No Genocide Gems! Burma’s Military Takes a Hit From Citizens Sanctions

By Emily Claire Goldman and Simon Billenness

On December 6th, Cartier made the dramatic announcement that it would stop its purchase of gems from Burma (Myanmar). This sudden shift was due to consumer pressure on Cartier to stop selling “genocide gems.” This demonstrates the growing power of “citizens sanctions” on the Burmese army’s business interests.

Cartier faced mounting pressure from more than 70,000 consumers organized by International Campaign for the Rohingya and SumOfUs, some of whom posted their opposition on Cartier’s Facebook page to its sale of “genocide gems.” In response, Cartier announced on its Facebook page that, “as part of [its] continuous review process to ensure ethical sourcing, Cartier has decided to stop purchasing gemstones from Myanmar, which will become fully effective as of December 8.

The Sunday Times (UK) quickly picked up on the story with its article “Taint of Burma’s Genocide Gems.

The Case For Sanctions on Burma’s Army

Since August, Burmese military forces have carried out a textbook example of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya. This systematic, targeted and deliberate campaign of violence against civilians – what human rights experts have called crimes against humanity – has sparked international condemnation and raised concerns that the Burmese military is marching on the path to genocide.

In the past year alone, Burma’s army has forced more than 626,000 people from their homes in attacks reminiscent of those in Bosnia and Rwanda in the early 1990s. Despite Burmese government officials’ efforts to restrict UN investigators’ and journalists’ access to affected areas, reports have consistently documented grave human rights abuses committed by Burmese military forces, including “deliberately burning people to death inside their homes; murders of children and adults; indiscriminate shooting of fleeing civilians; widespread rapes of women and girls; and the burning and destruction of houses, schools, markets and mosques.”

Burma’s incomplete transition to democracy has been marked by a power-sharing agreement between the civilian government – led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) – and the military. Under this agreement, the NLD government operates under the military-written constitution that allows the army to retain significant control over the country’s political and economic affairs. The military avoids civilian oversight and judicial scrutiny, allowing it to avoid accountability for grave human rights abuses. This is evident with the recent self-exonerating report released by the military, claiming that an independent investigation into allegations of grave human rights abuses against the Rohingya in Rakhine State cleared them of any wrongdoing in the atrocities.

Burma’s Military-Commercial Complex

Burma’s military has built up extensive commercial interests in mining and extraction over fifty years of military rule.

Military-owned companies include Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC), a secretive conglomerate owned by the defense ministry, and Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (MEHL), both of which are heavily involved in the country’s gemstone sector. Myanmar Gems Enterprise (MGE), a state-owned enterprise run by former military men, is responsible for gemstone production through its control of permits, licensing, collection of royalties, and joint venture partnerships.

Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan of Transparency International told the Financial Times in February, 2017, that the military’s modus operandi has always been to “insert themselves in various parts of the economy and use this to enrich their shareholders,” the Burmese army.

The military projects MEC and MEHL as potential partners for foreign multinationals seeking to invest in Burma. Hla Myo, a former army major and a general manager at MEHL, told the Financial Times that the company is “very passionate” about adding U.S. and European companies to MEHL’s roster of joint ventures with Asian corporate partners.

The Financial Times reported that MEHL’s top ten directors all hold military ranks. The board is overseen by seven of the Burma’s top military officers, headed by the commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing.

Burma’s Mogok Valley is renowned for producing some of the highest quality rubies and sapphires, with the country supplying the majority of the world’s rubies and jadeite. According to Global Witness, MEHL’s has a prominent position in the jade trade, worth as much as $31 billion to Burma in 2014. At the 2014 Myanmar gems emporium, the official government auction, MEHL’s Myanmar Imperial Jade subsidiary recorded record sales figures of almost $150 million.

Ending the “Genocide Gems” Trade

The United States enacted a ban of imports of gems mined in Myanmar in 2003. However, few high-end jewelry retailers opted to boycott Burmese gems at that point in time. Instead, the companies chose to take advantage of a loophole in the legislation that allowed for the importation of Burmese gems that were cut and polished in another country.

Tiffany & Co. announced in 2003 that it would no longer purchase Burmese gems regardless of where the stones were cut or polished, thereby refusing to profit off of human rights abuses. By contrast, its competitors, such as Cartier, continued to buy Burmese gems until international outrage pressured it to adopt similar policies in 2007.

When the US lifted sanctions on Burmese gems in 2016, Tiffany & Co. maintained its commitment to responsible gemstone sourcing. Cartier, like many other high-end jewelry retailers, quietly ended their boycott of Burmese gems when the opportunity to maximize profits presented itself once again.

