Press release | May 17, 2018

U.S. congressional committee passes legislation targeting Myanmar military

Approved legislation would bring transparency to gemstone sector that enriches military officials and fuels violence.

May 17, 2018, Washington, DC – In response to the Myanmar military’s alleged widespread and systematic abuses against the Rohingya people, U.S. lawmakers today took a significant step towards passing new measures that would hold Myanmar’s military accountable and target their economic interests.

The U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs voted to approve H.R. 5819, the Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act of 2018 (BURMA Act of 2018). The bill imposes targeted sanctions and travel restrictions on senior Myanmar military officials responsible for human rights abuses against the Rohingya people. The bill also limits military cooperation between the U.S. and Myanmar, supports economic and security sector reform, and encourages the continued transition of power to a civilian government.

Additionally, the bill includes a section intended to empower the civilian government in Myanmar by encouraging reform of the gemstone industry. As documented by Global Witness in Jade: Myanmar’s Big State Secret, the industry is plagued by widespread secrecy, corruption, smuggling, and conflict. The trade in Myanmar rubies is plagued by the same problems, according to the group, and the U.S. House Committee found that illicit trafficking in gemstones from Myanmar “deprives the people of Burma and the civilian government of critical revenue and instead benefits military-linked entities, non-state armed groups, and transnational organized criminal networks.”

The bill creates transparency and due diligence screening criteria for Myanmar companies producing or selling gemstone for the U.S. market and for companies importing Myanmar gemstones to the U.S. These criteria exclude companies connected to the Myanmar military.

 “When passed into law, the Burma Act of 2018 will bring much-needed transparency to companies producing and exporting gemstones from Myanmar to the U.S. market by establishing a list of companies who have disclosed their real owners and are not owned or controlled by the military and current of former senior military officers” said Paul Donowitz, lead Myanmar campaigner for NGO Global Witness.

In addition to addressing companies, the bill identifies clear steps the government of Myanmar should take to reform the gemstone industry and wider mining sector, including requiring companies to publicly disclose their ownership. It calls on the U.S. government to support such reforms and monitor their progress.

 “Dismantling the army’s monopoly over vast swathes of Myanmar’s economy, including the lucrative jade and gemstone industry, is fundamental to achieving sustainable democratic reform and ensuring an end to violence fueled by fighting over control of natural resources,” added Donowitz.  “We support this legislation because it will increase transparency in Myanmar’s gemstone sector and attempts to reduce factors fueling ethnic conflict, violence and abuses at the hands of the military.”



Notes to editor:

  • The bi-partisan legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives is sponsored by Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) and co-sponsored by 66 House Representatives and in the Senate, the bi-partisan bill is co-sponsored by Senators McCain (R-AZ) and Cardin (D-MD), with an additional 18 co-sponsors.
  • The US Senate also has also approved a similar bill entitled the Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act of 2018. This passed through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in February 2018. Similar to the House bill, the Senate bill also imposes sanctions and restrictions on Myanmar’s military and creates benchmarks for reform of Myanmar’s gemstone industry to improve transparency. In contrast to the House bill, the Senate version would bar imports to the U.S. of jade from Myanmar until such reforms are enacted.

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