Goodbye, Ruby Tues – and Wed – and Every Day Until the Burmese Generals Bow Out by Glitzqueen (aka The Other Katherine Harris)

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Dandelion Salad

Glitzqueen’s blog
Oct. 31, 2007

“The impression of keen whips I’d wear as rubies,” says Shakespeare’s Isabella in Measure for Measure. In sacrifice for her brother’s life, she’d have been proud to bleed.

But now rubies represent the impression of keen whips upon the flesh of unwilling victims, the people of Burma, and can’t be worn with pride by anyone.

This is a far more widespread problem than that raised by the film Blood Diamond — because only 15 percent of diamonds, at most, originated in conflict zones while the African wars were on. By contrast, more than 90 percent of all rubies, including the best, come from Burma (aka Myanmar) and its brutal rulers control licensing of mining operations, hold a majority share in every mine and even run huge gemstone auctions staged twice yearly. Beyond directly enriching those who oppress the Burmese people, the gems are produced under such cruel conditions that employers keep their miners, mainly kids, by addicting them to heroin, offered after each long day’s work. And they’re literally worked to death, because needles are shared and HIV infection is rife. “Young people go off to the mines with big hopes and dreams and they come home to die,” as Debbie Stothard of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma put it.

So just about every ruby mined in the world since 1964, when the generals took charge of Burma, is dripping blood and should be viewed as “an object of revulsion,” to quote Illinois jeweler Brian Leber, America’s leading agitator for sanctions against them.

The disgraceful Burmese regime also profits mightily from supplying the world’s finest jadeite, plus sapphires, spinels and other gems. Bringing in close to $300 million a year, gemstones represent Burma’s third-largest export, after timber and natural gas, and our nation did nothing to restrict their importation until a few years ago. Our 2003 law did no good, either, because it bans only cut stones and other countries have been happy to buy them rough, then cut and sell them to American retailers as products of China, India and Thailand.

Europe looked the other way for decades, too, but recently beat us to the punch with effective legislation (passed by the E.U. on Oct. 15). We now have a strong bill in committee, introduced Oct. 18 by California Rep. Tom Lantos with bipartisan support. It was incited by Leber, who founded the Jewelers’ Burma Relief Project, and by the industry association Jewelers of America.

The bill has so far received very little media attention and will likely be confusing to members of Congress, because it’s stupidly called the Block Burmese JADE (Junta’s Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act. This misleading name, which somebody must’ve thought clever because it worked in a J for Junta, fails to focus attention where it truly belongs: on the superb Burmese rubies that have such cachet among collectors. Please emphasize this fact, if you urge your representatives to pass it, and please don’t buy any ruby jewelry this holiday season, unless it’s pre-1964 vintage or certified non-Burmese.

2 thoughts on “Goodbye, Ruby Tues – and Wed – and Every Day Until the Burmese Generals Bow Out by Glitzqueen (aka The Other Katherine Harris)

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