earned cash isn’t funding a brutal militia in a traditionally conflict-torn nation similar to Angola, Sierra Leone or the Democratic Republic of Congo. When you don’t desire a blood diamond, you could be sure you’re not shopping for one.

However for individuals who favor the wealthy color of a ruby or a sapphire, it’d hold you up at night time to be taught the earnings from Burmese gemstone gross sales could also be going to a army regime that the United Nations accuses of genocide.

Gemstone jewelry is displayed previous to an public sale, throughout the 55th Myanmar Gems Emporium in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, 20 June 2018.


The U.S.-based Worldwide Marketing campaign for the Rohingya (ICR) is asking for buyers to boycott so-called “genocide gems” from Myanmar this vacation season, in hopes of punishing the army regime that killed 1000’s of ethnic Rohingya folks final 12 months. The regime has a serious stake within the gemstone commerce by means of its two massive holding corporations, which assist Myanmar produce roughly 90 per cent of the world’s high-end rubies, together with a few of its priciest sapphires. Myanmar additionally produces huge portions of jade for China.

China imported an estimated $31 billion price of jade from Myanmar in 2014, in keeping with a report by International Witness. Myanmar’s gross home product in 2014 was US$65.45 billion, in keeping with the World Financial institution.

Most of Myanmar’s Burmese rubies and sapphires are smuggled into Thailand to be reduce and bought on the worldwide market, a number of industry consultants instructed International Information.

United Nations commerce information from Myanmar and Thailand reveals the 2 nations reporting very completely different export and import numbers with each other over a number of years. As an example, Thailand reported bringing in US$four.7 million price of uncut treasured and semi-precious stones from Myanmar in 2016, whereas Myanmar reported sending over simply $1.eight million price of stones. Thailand has not offered information for 2017, however Myanmar claims to have exported $106,539 to its neighbour final 12 months.

A gemstone necklace is displayed throughout the opening ceremony of the Myanmar Gems and Jewellery Day in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, 03 August 2017.


Thailand was the second-highest exporter of rubies to the U.S. by weight (310 kilograms) in 2014, and the very best exporter by worth ($59 million), in keeping with information from the U.S. Geological Service. Thailand didn’t produce any ruby from its personal mines in 2014, in keeping with the USGS annual industry report. USGS information for Myanmar reveals it produced 486,945 kilograms of ruby in 2014.

“Professionals within the commerce know that these days, Thailand doesn’t produce rubies,” stated Montreal-based gemologist Odile Civitello.

“When you see jewelry that claims ‘made in Thailand’ or ‘made in Hong Kong,’ these gem stones may come from Myanmar,” stated Erin Murphy, an industry advisor and former gemstone advisor within the Obama administration.

Myanmar was once referred to as Burma, and its most coveted gem stones nonetheless use the title. Burmese rubies and sapphires can fetch as much as eight-figure costs by means of high-end auctions and on-line jewelry retailers. Most gems include a lab-test certificates displaying which nation they arrive from, however these certificates typically don’t say which firm profited from their sale.

In different phrases, luxurious retailers placing up $100,000 Burmese ruby rings could also be reselling a gem sourced from a military-linked mine, and clients would by no means know.

Myanmar accused of genocide

ICR organizers say boycotting gems from Myanmar is an efficient technique to punish the army for its violent marketing campaign in opposition to the Rohingya, an ethnic group of roughly 1 million Muslims. Myanmar’s authorities has persecuted the Rohingya for over 4 many years, denying them citizenship, refusing to allow them to vote in elections and launching a number of campaigns to push them in a foreign country.

WATCH BELOW: Myanmar leaders accused of ‘crimes in opposition to humanity’

The continued wrestle hit a breaking level final August, after a small faction of Rohingya militants killed 12 safety officers. The Myanmar army responded with a swift, brutal and large-scale marketing campaign to wipe out Rohingya villages in Rakhine state. The army killed an estimated 6,700 Rohingya throughout the marketing campaign, in keeping with an estimate from Medicines Sans Frontieres. Greater than 727,000 Rohingya fled the nation into neighbouring Bangladesh, the place they’ve lived in refugee camps ever since, the United Nations experiences.

