Documents to download

The introduction of strict new Islamic laws in Brunei that make homosexual acts and adultery offences punishable by stoning to death has provoked widespread condemnation.

In 2014 Brunei became the first East Asian country to adopt strict Islamic sharia law. The revised penal code, Syariah Penal Code Order 2013, was introduced in three stages, the last of which came into force on 3 April. Human Rights Watch, which described the code as “barbaric” states the penal code “requires death by stoning for extramarital sex, anal sex, and abortion; amputation of limbs for stealing; and 40 lashes with a whip for lesbian sex”.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet called on the Government of Brunei to halt the entry into force of “this draconian new penal code”. The UN said the revised code

stipulate the death penalty for offences such as rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations for Muslims, robbery, and insult or defamation of the Prophet Mohammad, among others. It introduces public flogging as a punishment for abortion, and amputation for theft. It also criminalises exposing Muslim children to the beliefs and practices of any religion other than Islam

Brunei currently retains the death penalty in law but the country has been abolitionist in practice, with the last execution carried out in 1957.

The European Commission and US State department noted the penalties are counter to Brunei’s international human rights obligations. Human Rights Watch has provided an explanation of how the code violates these obligations.

Mark Field, the Minister for Asia and the Pacific, gave an oral statement on 4 April 2019 on Brunei. He said:

this Government consider it appalling that, in the 21st century, people anywhere are still facing potential persecution and discrimination because of who they are and whom they love. We strongly support and defend the rights of the LGBT+ community here in the UK and all around the world.

Labour and the SNP raised the possibility of suspending Brunei from the Commonwealth.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has governed Brunei since 1967 following the abdication of his father, Sir Haji Omar Ali Saifuddin. He is one of the world’s longest-reigning and few remaining absolute monarchs.

Brunei and the UK have historically long ties. In 1888 Brunei became a British Protected State. Brunei was the only Malay state in 1963 which chose to remain so rather than join the federation that became Malaysia. The United Kingdom remained responsible for Brunei’s defence and external affairs until the Sultanate’s declaration of independence in 1984. Upon independence the Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in January 1979 (Cmd 7496) came into force in 1984.

The British Army has maintained a Gurkha battalion in Brunei since 1962. The British army in Brunei currently consists of an infantry battalion of Gurkhas and an Army Air Corps Flight of Bell 212 helicopters. The Jungle Warfare Division run courses for all members of the British Army.

The arrangement has been periodically renewed since 1962 by a series of agreements, known today as the Brunei Garrison Agreement, the most recent of which was signed in 2015 and lasts until 2020. According to a Downing Street report on the meeting between the Prime Minister and the Sultan of Brunei in 2015: “the Prime Minister noted that the garrison enables the UK to provide a permanent presence in South Asia while also providing an opportunity for British forces to undertake extreme environment training”.

The Times reports the Secretary of State for Defence is asking Brunei for assurances that LGBTI British service personnel deployed to Brunei will not be affected by the new rules.

The Sultan has a separate Gurkha Reserve Unit under his command – the majority of these are said to be former Army Gurkhas. The GRU numbers around 400-500 and come under the organisational structure of the Brunei Ministry of Defence.

Documents to download

Related posts