Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bush Bans Gems wants San Suu Kyi to be released

President George Bush works out a strategy for the release of pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners and for this the House of Representatives adopted sanctions against Burma's multi-million dollar gem and natural gas exports. Ms Suu Kyi's lawyer has called on Australia to take the regional lead in targeting sanctions against Burma's military.
United States sanctions on the economic interests of Burma's generals and companies conducting business in Burma are one step closer to being further strengthened, following the House of Representatives unanimous vote in favor of the JADE Act.

The Block Burmese JADE (Junta's Anti-Democratic Efforts) Act, while focusing its attention on the trade of gemstones originating from Burma, looks to close significant holes existing in current sanctions policy.

"Millions of dollars in gemstones that are exported from Burma ultimately enter the United States but the Burmese regime attempts to conceal the origin of the gemstones in an effort to evade the sanctions in the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003," according to the legislation.

"Burma's generals fund this repression of their own people by selling off the country's natural resources, especially oil and gems, leaving the Burmese people in poverty," said Democratic Representative Tom Lantos, sponsor of the bill and Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Relations.

If passed, the bill will ban the import of all gems originating from Burma.

In justification of the need for this bill, the House Committee on Foreign Relations states that while Burma is known to supply 90 percent of the world's rubies; only three percent of rubies entering the United States are listed as coming from Burma.

Further, 99 percent of a stone's value is said to come from the stone itself, with labor accounting for a mere one percent of the value. Therefore supporters of the legislation argue that the bill effectively targets economic interests of the Burmese state without significantly impacting the daily livelihood of Burma's citizens.

The Jewelers of America, representing over 11,000 stores nationwide, and several major retailers, have lent their support to the Act.

Another significant aspect of the bill is its targeting of the economic interests of Chevron Corporation, an American company actively engaged in the exploitation of Burma's energy resources.

The JADE Act will terminate tax deductions for Chevron's Burma investments. A move that it is hoped will prompt a domino effect among Chevron and its partners in Burma to desist in operations inside Burma due to rising costs and economic restrictions.

The regime's ability to make use of money laundering activities will also be negatively impacted by passage of the Act, in addition to a further freeze on assets associated with Burma's generals.

"The peaceful protesters of Burma are human rights heroes, and the reprehensible military dictators ruling them deserve to be nothing less than international pariahs for their dismal human rights record," reads a statement from Lantos' office. "I am deeply grateful that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle stood together today, shoulder-to-shoulder with the Burmese people as they struggle for freedom."

Upon final passage of the Act, Congressional annual review and renewal of the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003 will no longer be necessary.

It is widely expected that both the Senate and President will offer their full support to the JADE Act, at which time the legislation will go into effect.
Jared Genser, legal counsel for Burma's Nobel laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi,says Well ultimately sanctions are only going to be as effective as the number of countries that are willing to put them on the military dictatorship. Historically the United States has had the strongest sanctions, although we are seeing stronger sanctions put in place by the European Union that were recently enacted and even tighter sanctions in this case in particular focusing on imports from Burma that go through third countries on their way here, such as gem stones which are polished in third countries. Australia has taken some important steps in recent weeks and I believe there's more that Australia can do, but what it has done already is put on a list of potential sanctions recipients, senior members of the military dictatorship, business owners who are tied into the military dictatorship as well to put in place financial sanctions against them to block assets they have in Australia and to prevent them from doing financial transactions through Australian banks. And that's a good first step.Australia has a critical role to play, obviously as a major power in the region and in its interacations with ASEAN and China.

China is Australia's top trading partner, the new Prime Minister Mr Rudd speaks fluent Mandarin, has extensive experience with the Chinese and therefore is very well placed to express his perspective to the Chinese government, and really the Howard government for some progress it might have made in other areas made virtually no progress on the question of Burma. The Australian government policy under Mr Howard had been a softly softly approach whereby engagement was the order of the day. But engagement didn't yield any substantive results and in his campaign for office Mr Rudd spoke publicly about the need to support US efforts to put further sanctions on Burma as well as put greater pressure on ASEAN and China to see real progress made in Burma. And so I think he needs to follow through on his campaign promises and lots of us around the world are watching closely to see how his new government takes shape.

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