UN urges Brunei not to enforce 'cruel' death laws

GENEVA • The United Nations yesterday decried new "cruel and inhuman" laws set to take effect in Brunei this week, which order death by stoning for adultery and gay sex, and amputations for theft.

"I appeal to the government to stop the entry into force of this draconian new penal code, which would mark a serious setback for human rights protections for the people of Brunei if implemented," UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.

Brunei, an absolute monarchy ruled for 51 years by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, has said it will implement the new penal code starting tomorrow. Brunei first announced the measures in 2013, but implementation has been delayed in the face of opposition by rights groups and as officials worked out the practical details.

The new law stipulates the death penalty for a number of offences, including rape, adultery, sodomy, robbery and insulting or defaming the Prophet Muhammad.

It also introduces public flogging as punishment for abortion as well as amputation for theft, and criminalises exposing Muslim children to the beliefs and practices of any religion besides Islam.

Ms Bachelet said a wide range of UN rights experts had "expressed their concerns about the cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments".

Her comments came after a long line of politicians and celebrities, including George Clooney and Elton John, condemned the new laws and called for a boycott of hotels owned by the sultanate.

Homosexuality has long been illegal in Brunei, which practises a stricter brand of Islam than its neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia, but it will now be a capital offence. The law applies to Muslims.

Ms Bachelet urged Brunei to uphold a long tradition of not applying the death penalty laws that have remained on its books. Brunei last carried out an execution in 1957.

She said international law imposes very stringent restrictions on the use of the death penalty, which can be applied only for the crimes of murder and intentional killing, and only after all due process requirements have been met.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that the new laws could encourage violence and discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation and religious affiliation.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2019, with the headline 'UN urges Brunei not to enforce 'cruel' death laws'. Print Edition | Subscribe