Brunei Introduces New Laws that Puts a Major Strain on Human Rights


(Photo by ABC News: Graphic/Jarrod Fankhauser)

Safa Hameed

With the legalization of same-sex marriage in the United States and in many other countries, it seemed as if the whole world had taken huge steps in implementing LGBT rights, as well as human rights. Recently, however, it seems as if some countries, such as Brunei, a small country on the island of Borneo, have taken two steps back. On March 28, 2019, the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, announced that, starting April 3, gay sex will be punishable by death through stoning, as a result of the application of Islamic Sharia law.

Sharia law, which is the justification for the usage of these laws, was adopted by the country as a legal system in 2013, becoming one with the country’s other legal system, known as Common Law. Brunei is the only country in its region to use Sharia. The Sultan has done so because he believes Sharia law will, “maintain peace and order and preserve religion, life, family and individuals regardless of gender, nationality, race and faith.”

Even though it was declared six years ago that Sharia was to be carried out, it is only now that its laws are being implemented. Homosexulity in itself has been outlawed since the 1980s, during which the country was a British colony. Gay sex, as well as anyone found guilty of adultery, is now punishable by death through stoning. The new penal code also states that anyone who partakes in lesbian sex is subject to forty lashes.

Brunei was met with international outcry in regards to these new laws. The United Nations (UN) responded, saying that they and the Secretary-General of the UN “Stand clearly against any form of cruel punishment and that human rights are to be upheld in relations to every person everywhere without any kind of discrimination.” Phil Robertson of the Human Rights Watch (HRW), explained in a statement that, “Brunei’s new penal code is barbaric to the core, imposing archaic punishments for acts that shouldn’t even be crimes.” HRW has also called on the Sultan to immediately suspend all punishments that are to be carried out on the basis of Sharia.

On social media platforms, primarily Twitter and Instagram, people have begun sharing posts that call for the boycotting of hotels owned by the sultanate of Brunei, which include Le Meurice, The Dorchester Hotels, Hotel Bel Air, and The Beverly Hills Hotel. These posts have been shared by celebrities, such as Ellen DeGeneres, Elton John, and George Clooney. Companies, such as the Deutsche Bank, have also banned employees from residing at these hotels.

The photo that is being spread across social media. (Photo: Ellen DeGeneres via Instagram)

One of the reasons for using Sharia law in the first place was to preserve religion, yet what has striked people the most is the life that the Sultan of Brunei and his exiled brother have led go against the principles of Sharia. “The Sultan of Brunei and his brother Prince Jefri were known for their harems, their excesses in terms of purchasing of cars, and their sexual exploits,” said Bridget Welsh, a Southeast Asia expert and associate professor of political science at John Cabot University. These statements are supported by testimonies from girls who were apart of these harems. In the context of these harem allegations, the government has answered that they “vehemently deny all allegations.” Prince Jefri, the Sultan’s brother, was eventually exiled after he was found guilty of embezzling 16 billion dollars from the royal treasury. The lifestyles they have led go against nearly every principle that there is in Islam, and therefore every principle found in the Sharia. 

All of this, however, does not matter. After the attention that this situation has been gaining and the backlash that has come along with it, the Sultan released a statement through the government’s website, attesting that he and his government, “…do not expect other people to accept and agree with it, but that it would suffice if they just respect the nation in the same way that it also respects them.”