WASHINGTON -- March 8 -- The US Campaign for Burma (USCB) today hailed a decision by leading jeweler Tiffany's to refuse to sell jewels mined in the Southeast Asian country of Burma. The move comes just three months before the 60th birthday of the world's only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi, who has called on companies around the world to refuse business with Burma.
"Tiffany's deserves our praise and patronage for making this ethical decision," said Aung Din, co-founder of USCB who spent over 4 years behind bars as a political prisoner. "Mining in Burma supports the ruling dictators while bleeding the Burmese people, which is why no one should buy these 'blood gems.'"
The decision comes just days after Tiffany's had indicated it might resume buying goods from Burma. In a statement sent to US Campaign for Burma on March 5th, in which Tiffany's pledged to not sell rubies from Burma, Tiffany's Chairman and CEO Michael Kowalski said, "We support democratic reforms and an end to human rights abuses in that country. We believe our customers would agree with that position." Tiffany's subsequently confirmed that the ban extends to products mined in Burma, including jadeite and spinel.
The export of jewels--specifically rubies and jade--is a major money-maker for Than Shwe's ruling military dictatorship. The brutal and unforgiving conditions in Burma's mines have also created an HIV/AIDS epidemic in Burma. Dr. Chris Beyrer, head of the prestigious Johns Hopkins University Fogarty AIDS International Training & Research Program states that the relationship between gem mining and HIV/AIDS in Burma couldn't be more direct: "Gem mining, overseen by Burma's regime and its cronies, has created a cauldron of HIV/AIDS in Burma. The two are completely intertwined, and that is why I would never buy a gem from Burma."
Additionally, many elements of the mining industry are controlled by known drug traffickers. On January 24th, the Department of Justice indicted eight members of the United Wa State Army, which it called, one of the "largest heroin producing and trafficking organizations in the world." The indictment included the identification of several businesses used to launder narcotics money from Burma, including Hong Pang Gems and Jewelry Ltd.
Burma's democracy movement, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, has called on international businesses to shun Burma until there is a transition to freedom and democracy in the country. Since 2000, over 40 companies have ended ties to the country, including Kenneth Cole, Jones New York, Tommy Hilfiger, and Federated Department Stores. When Macy's cut ties to Burma, it cited rampant corruption, adding it "was unwilling to make payments that could violate the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars US companies from making unofficial payments to foreign officials".
Adds Aung Din, "We are actively researching to find out if any other jewelers are importing from Burma. We think their customers will be dismayed to hear about participation in Burma's 'blood gems' business."
As Suu Kyi's 60th birthday nears, a growing chorus of international luminaries are calling for her release. In October of 2004, 27 musicians, including Paul McCartney, R.E.M., U2, Coldplay, Bonnie Raitt, Damien Rice,Ani DiFranco, Matchbox Twenty, and others donated songs to a two-CD set dedicated to raising awareness of Aung San Suu Kyi's struggle. Yesterday, the United Nations added to a growing chorus of voices calling for Aung San Suu Kyi's release by announcing it would give an award to Suu Kyi on March 8th, International Women's Day. US Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice has called Burma an "outpost of tyranny".