WATCH BELOW: Rohingya lady says she was raped in Myanmar

A number of nations, together with Canada and america, have sanctioned Myanmar’s high army leaders in response to the disaster. The UN has referred to as for these leaders to face trial for genocide — an accusation the army has denied.

How can I spot a ‘genocide gem’?

ICR organizer Simon Billenness says these “genocide gems” are the brand new “blood diamonds,” as a result of any Burmese gemstone buy might revenue a enterprise linked to Myanmar’s army.

Myanmar’s army controls two of the nation’s 4 main mining corporations, the Myanmar Financial Company (MEC) and the Union of Myanmar Financial Holding Ltd. (UMEHL), in keeping with a complete industry report from 2016. Nonetheless, their opaque provide chain makes it very tough to know which mine a Burmese gem got here from.

Mine employees are proven on the ruby mine web site in Mogok, about 200 km north of Mandalay, Mandalay division, Myanmar, April 11, 2016.


ICR’s marketing campaign echoes the decades-old struggle in opposition to so-called blood diamonds, also referred to as battle diamonds. A battle diamond is any diamond bought from a war-torn nation the place the earnings go towards funding the armed battle.

Jewellers, non-government organizations and several other nations responded to the outcry over blood diamonds by growing the Kimberley Course of in 2000. The system establishes a passport for each diamond, so jewellers can exhibit precisely the place their product was mined and reduce. The Kimberley Course of web site claims to have stemmed 99.eight per cent of the worldwide manufacturing of battle diamonds.

The identical mine-to-market course of doesn’t exist for colored gem stones.

Civitello says a jeweller with a very good Burmese gem will fortunately inform you the place it’s from, as a result of that’s a part of its enchantment. High-end gems will even include a certificates displaying that they’ve been verified in a lab. Nonetheless, smaller gems don’t all the time include their full documentation.

“An excellent gem supplier … ought to be capable of inform the shopper the place it comes from, and more often than not they’ll have a certificates of origin,” she instructed International Information. “However that’s not all the time 100 per cent [accurate].”

A employees member from the state-run Myanmar Gems Enterprise shows a 36-carat ruby with a price ticket of half one million euros on show on the Gems Emporium in Yangon, Myanmar, on this Oct. 19, 2006, file picture.

AP Picture

Civitello says it’s tough to say what number of Burmese gems are within the North American market, however many of the gems within the U.S. and Canada are from Africa. Burmese gems are sometimes the centrepieces of luxurious rings, necklaces and earrings bought by among the world’s most distinguished jewellers.

There are a number of sources of rubies on the earth, together with Sri Lanka, Mozambique, Vietnam, Australia, Nepal and Madagascar. Nonetheless, Burmese rubies are prized above all others for his or her deep crimson “pigeon’s blood” color, she stated.

Civitello has visited Myanmar a number of instances to check its gemstone mines, significantly the one in Mogok, the famend “Valley of Rubies” and supply of among the world’s most costly gems.“I used to be instructed if somebody in Mogok finds a giant stone, they don’t inform anybody,” she stated. [There’s a fear if] the army finds out about it and they’re going to simply take it,” she stated.

A person checks an uncut ruby on the gems market in Mogok, about 200 km north of Mandalay, Mandalay division, Myanmar, April 11, 2016.


The one approach to make certain a couple of gem’s origin is to have it examined at a gemological laboratory, “though it’s fairly tough as a result of another rubies on the earth may need related traits,” Civitello stated.

Second solely to diamonds

Myanmar claims to supply roughly 90 per cent of the world’s high-end rubies. Nonetheless, an estimated 60-80 per cent of Myanmar’s gems are exported exterior the formal system, so it’s tough to completely grasp the dimensions of the industry, in keeping with a 2016 report by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in Myanmar. The world’s colored gemstone industry is price roughly US$12 billion yearly, in keeping with the report.

