The curse of the blood rubies: Inside Burma’s brutal gem trade – by Dan McDougall (Daily Mail – September 18, 2010)


They are the most expensive gems per carat on Earth – and Burma is blessed with an abundance of them. The trade in Burmese rubies is banned, but as a Live investigation discovers, the country’s corrupt military junta is forcing people to mine them in slave-labour conditions to line their own pockets – and business is booming

Beneath a shroud of grey moonlight the road to Mandalay is as elusive as a ghost as it twists and turns away from the plateau and plunges down into the valley floor. Through the gloom, with our headlights dimmed to avoid army patrols, our aged Datsun painstakingly crawls along the rough gravel highway as we look for signs of life in the Burmese hinterland.

Suddenly, at a bend in a river, we see the dull glow from dozens of kerosene lamps in the middle distance. Silhouetted against the night sky men, women and children are silently clawing into loose rock with blunt iron tools and bare hands.

Squatting along the rocky bank they are risking everything; scrounging for deadly crumbs from the military junta’s table. It is, by all accounts, a suicidal mission, but in the fire of these villagers’ eyes are dark, brooding stones. They’re scouring the earth for rubies.

Known for their strong fluorescence, Burmese rubies – the most expensive gems per carat in the world – are cherished the world over for their clarity, quality and above all their lush red ‘Pigeon’s Blood’ hue. Rubies like these exist nowhere else on Earth.
In literature, the stones, scraped from the dead earth at our feet, have been used as symbol of virginity, but here in Burma, as a Live magazine investigation has uncovered, nothing about this gem business is pure.

Over the past decade campaigns by Amnesty International and Global Witness, together with high-profile Hollywood movie blockbusters starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Nicolas Cage, have helped educate the public about ‘blood diamonds’, by loose definition stones mined in war zones and sold secretly to finance insurgency or a warlord’s army. But at the same time precious gems mined to help fund military regimes seem to have escaped the same level of international focus.

According to campaigners, nowhere is this oversight more apparent than in Burma, where the world’s most famous rubies continue to be mined in slave-labour conditions and where almost every stone to emerge from the earth ultimately represents a strengthening of the ruling military junta’s position.

Over the past four decades, the world has witnessed a nation that was once considered the most economically promising in south-east Asia become one of the most military oppressed and underdeveloped in the world.

According to the U.S. State Department, the mining of rubies, as well as jade, not only helps fund the Burmese military junta, but is also at the centre of innumerable and well-documented crimes against humanity that include the implementation of forced labour in mines, the systematic rape of women and young girls, and the ethnic cleansing of opposition minority groups living near sources of mineral wealth.

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