The Rise of “Citizens Sanctions” on Burma’s Military

Governments are considering sanctions against Burma army in the wake of its most recent campaign of violence against the Rohinyga. Americans can urge their Members of the  U.S. Congress to support and co-sponsor House (H.R. 4223)  and Senate (S.2023), bills that would reinstate the ban of imports into the U.S. of Burmese gems.

But we don’t have to depend on lobbying our Members of Congress. We can put direct consumer pressure on the jewelry retailers that are fueling the military’s atrocities against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities in Burma, including the Karen, Shan, and Kachin.

Cartier’s decision to stop buying Burmese gems demonstrates how ordinary people can directly sanction Burma’s army. Let’s make it crystal clear to the jewelry industry that there’s no market for genocide gems.

Press Release: International Campaign for the Rohingya (Malaysia) petitions Petronas to withdraw from Myanmar

PRESS RELEASE

November 7, 2017

International Campaign for the Rohingya (Malaysia) petitions Petronas to withdraw from Myanmar
Petronas urged to withdraw to protest Myanmar’s repression and violence against the Rohingya

Kuala Lumpur: The International Campaign for the Rohingya (ICR) has sent a petition to PETRONAS, calling for the company to stop operations or investments in Myanmar by January 1, 2018, in protest against the Myanmar’s government’s repression and violence against ethnic Rohingya.

International Campaign for the Rohingya (Malaysia) President, Tengku Emma Zuriana Tengku Azmi, who is also the Ambassador to Malaysia for The European Rohingya Council, stated that: “The withdrawal of Petronas from Myanmar would send a strong political and economic signal to the government of Myanmar that it must end its repression and violence against the Rohingya.”

Since late August, Burmese security forces have waged a campaign of ethnic cleansing and committed numerous crimes against humanity against the Rohingya population, a long-persecuted ethnic and religious minority group predominantly in Rakhine State. In response to these abuses, more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh over the past two months.

Satellite images commissioned by independent organizations show hundreds of burned villages – and tens of thousands of torched buildings. Refugees have provided first-hand accounts of unfathomable brutality: soldiers burning infants alive, gang-raping women, shooting villagers fleeing their homes – violations that research by nongovernmental organizations has found to be widespread and systematic.

United Nations investigators who have conducted interviews of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have noted “a consistent, methodical pattern of actions resulting in gross human rights violations affecting hundreds of thousands of people.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, has called the scale and nature of the atrocities in Rakhine a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Despite international condemnation, Burmese authorities continue to restrict access to the region for most international humanitarian organizations, a UN fact-finding mission, and independent media. The commander-in-chief of the Burmese military, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and other Burmese officials, refuse to acknowledge the atrocities their forces have committed.

“As Malaysia’s largest corporation, PETRONAS needs to demonstrate that Malaysian companies operate responsibly around the world and avoid doing business with governments that are complicit in acts of genocide and crimes against humanity,” stated Tengku Emma Zuriana Tengku Azmi. “PETRONAS must respect the views and values of its customers, employees, and shareholders, who do not want PETRONAS to become complicit in genocide against the Rohingya’s.”

Tengku Emma Zuriana said the petition will be sent to the company next week and will be brought to parliament for debate. She said that she hoped the petition would attract the support of members of the parliament. “Since PETRONAS is owned by the Malaysian government, the company’s policies and practices reflect on the reputation of Malaysia and its people,” stated Tengku Emma Zuriana.

In October, a group of investors, with over US $53 billion of assets under management, wrote PETRONAS concerned about the company’s reputation in light of its operations in Myanmar (Burma) and the recent attacks on Rohingya communities by the Burmese army.

Organized by the International Campaign for the Rohingya and Azzad Asset Management, letters signed by 31 investor organizations representing more than $53 billion in assets under management were sent to executives at six oil and gas companies, emphasizing the serious risks of doing business with the Myanmar regime. Commodities make up a majority of Myanmar’s exports and are often controlled in whole or part by the armed forces.

Simon Billenness, Executive Director of the International Campaign for the Rohingya, said: “Corporations that do business in Burma are supporting a government engaged in ethnic cleansing and possibly even genocide against the Rohingya. The oil companies in Myanmar must take affirmative steps to avoid complicity in these crimes against humanity.”

– END –

ABOUT INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN FOR THE ROHINGYA
The International Campaign for the Rohingya advocates and amplifies the voice of the Rohingya with international organizations, governments, corporations, and civil society. Its mission is to help the Rohingya secure peace, security, and their rights wherever they reside.

