Brunei Pernicious Codes

March 15, 2024

The Sultan the head of the state is the absolute monarchy in Brunei. The Sultan continues to wield power under a long-standing state of emergency imposed in 1984.

Brunei’s Syariah Penal Code (2013) went into effect on April 3, 2019. The new code poses grave threats to fundamental human rights and discriminates against the country’s most vulnerable groups, including children, women, and religious and sexual minorities.

Many of the code’s provisions violate Brunei’s obligations under international human rights conventions to which Brunei is a party and customary international law. Bruneiis a state party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Brunei has signed, but not yet ratified, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. As a member state of the United Nations, Brunei has pledged to respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose provisions are considered reflective of customary international law.

The Brunei penal code imposes the death penalty (by stoning) for the so-called crimes of zina (illicit sexual relations) or sex between unmarried couples and or analsex.

Anyone, regardless of whether they are Muslim or not, who publicly consumes food, drink, or tobacco before sundown during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan faces imprisonment and a fine.

In apparent response to the huge global outcry against the new penal code, on May 5, 2019, the sultan of Brunei said that Brunei had adopted a “a de facto moratorium on the execution of death penalty for cases” and this would also apply to the cases under its 2013 Brunei Sharia Penal Code, including anal intercourse and sex between unmarried couples, among others. Beyond not addressing the broader human rights concerns of the penal code, discussed below, the de facto moratorium on capital punishment would still allow for the sultan to restore the death penalty at any time.

These criminal offenses also apply to foreign nationals in Brunei, subjecting them to the death penalty, torture, and other ill-treatment, as well as discrimination on the basis of their age, gender, religious belief, or sexual orientation. Article 184 of the penal code also sets out that offenses committed abroad by a citizen or permanent resident of Brunei may be prosecuted in Brunei.

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