Growing boycott isn’t the only protest against Brunei gay death law

More than 100 Southeast Asian human rights groups appealed to Brunei this week not to enforce its new sharia law providing death by stoning for homosexual activity and for adultery. Elsewhere, a boycott of Brunei gained supporters, though some human rights activists objected.

Petition by All Out calls on the U.S. to take a stronger stance on Brunei's harsh laws. Click to image to read the petition.
Petition by All Out calls on the U.S. to take a stronger stance on Brunei’s harsh laws. Click the image to read the petition.

New protests and appeals included:

“All U.S. officials have done so far is to issue a press release. This is not enough.”

The three-paragraph U.S. press release on April 2 stated:

Brunei’s decision to implement Phases Two and Three of the Sharia Penal Code and associated penalties runs counter to its international human rights obligations, including with respect to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

All governments have an obligation to ensure that all people can freely enjoy the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms to which they are entitled. The United States strongly opposes violence, criminalization and discrimination targeting vulnerable groups, including women at risk of violence, religious and ethnic minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons.

We continue to encourage Brunei to ratify and implement the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which it signed in 2015, and to sign, ratify, and implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Brunei Project, a four-year-old social-media-based human rights initiative, expressed its opposition to a boycott of the country:

Logo of the Brunei Project
Logo of the Brunei Project

The Brunei Project does not currently support a boycott of Brunei-owned businesses and we do not believe that such an approach will be productive. While the boycott campaigns that emerged in the United States and elsewhere in 2014 were useful in drawing attention to what was happening in Brunei, the boycotts did not enjoy widespread support from within the country, where they were viewed as being a direct attack on the people of Brunei and the country as a whole, rather than the policies and laws of the Brunei Government. It was also argued that the boycotts hurt innocent people (such as employees of the companies targeted) more than they did the Brunei’s Sultan and Government.

As such, The Brunei Project remains focused on continuing to raise awareness through ongoing media engagement, maintaining and further developing our collaboration with regional and international allies, and pushing for diplomatic pressure to be placed on Brunei. We see such a strategy as being the best approach towards achieving a positive outcome.

The Brunei Project welcomes the ongoing dialogue about how best to bring an end to the abhorrent laws that include the use of torture and continues to put Brunei in violation of its obligations under international law.

In the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), more than 110 civil society organizations have signed this statement about Brunei, calling for a halt on enforcing the new Sharia Penal Code but taking no position on a boycott:

We, the undersigned civil society organizations in the ASEAN region, urge the government of Brunei to immediately halt the full implementation of the Sharia Penal Code (SPC). The said law entails provisions that contradict international human rights standards, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) and the ASEAN Charter. Brunei has signed and ratified these instruments, and thereby must show commitment to respect, protect and fulfill its obligations. Moreover, Brunei should recognize the importance of progressive development of human rights therefore moving away from corporal punishment and death penalty.

By enforcing the SPC, Brunei will set a dangerous precedent for its neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia and broader Asia as it perpetuates the practice of violating fundamental freedoms, particularly freedom of expression, in the region.

We acknowledge the Brunei government’s intention to “maintain peace and order and preserve religion, life, family and individuals regardless of gender, nationality, race and faith” being a rationale behind the SPC. However, there are provisions in the law that provides excessive penalties, including whipping, imprisonment and death penalty, against those who commit adultery, consensual same-sex relations, pregnancy out of wedlock, access to abortion, and acts critical of state-interpretation of Islam.

The SPC inevitably ends up disproportionately targeting those who are already vulnerable and socially marginalised, including women, children, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people, the economically disadvantaged, religious minorities, and dissenting voices. The penalties imposed by the law, including whipping and stoning to death, constitutes torture, ill-treatment, and inhumane and degrading punishment. As a consequence, this will further silence dissent, create a culture of fear among its people, and further shrink civic space in the country. A country that cares for its citizens needs to look out for those more vulnerable to discrimination, violence and injustice, and seek to protect them first.

By adopting conservative views of morality and excessive punishments, Brunei essentially legitimizes violence. The law and its enforcement will encourage extremist and fundamentalist groups in the region to continue sowing fear, social discord and violence.

The 10 ASEAN member nations. (Map courtesy of World Atlas)
The 10 ASEAN member nations. (Map courtesy of World Atlas)

We reiterate the commitment of ASEAN Member States Leaders under the ASEAN Community 2025 to realise a rules-based, people-oriented, people-centred community bound by fundamental principles, shared values and norms, in which our peoples enjoy human rights, fundamental freedoms, and social justice. The current situation in Brunei reflects the contrary, and will have negative implication to jeopardise the vision of ASEAN and consequently the identity of ASEAN as a collective region.

We urge Brunei to uphold its name being an “abode of peace”, a society that upholds and respects diversity, where difference is approached with compassion.

We look forward to seeing Brunei become a role model in ASEAN, as the region strives towards the better practices of democracy in partnership with civil society. We hope Brunei will strive to achieve this through the sharing of prosperity and by respecting the equal rights of all.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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