Essentially the most invaluable non-diamond ever bought at public sale was the 25.59-carat Dawn Ruby from the Mogok Valley, which fetched US$30 million at public sale in 2015. Cartier set the ruby in a hoop earlier than it bought the gem by means of the Sotheby’s public sale home. The sale passed off earlier than Cartier dedicated to cease sourcing gems from Myanmar in late 2017.

A mannequin shows a 100.20-carat diamond, left, and a 25.59-carat Burmese ruby, referred to as the Dawn Ruby, throughout a media preview for the Sotheby’s public sale in Hong Kong Friday, April three, 2015.

AP Picture/Kin Cheung

Civitello says rubies and sapphires are extra fashionable within the Asia-Pacific area than in North America or Europe. Nonetheless, information reveals their recognition is rising.

The American diamond market is roughly 10 instances bigger than its colored gemstone market. Nonetheless, colored gemstone imports grew by 23 per cent from 2016 to 2017, whereas diamond imports dipped by three per cent, in keeping with the U.S. Geological Service. The U.S. imported roughly $2.5 billion in gem stones for consumption in 2017.

A lady from Myanmar sells rubies and different semi-precious stones at a market on this Oct. 21, 2007, file picture in Mae Sot, Thailand.

AP Picture/David Longstreat

Most of Myanmar’s gem stones are smuggled out to neighbouring Thailand or Hong Kong to be processed, in keeping with Erin Murphy, who studied the industry carefully as an advisor for the U.S. authorities in 2016. Murphy visited Myanmar in 2016 after the U.S. lifted a 13-year ban on imported jade and rubies from the nation.

“When you have a high-quality gem, and it’s a ruby, particularly the pigeon’s blood rubies … it most likely got here from Myanmar,” she stated.

She added that jewellers typically refill their gem stones for years, so some jewellers may need Burmese gems of their assortment even after they’ve dedicated to cease shopping for extra.

Billenness says some jewellers circumvented the U.S. ban by shopping for their Burmese gems by means of Thailand. These are the jewellers he’s making an attempt to focus on.

Who’s promoting Burmese gems?

Billenness is planning to protest in opposition to the Italian jeweller Bulgari this vacation season, in hopes that its mum or dad firm, LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, will commit to not buy gems mined from Myanmar. Bulgari’s “Diva Dream” line presently contains a necklace and ring made with Burmese sapphires, in keeping with its web site. Bella Hadid wore each objects to the Cannes Movie Pageant final 12 months.

Mannequin Bella Hadid is proven on the Cannes Movie Pageant crimson carpet sporting an 180-carat Bulgari necklace that includes a Burmese sapphire and pavé diamonds, on Might 17, 2017, in Cannes, France.


ICR launched an analogous marketing campaign in opposition to Bulgari final 12 months, prompting the corporate to say in December that it doesn’t purchase gems “in Myanmar.”

“All colored gem stones utilized by Bulgari are bought from internationally acknowledged public sale homes by means of established worldwide markets. Bulgari stipulates that its suppliers adjust to its code of ethics,” the corporate stated in an announcement issued in January.

Bulgari stated it “firmly condemns any form of violence,” and that it’s not conscious of any new worldwide sanctions on Myanmar since 2016. “Myanmar’s civil authorities is present process a deep political and financial transformation to a democratic state,” the corporate stated.

The corporate declined to touch upon the renewed stress marketing campaign to International Information.

“We imagine that particular person and non-coordinated personal initiatives from non-official establishments, somewhat than serving to remedy some potential points, might backfire creating different points similar to unlawful buying and selling and additional poverty,” it stated in January. Bulgari added that it’s a part of the Accountable Jewelry Council and a participant within the DragonFly Initiative, a sustainable advisory agency that features a number of different high jewelry manufacturers.

Bulgari beforehand joined a number of different luxurious manufacturers in boycotting Myanmar gems in 2007.

ICR efficiently satisfied Cartier to cease promoting Burmese rubies and sapphires final December after an ICR marketing campaign that accrued greater than 150,000 petition signatures pushed it to take action.

“As a part of our steady overview course of to make sure moral sourcing, Cartier has determined to cease buying gem stones from Myanmar,” the corporate stated in response to a Fb remark from Billenness.

