Brunei denies gay discrimination despite sodomy stoning law

Gay activists shout slogans as they stage a protest in front of the Brunei embassy in Paris over the sultanate's new death penalty laws for gay sex and adultery, on April 18, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

GENEVA (AFP) - Brunei said on Friday (May 10) it does not discriminate against people's "sexual orientation" despite a new syariah criminal code that includes death by stoning for gay sex and adultery.

While the country's sultan announced this week that such measures would not be enforced, the country remained on the defensive at a rare review of its record at the United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday.

The small sultanate on Borneo island has faced global backlash over last month's decision to add syariah law to its criminal codes.

"The syariah penal code order does not criminalise a person's status based (on) sexual orientation or belief," Deputy Foreign Minister Erywan Mohn Yusof said.

Dato Yusof was speaking at Brunei's Universal Periodic Review (UPR), during which a country's human rights performance faces scrutiny every five years.

He said that people in Brunei, "regardless of their sexual orientation, have continued to live and pursue their activities in their private space".

"They are not discriminated against in any way," he said.

The syariah code, which also punishes theft with the amputation of hands and feet, fully came into force in April, making it the only country in East or South-east Asia with syariah law at the national level.

A range of diplomats called on Brunei to implement sweeping reforms.

Canada warned the country was "moving towards increasingly inhumane treatment of both citizens and non-citizens" and urged the decriminalisation of "sexual activity between same-sex consenting adults", a call echoed by several European and Latin American states.

Luxembourg said it wanted "concrete guarantees" that the sultan's pledges regarding the death penalty moratorium would be upheld.

The United States voiced concern that the full implementation of syariah would "contravene Brunei's international human rights obligations and commitments".

Responding to criticism, Mr Yusof said that while Brunei did not criminalise individuals over personal choices, it does prohibit "the act" of gay sex to protect the nation's "religion, tradition and social fabric and values". The sultan - one of the world's wealthiest men, who has been on the throne for over five decades - announced plans for the syariah penal code in 2013.

While gay Bruneians voiced relief that the death penalty for homosexual sex would not be enforced, they said the law still encourages discrimination against LGBT people in the former British protectorate of about 400,000 people.

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