Brunei, a small nation on the island of Borneo, caused a global outcry this week with the introduction of its new penal code grounded in Sharia law. Now the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Baroness Patricia Scotland, has spoken out against the new anti-gay law.
Effective since Wednesday April 3, any man convicted of gay sex or adultery is to face death by stoning. Lesbian sex will be punished with 100 lashes of a whip.
In a statement to newspaper i, Baroness Scotland says she “strongly urged” the Brunei government to repeal the law.
Brunei has “committed itself to upholding the values and principles of the Commonwealth Charter which underscores a commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights covenants and international instruments,” she said.
She added: “I have communicated my concern to the Government of Brunei, strongly urging it to reconsider the introduction of the punishments proposed under the new Penal Code which, if implemented in its current form, will potentially bring into effect cruel and inhuman punishments which contravene international human rights law and standards.
“The Commonwealth Secretariat is ready and willing to provide Brunei Darussalam with technical assistance and to advise on the formulation of a revised Penal Code in accordance with the values and principles of the Commonwealth Charter and in compliance with international human rights law and obligations including on the issue of harmonisation.”
MPs call for Brunei to be ejected from the Commonwealth
The Baroness made no comment, however, on recent calls for Brunei – which was a British colony until 1984 – to be suspended from the Commonwealth.
UK Labour MP Khalid Mahmood has called the new anti-gay law “a clear breach of Brunei’s obligations under the Commonwealth charter on human rights,” and told Parliament its introduction should have “immediate consequences for Brunei’s membership of the Commonwealth.”
“It is time for the Commonwealth to draw a line in the sand on LGBT rights, and that line must be drawn now in relation to Brunei,” he said. “We cannot be in a situation whereby a Commonwealth country announces plans to stone and whip LGBT people to death and the Commonwealth does nothing.”
Tory MP Philip Hollobone, himself a longtime opponent of LGBT+ rights, urged the British government to “make clear that such punishments are simply incompatible with Commonwealth membership.”
UK minister calls the Sultan of Brunei “a great friend”
Conservative foreign office minister Mark Field dismissed calls to suspend Brunei from the Commonwealth in Parliament on Thursday, claiming the recent outcry over the anti-gay law “gives a misleading impression of what is a friendly and generous place.”
He called Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Brunei’s unelected leader, “a great friend of this country over many years,” and said: “He has, I think, become a little more devout as he has got older, which is one reason why the sharia code – based, of course, on the Saudi Arabian sharia code – has been put in place.
“However, I am hopeful that we can continue to have a positive and constructive dialogue on this issue, with Brunei and with a number of countries that we would like to see making changes in future.”
He added: “I very much agree with the sentiment of the House that the imposition of a sharia penal code is a backward step as far as Brunei is concerned, but progress is being made elsewhere and we will continue to work within the broad international community and the Commonwealth to ensure that countries come on board. The best way to do that, rather than threatening to kick countries out of the Commonwealth, is to try to hold them close and recognise the strong connections.”
Hotels owned by Brunei delete social media accounts
Meanwhile, nine luxury hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei have deleted their social media accounts amid a widespread LGBT+ boycott of the country’s investments.
Brunei’s Dorchester Collection hotel chain has properties around the world, with hotels in locations including London, Paris and Los Angeles. Since the introduction of Brunei’s anti-gay law, celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres, Dua Lipa and George Clooney have vowed to boycott the chain.
Recent protests saw one protester at London’s Dorchester Hotel, Jordan Tannahill, pull out a microphone to tell patrons about the boycott. “We do not condone the brutality of our LGBT sisters and brothers in Brunei,” Tannahill said before being removed by security.
Following a surge of anger on social media, the Dorchester Collection announced on Wednesday that it would deactivate its accounts.
A statement from the chain said “Dorchester Collection is an inclusive and diverse company and does not tolerate any form of discrimination.
“Although we believe in open and transparent communication, we have reluctantly deactivated our hotel social pages due to the personal abuse directed at our employees for whom we have a duty of care.”
Irish Twitter joins the boycott
Irish people have been vocal in their support of the boycott, coming out en masse on social media to condemn Brunei’s new anti-gay law and publicly cancel bookings with the Dorchester Collection chain.
“USE YOUR VOICE, SPREAD THE WORD,” said TV host Darren Kennedy via Twitter on Tuesday. “Tomorrow, the country of Brunei will start stoning gay people to death. We need to do something now.”
USE YOUR VOICE, SPREAD THE WORD. #Repost @theellenshow Tomorrow, the country of Brunei will start stoning gay people to death. We need to do something now. Please boycott these hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei. Raise your voices now. Spread the word #BoycottBrunei pic.twitter.com/x00us7kjhL
— Darren Kennedy (@Darrenken) April 3, 2019
“This isn’t some obscure debate about LGBTI rights,” said journalist Peter McGuire. “This is solely about the right of gay people not to be buried to their neck and having stones thrown at their head until they die.”
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