Contacts:

Tengku Emma Zuriana
President, International Campaign for the Rohingya (Malaysia)
+60 12 413 1809 (Malaysia)
pray4rohingya@gmail.com

Simon Billenness
Executive Director, International Campaign for the Rohingya
+1-617-596-6158 (United States)
simon.billenness@rohingyacampaign.org

Letter from 58 NGOs Calling for Targeted Economic Sanctions in Burma

November 2, 2017

The Honorable Rex Tillerson
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

The Honorable Steven Mnuchin
Secretary of the Treasury
U.S. Department of the Treasury
1500 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20220

Re: Burma and Targeted Sanctions

Dear Secretaries Tillerson and Mnuchin,

The US government urgently needs to act to help address the grave human rights and humanitarian crisis that has resulted from the Burmese military’s brutal response to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA)’s August 25 attack on government posts in Burma’s Rakhine State.

As you know, since late August, Burmese security forces have waged a campaign of ethnic cleansing and committed numerous crimes against humanity against the Rohingya population, a long-persecuted ethnic and religious minority group predominantly in Rakhine State. In response to these abuses, more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh over the past two months.

Satellite images commissioned by independent organizations show hundreds of burned villages – and tens of thousands of torched buildings. Refugees have provided first-hand accounts of unfathomable brutality: soldiers burning infants alive, gang-raping women, shooting villagers fleeing their homes – violations that research by nongovernmental organizations has found to be widespread and systematic.

United Nations investigators who have conducted interviews of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have noted “a consistent, methodical pattern of actions resulting in gross human rights violations affecting hundreds of thousands of people.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, has called the scale and nature of the atrocities in Rakhine a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Despite international condemnation, Burmese authorities continue to restrict access to the region for most international humanitarian organizations, a UN fact-finding mission, and independent media. The commander-in-chief of the Burmese military, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and other Burmese officials, refuse to acknowledge the atrocities their forces have committed.

We commend the U.S. government for the nearly $104 million in humanitarian assistance it has provided in fiscal year 2017, nearly $40 million of which was provided in direct response to the Rakhine State crisis, to displaced populations in Burma and refugees in neighboring countries. We also strongly support the State Department’s statement that “individuals or entities responsible for atrocities, including non-state actors and vigilantes, be held accountable.”

It is critical that the U.S. government respond to the severity and scope of the Burmese military’s ethnic cleansing campaign with effective action. To this end, we urge the administration to immediately and robustly impose targeted economic sanctions authorized under the 2008 JADE Act and the 2016 Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act.

Under the JADE Act, the president is empowered to issue travel restrictions and financial sanctions against Burmese military officials and their immediate family members if they are “involved in…gross violations of human rights in Burma or in the commission of other human rights abuses.” Steps taken by the previous administration to lift sanctions did not unravel existing authorities but only waived them, and, according to recent State Department releases, some JADE Act authorities are currently in use, such as the ban on current and former Burmese military officials traveling to the United States. The administration should move to robustly and vigorously employ the remaining authorities.

In addition to the JADE Act, the administration should exercise its authority granted under the Global Magnitsky Act, which allows for the levying of travel restrictions and financial sanctions against individuals responsible for acts of significant corruption and gross violations of internationally recognized human rights committed against individuals who seek “to obtain, exercise, defend, or promote internationally recognized human rights and freedoms, such as the freedom of religion.” Given that the Burmese military’s actions against the Rohingya people are motivated at least in part on religious grounds, the Global Magnitsky Act is applicable.

Given the systemic nature of the crimes being perpetrated against the Rohingya people, it is important that sanctions designations levied under either the JADE Act or Global Magnitsky Act target appropriately senior officials who likely ordered criminal acts or appear to have been criminally responsible as a matter of command responsibility. Command responsibility would encompass those senior-most members of the Burmese security forces who knew or had reason to know that their subordinates were committing extrajudicial killings, rape, arson and other abuses, and failed to take all necessary and reasonable steps to prevent such abuses or punish those responsible.

