Beginning on April 3rd, new laws came into effect in the small South East Asian kingdom of Brunei, rendering homosexual sex and adultery a crime punishable by stoning to death according to a new penal code, which will be witnessed by a group of Muslims. The Muslim-Majority absolute monarchy will put into force the last amendment to its criminal code as part of reform initiated in 2014. This comes with a harshening of laws with the introduction of Sharia law and renders Brunei the first country to adopt Islamic criminal law at the national level.
Chhoa-Howard, a Brunei Researcher at Amnesty International, said “Brunei must immediately halt its plans to implement these vicious punishments and revise its Penal Code in compliance with its human rights obligations. The international community must urgently condemn Brunei’s move to put these cruel penalties into practice. Blatantly restricting the rights to religion and belief”.
Brunei’s Sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, who recently described the amendment of the penal code as “a great achievement,” asking other countries to respect the nations law as it does theirs. However, the international backing being sought will be hard to come by as Rupert Colville, a UN spokesman denounces the law saying “the application for the death penalty for such a broad range of offences contravenes international law.” Furthermore, the UK’s international development secretary, Penny Mordaunt, said: “No one should face the death penalty because of who they love. Brunei’s decision is barbaric and the UK stands with the LGBT community and those who defend their rights. LGBT rights are human rights.”
A flagrant abuse of human rights, with archaic levels of intolerance. These allegedly biblical laws are a massive setback to modern tolerance. The lack of response from the US, speaks to the strong economic ties, involving extravagant gifts to the White House, with the oil-rich nation. Avoiding confrontation to preserve economically beneficial ties with the small nation ignores the flagrant abuse of human rights. America’s close relationship with Saudi Arabia echos the sentiment of prioritizing economic interests over upholding human rights which is being reflected now with Brunei. In theory, with Iran-style economic sanctions, the U.S. could effectively change the mind of the Brunei government. However, the U.S.’s notorious reluctance to employ such sanctions when not in their interest leaves little hope.
These new laws were announced in 2014, being gradually rolled out. This latest phase of brutal laws was quietly announced on the Brunei Attorney general’s website on December 29th, 2018. The tiny oil-rich kingdom of just over 450,000 people, of Muslim-majority, has grown more conservative in recent years. These laws are justified in Brunei as officials claim they reflect Islam’s tenets of morality and the corporal punishment for those who break them. The implementation of these laws was put on pause following the international outcry after the rolling out of ‘milder’ punishments involving fines and jail time. Homosexuality has been outlawed in Brunei since British colonial rule, previously punishable by 10 years in prison. These new laws will make Brunei the first Asian country to punish this crime via death. Other countries with such laws are; Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. As of yet, there has been no national public outcry to these laws, with criticism of the Sultan’s policies extremely rare within the totalitarian regime.
In the modern world, tolerance to sexual orientation is largely deemed as a given. Furthermore, stoning to death for any crime, regardless of its nature, is considered as constituting torture- clearly prohibited by international law. This flagrant disrespect for international human rights laws should be met with economic sanctions by the western powers with closest ties to Brunei, the boycott by private companies must not be deemed enough within a statist international system.