A law permitting punishment by death of adultery and homosexual intercourse will go into effect in Brunei on Wednesday, 3rd of April. The law, based on the strict Islamic system of Sharia Law, means those found guilty will be stoned to death. According to CNN, the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, announced the law in 2014 which has been slowly introduced on the Southeast Asian island. While homosexuality has been illegal since 1984 when Brunei was no longer a British colony, the latest provisions are especially draconian- some aspects will even apply to non-Muslims, ABC News reports.
The Sultan “does not expect other people to accept and agree with [the law]” but hopes other nations respect their sovereignty as Brunei does theirs, CNN writes. Naturally, the rest of the world is horrified. Political leaders from the U.S., the U.K., Europe, Australia and New Zealand have been quick to condemn this decision. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz labelled it “cruel and inhumane” and called for the Sultanate to withdraw the death by stoning of “homosexual acts by consenting adults.”
Similarly, according to CNN, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden called it “appalling and immoral,” adding, “there is no excuse- not culture, not tradition– for this kind of hate and inhumanity.” Human rights groups have echoed these statements, with Amnesty International asking that Brunei immediately stop plans to implement these “vicious punishments.” Even Hollywood actor George Clooney has called for boycotts to nine luxury hotels owned by the Brunei Investment Agency, including the exclusive Hotel Bel-Air and Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles, writes the Guardian.
These responses are not surprising- such horrific crimes are largely not tolerated in today’s world where human rights violations do not go unnoticed. Yet the Sultan of Brunei believes the new penal code is “a great achievement” and is likely to be unswayed by others’ disapproval. The big question remains- what can be done to prevent further unreasonable persecution of Brunei’s some 430,000 people? Unfortunately, no individual, organization or nation can force the Sultanate to change their laws. Brunei is a sovereign state like all 194 other nations in the world, and maintains their right to rule by their own laws without external interference. Therefore, indirect influence is extremely important in these situations. Clooney’s notion to starve Brunei-owned assets of business is one way to send the message that we do not support the Sultanate’s legal choices; therefore we will not support their business interests where money earned could go toward enforcing these laws. While the money lost from such boycotts may not be extreme, it is still a powerful way to undermine the law.
On a larger scale, all nations against this decision should reassess their political and economic ties with Brunei. This could mean cancelling meetings/visits with Brunei officials, or using these to convey dismay. According to CNN, Golriz Ghahraman, human rights lawyer and member of the New Zealand Parliament said, “We buy crude oil and sell dairy to Brunei so [we] should consider our leverage there.” However, nations must be careful that such actions do not negatively impact Brunei’s innocent people in the process. Another important tool in the 21st century fight against human rights violations is social media. Following the gut-wrenching Mosque shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand a few weeks ago, millions of people came together to support the Muslim community and condemn violence and ostracism. A similar campaign against this law backed by millions around the world may send an equally powerful message. Most importantly, we must keep the story alive. We are bombarded excessively with information, so horrendous stories like this can be forgotten or buried by tomorrow’s headlines. Make a point to talk to your friends, share articles, sign petitions, write to your government and help set the precedent that such atrocities will not be tolerated anywhere.