As you recently said, Secretary Tillerson, “the world cannot just sit idly by and be witness to these atrocities.” The JADE Act and Global Magnitsky Act provide the executive branch with tools for action. The United States should employ them to the fullest to prevent dire consequences for Burma’s future and send an unmistakable signal to the rest of the world.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely,

Human Rights Watch
Human Rights First
AFL-CIO
ALTSEAN-Burma
Ameinu (Our People)
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain
American Jewish Committee
American Jewish World Service
Anti-Defamation League
Association Suisse Birmanie
Boat People SOS
Buddhist Global Relief
Burma Action Ireland
Burma Campaign UK
Burma Human Rights Network
Burma Task Force
Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
Center for Justice & Accountability
Christian Solidarity Worldwide
Congregation Tehillah
CREDO
Emgage Action
Estonian American National Council
Equal Rights Trust
Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR-USA)
Freedom House
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Fortify Rights
Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
Global Progressive Hub
Holocaust, Genocide, and Interfaith Education Center at Manhattan College
Info Birmanie
Institute for Asian Democracy
Interfaith Center of New York
International Campaign for the Rohingya
International State Crime Initiative
Investors Against Genocide
Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights
JACOB: The Jewish Alliance of Concern Over Burma
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Joint Baltic American National Committee
Jubilee Campaign USA Inc
Just Foreign Policy
Magnitsky Act Initiative
Muslim Bar Association of New York
Muslim Public Affairs Council
Partners Relief & Development
Physicians for Human Rights
Refugees International
Society for Threatened Peoples – Germany
STAND: The Student-Led Movement to End Mass Atrocities
The Network of Chinese Human Rights Defenders
The Network of Spiritual Progressives
T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee
U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Viet Tan
Win Without War

Stakeholders press energy companies doing business with Myanmar to address Rohingya crisis

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 
Stakeholders press energy companies doing business with Myanmar to address Rohingya crisis
Investors with more than $53 billion in assets sign letters calling for an end to ‘business as usual’ in light of military crackdown
 
Falls Church, Va., 10/23/17 — A group of investors and stakeholders has called on energy companies doing business in Myanmar/Burma to reassess their dealings in light of that country’s brutal military crackdown on its ethnic Rohingya minority.
 
Organized by the International Campaign for the Rohingya and Azzad Asset Management, letters signed by 31 investor organizations representing more than $53 billion in assets under management were sent to executives at six oil and gas companies, emphasizing the serious risks of doing business with the Myanmar regime. Commodities make up a majority of Myanmar’s exports and are often controlled in whole or part by the armed forces.
 
Simon Billenness, Executive Director of the International Campaign for the Rohingya said, “Corporations that do business in Burma are supporting a government engaged in ethnic cleansing and possibly even genocide against the Rohingya. The oil companies in Burma must take affirmative steps to avoid complicity in these crimes against humanity.” 
 
In addition to citing the moral obligation to address the humanitarian situation in Myanmar, the letters express concern about the potential risks to investments in the country as well as harm to corporate reputations stemming from doing business with a regime engaged in what the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has characterized as “a textbook case of ethnic cleansing.”
 
The letter to oil companies states in part:
 
“We believe that [your] operations and investment in Myanmar and relationships with both the government and the state-owned Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise creates a special obligation for [your company] to both express its concern over recent events and to reassess its relationship with the government in light of the Burmese government’s recent military actions against Rohingya communities. We cannot maintain ‘business as usual’ in a country where allegations of crimes against humanity and genocide persist.” 
 
Companies receiving the letter were China National Offshore Oil Corporation, Daewoo, PetroChina, Petronas, Total, and Woodside Petroleum.
 
In August, an investor coalition representing more than $30 billion in assets sent a similar letter to Chevron Corp., which also operates in Burma.
 
For decades, the Rohingya ethnic minority in Myanmar have been subject to a government-sanctioned campaign of forced relocation, violence, and persecution. In 2012, Burmese military forces moved more than 120,000 Rohingya from their homes into detention camps. Human rights observers report that the Myanmar military has carried out campaigns of mass rape and killing of Rohingya civilians, including children.
 
The recent Burmese army crackdown on the Rohingya has caused an estimated 500,000 Rohingya refugees to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, triggering a humanitarian and refugee crisis.
 
About International Campaign for the Rohingya
The International Campaign for the Rohingya advocates and amplifies the voice of the Rohingya with international organizations, governments, corporations, and civil society. Its mission is to help the Rohingya secure peace, security, and their rights wherever they reside. Through the “No Business With Genocide” campaign, the International Campaign for the Rohingya puts pressure on corporations in Burma to be a force for preventing genocide and mass atrocities against the Rohingya.
About Azzad Asset Management
Azzad Asset Management is a socially responsible registered investment advisor committed to providing investment services designed to help people enjoy optimum performance without compromising their values. Azzad believes that companies operating in ethical lines of business offer relatively less business risk and are in a better position to thrive in the long term. Azzad is a member of the Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, and the Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions. The firm is based in Falls Church, Virginia.
 
