The Sultan the head of the state is the absolutemonarchy in Brunei. The Sultan continues to wield power under a long-standingstate of emergency imposed in 1984.
Brunei’sSyariah Penal Code (2013) went into effect on April 3, 2019. The new code posesgrave threats to fundamental human rights and discriminates against thecountry’s most vulnerable groups, including children, women, and religious andsexual minorities.
Many of thecode’s provisions violate Brunei’s obligations under international human rightsconventions 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 theConvention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women(CEDAW). Brunei has signed, but not yet ratified, the Convention againstTorture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. As amember state of the United Nations, Brunei has pledged to respect the UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights, whose provisions are considered reflective ofcustomary international law.
The Bruneipenal code imposes the death penalty (by stoning) for the so-called crimes ofzina (illicit sexual relations) or sexbetween unmarried couples and or analsex.
Anyone, regardless of whether they are Muslim ornot, who publicly consumes food, drink, or tobacco before sundown during theIslamic holy month of Ramadan faces imprisonment and a fine.
In apparentresponse 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 onthe execution of death penalty for cases” and this would also apply to thecases under its 2013 Brunei Sharia Penal Code, including anal intercourse and sexbetween unmarried couples, among others. Beyond not addressing the broaderhuman rights concerns of the penal code, discussed below, the de factomoratorium on capital punishment would still allow for the sultan to restorethe death penalty at any time.
These criminal offenses also apply to foreignnationals in Brunei, subjecting them to the death penalty, torture, and otherill-treatment, as well as discrimination on the basis of their age, gender,religious belief, or sexual orientation. Article 184 of the penal code alsosets out that offenses committed abroad by a citizen or permanent resident ofBrunei may be prosecuted in Brunei.