Brunei defends gay sex death penalty as more for 'prevention than to punish'

by Hugo Greenhalgh | @hugo_greenhalgh | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 12 April 2019 10:12 GMT

Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah attends the retreat session during the APEC Summit in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea on November 18, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo

Image Caption and Rights Information
The United Nations had condemned imposing the death penalty for gay sex and adultery

By Hugo Greenhalgh

LONDON, April 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Brunei said new laws imposing the death penalty for gay sex and adultery were designed more for "prevention than to punish" in response to the United Nations' condemnation of the measures.

The United Nations said the Muslim-majority former British protectorate violated human rights on April 3 by implementing Islamic laws which punish sodomy, adultery and rape with the death penalty, including by stoning, and theft with amputation.

But Erywan Yusof, Brunei's second minister of foreign affairs, defended the new laws in a letter to the United Nations, saying the move was focused more on "prevention than punishment".

"Its aim is to educate, deter, rehabilitate and nurture rather than to punish," Yusof wrote to the United Nations.

In the letter Yusof said the offences would not apply to non-Muslims in Brunei, which has has been at the centre of a media storm since it announced the rollout of more Sharia laws in March.

Brunei, a small Southeast Asian country of about 400,000 people, has consistently defended its right to implement the laws, elements of which were first adopted in 2014 and which have been rolled out in phases since then.

Its U.N. letter said the "criminalisation of adultery and sodomy is to safeguard the sanctity of family lineage and marriage of individual Muslims particularly women".

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on April 3, through a spokesman, said "human rights are to be upheld in relation to every person everywhere without any kind of discrimination".

"The legislation approved is in clear violation with the principles expressed," his spokesman said.

The U.N. has noted that the right to be free from discrimination was enshrined in article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said he had met with Yusof who assured him that prosecutions for gay sex were "unlikely" but this was not satisfactory. "(Yusof's) suggestion that Sharia prosecutions are in practice unlikely is not acceptable: everyone should be free to be who they are and love who they want," Hunt said on Twitter.

Celebrities, from actor George Clooney and singer Elton John, have galvanised support against the new laws, with protestors boycotting the Dorchester Collection range of hotels, owned by the Brunei Investment Agency, across the world.

Over the past week, travel agents, London's transport network and finance houses were among a rising number of companies to cut ties with businesses owned by Brunei. (Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.