END
 
International Campaign for the Rohingya: Simon Billenness, Executive Director, 617-596-6158 (cell),simon.billenness@rohingyacampaign.org
Azzad Asset Management: Investment Communications Director Joshua Brockwell, 703-207-7005, ext. 109 (office), 571-970-8695 (cell), joshua@azzadfunds.com; Amina Rubin, 703-207-7005, ext. 120, amina@azzadfunds.com

 

Extraordinary Session on the Situation of the Rohingya

On January 19, Malaysia hosted the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Kuala Lumpur for an Extraordinary Session on the situation of the Rohingya. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak urged the government of Myanmar to end the humanitarian tragedy and subsequently pledged US$2.2 million to aid the minority group. In a final communiqué, the OIC called upon Myanmar to resolve the root of the crisis in Rakhine State, among other calls to action, and reinstate the citizenship of the Rohingya. The request was also made for the government to allow a high-level delegation from the OIC to travel to Rakhine State in order to conduct an independent inquiry. Such access is unlikely to be granted as travel into the state is still severely restricted.

The meeting was immediately denounced in a press release issued by Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The session was deemed “regrettable” and only served to make “a complicated issue worse.” Vocal in its growing discontent of fellow ASEAN member interfering in domestic affairs, the government described Malaysia’s actions as exploitative and promotive of certain political agendas—entirely disregarding the reality that the Rohingya crisis is also an international issue as refugees are fleeing to seek sanctuary throughout parts of Southeast Asia.

In its defense against accusations that it is not taking appropriate measures in resolving the conflict, the Myanmar government cited the creation of two commissions that are helping to find a solution—a claim that is deceptive and contentious. The two commissions established to investigate the abuses occurring in Rakhine State are one thirteen-member group headed by Myanmar Vice President U Myint Swe, and one nine-member Rakhine Advisory Commission headed by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Despite examining allegations of human rights abuses in the same region, the initial findings of both groups have been polarizing and incongruous.

The interim report released by Vice President Swe’s commission found “insufficient evidence” of rape and violence perpetrated by Myanmar security forces. Allegations of genocide and crimes against humanity were also denied. The report is in stark contrast with Annan’s preliminary statement in November 2016 after visiting Rakhine State. Annan stated:

“As Chair of the Rakhine Advisory Commission, I wish to express my deep concern over the recent violence in northern Rakhine State, which is plunging the State into renewed instability and creating new displacement. All communities must renounce violence and I urge the security services to act in full compliance with the rule of law.”

Annan’s commission has yet to release a full report on its findings, but will do so within 12 mend onths of the commission’s creation—presumably before August 2017.

The decision of the Myanmar government to criticize a meeting held only to alleviate the suffering of a persecuted group is both disappointing and evident of its unwillingness to admit atrocities against the Rohingya are occurring. If the Myanmar government was truly dedicated to ending the crisis in Rakhine State, this Extraordinary Session would have been welcomed and revered, not disparaged. The reduction of conflict and violence can only happen through cooperation, not condemnation.

 

The Rohingya Plight

Rohingya is the largest Muslim population in Myanmar, and one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. The minority group has been subjected to displacement, statelessness, human rights abuses, and ethnic cleansing fueled by years of conflict dating back to the 1930s.

The Rakhine State alone is home to around 1.2 million Rohingya, who are faced with violence and discrimination. Myanmar’s government has continued to apply the Burma Citizenship Law of 1982 in order to justify its denial of Rohingya citizenship, while including 135 other ethnic groups. This law renders the Rohingya of Myanmar stateless with limited rights despite residing in the country since the seventh century.

According to the 2016 report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, approximately 30,000 Muslim children in the Rakhine State depend on learning spaces set up by humanitarian organizations. These children have no access to qualified textbooks, teachers, or any materials necessary for a quality education. In addition, the Rohingya are not allowed to study professions such as medicine, economics, and engineering, or attend the only university at Rakhine State.

With the rise of ultra-nationalist Buddhist groups in Myanmar, the situation in Rakhine State and the overall anti-Muslim sentiment have intensified throughout the nation. As a result of such ostracizing persecution, the Rohingya have resorted to leaving their homes and risking their lives in search of basic liberties. As of January 5th, 2017, 65,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh in search of access to basic rights. Yet, these individuals have fared even worse fates by being exposed to trafficking, extortion, and other abuses.

Ultimately, the Rohingya are left without a place to go or a voice to use. Their situation grows ever more politicized and polarized. Without an international community or government to show them any support or recognition, the Rohingya are left vulnerable and helpless. Therefore, the International Campaign for the Rohingya aims to advocate and amplify their voices so that they may be granted the basic human and civil rights they deserve.