“Cartier won’t buy licensed items from the nation, and can make its greatest effort to make sure that non-certified gem stones didn’t originate there.”

Billenness says he was happy by the “very early success” of the Cartier marketing campaign, and he sees no proof of Burmese gems in its present lineup. He hopes Bulgari will decide to cease promoting Burmese gems as properly.

Billenness says he hasn’t recognized some other main jewellers that seem like dealing in Burmese gems. Nonetheless, the stones are nonetheless available by means of numerous on-line public sale websites.

Murphy says there have been nonetheless loads of Burmese gems on the U.S. market over the last spherical of sanctions, as a result of jewellers typically retailer their gems for years earlier than utilizing them in a hoop or necklace.

She provides that Billenness’ boycott marketing campaign most likely received’t damage the Myanmar army, as a result of it makes most of its cash by means of exporting jade to China.

“When you’re seeking to reduce [the military] off, you would need to corral China, and so they simply don’t care,” she stated.

Jade jewellery is proven on show on the Mid 12 months Myanmar Jade and Gems Emporium 2016 in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Nov. 20, 2016.


Provide chain ethics

Most main jewellers attempt to adhere to moral provide chain insurance policies however fall in need of worldwide requirements, in keeping with a 2018 Human Rights Watch report that examined gold and diamond sources for 13 high European manufacturers. The authors discovered that “nearly none” of the jewellers may hint all of their parts again to the person mines the place they originated. The report didn’t analyze gemstone sourcing practices, nevertheless it did advocate jewellers put a series of custody in place “for all treasured metals and gems, together with diamonds.” HRW additionally recommends jewellers publish the names of their steel and gem suppliers on an annual foundation.

“Whereas some corporations are actively working to determine and deal with human rights dangers of their provide chains, others rely merely on the assurances of their suppliers,” the report authors wrote.

Tiffany & Co. obtained the one “sturdy” ranking within the report, for taking “vital steps towards accountable sourcing.” Bulgari, Cartier, Pandora and Signet obtained “reasonable” rankings for taking some vital steps. Boodles, Chopard, Christ and Harry Winston have been rated “weak” and Tanishq was rated “very weak” on their sourcing practices.

Tiffany & Co. and Pandora welcomed the report in separate statements to HRW. Bulgari and Chopard identified that they observe industry-wide ethics requirements. Signet accused HRW of utilizing language “chosen extra to criticize our industry somewhat than present constructive suggestions.” The corporate stated it emphasizes transparency and defending human rights by means of its Signet accountable sourcing protocols, that are obligatory for all of its suppliers.

Boodles stated it has relied on its suppliers to determine and mitigate human rights points, and acknowledged that it may do extra to make sure its suppliers are “sourcing supplies in an moral and sustainable method.”

Cartier declined to remark. Harry Winston, Christ and Tanishq didn’t reply to requests for remark, HRW says.

Tiffany & Co. stopped shopping for Burmese gems in 2003, after the unique U.S. gemstone ban was imposed. Tiffany’s says it has not bought gem stones from Myanmar since then, in keeping with its newest sustainability report.

Worldwide and citizen sanctions

Murphy says most North American and European jewellers have been hesitant to cope with Myanmar for the reason that 13-year U.S. ban on its merchandise was lifted in 2016.

The late Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Ben Cardin co-sponsored a invoice final 12 months to re-impose these gemstone sanctions as punishment for the Rohingya disaster. The Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act obtained bipartisan help within the U.S. Senate, though it hasn’t been handed into regulation. The newest model of the invoice was modified to ban solely jade imports, and never rubies.

On this picture taken on Oct 13, 2014, retailers examine jade stones displayed on the annual Gems Emporium within the capital Naypyitaw, Myanmar.

AP Picture/Aung Shine Oo

Billenness hopes his marketing campaign will persuade jewellers to be extra clear with their provide chain, no matter whether or not it impacts the Myanmar army’s earnings.

“It’s doable, with some effort, for the jewelry corporations to not purchase genocide gems in Burma,” he stated. “They simply should be actually clear on the place the gems have been mined and the place the gems have been reduce.”

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