As Valentine’s Day is approaching, some are searching for the perfect gift for the loved one. Maybe even a ring. However, when choosing a ring or the ring, one should be very careful. No, it is not about the size or cut of the gem. It is all about its origin. As luxury jewelers continue to source their gems from regions affected by genocide, and in some cases, profiting the perpetrators, a thoughtful gift for the one may be tainted by atrocity crimes. Indeed, this is the concern in relation to gems coming from Myanmar where Burmese military is standing accused of committing genocide against the Rohingya Muslims, an ethno-religious minority group.
The alleged atrocities of the Burmese military, as perpetrated against the Rohingya Muslims include “extrajudicial executions or other killings, including by random shooting; enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention; rape, including gang rape, and other forms of sexual violence; physical assault including beatings; torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; looting and occupation of property; destruction of property; and ethnic and religious discrimination and persecution.” As a result of the atrocities, from 2016 and throughout subsequent months, over 700,000 Rohingya Muslims were forced to flee to Bangladesh.
In September 2017, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights described the atrocities committed against the Rohingya Muslims as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Similarly, the U.N. Special Envoy for human rights in Myanmar identified the “hallmarks of a genocide” within the horrendous crimes suffered by the Rohingya Muslims. Indeed, the atrocities may constitute acts of killing, causing serious bodily and mental harm, inflicting conditions that are calculated to bring about physical destruction, imposing measures to prevent births, and forcible transfers, namely methods to bring about genocide as under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention). There is also some evidence to suggest the specific intent to destroy the Rohingya group in whole or in part. Due to the severity of the atrocities, the International Criminal Court and the International Court of Justice are currently engaged in considering the situation. While both inquiries are ongoing, the International Court of Justice ordered provisions measures to prevent further atrocities against the Rohingyas.
However, the developments of February 2021 bring renewed concerns that the situation will deteriorate. On February 1, 2021, the military deposed the democratically elected members of Myanmar’s ruling party, the National League for Democracy and introduced a state of emergency. This was followed by reports of “arbitrary detention, restriction of access to communications, and restrictions on freedom of expression and the right to protest” and the use of lethal force against protesters. Furthermore, U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada al-Nashif expressed her concerns for the members of the Rohingya community who continue to be at risk of genocide.
In response to these allegations, human rights organizations have been calling to stop buying Burmese gems that help fund the military’s atrocities. According to them, “Myanmar produces more than 90% of the world’s rubies and jade, and these stones command the highest prices on the international market. The military dominates the gemstone industry in Myanmar. Its extensive commercial interests in gemstone extraction and trade mean that the military profits when high-end jewelry retailers buy Burmese gems for their collections.” These allegations require urgent investigation and response. One should not trade with actors perpetrating genocide as such trade may mean complicity in the crime itself.
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On this Valentine’s Day, and when picking jewelry for the loved one, let’s make sure that they are ethically sourced and do not help to fund atrocity crimes.