On 9 April, a group of LGBT activists and representatives of ASEAN civil society organizations gathered in front of the Embassy of Brunei Darussalam in Bangkok to deliver a statement against Brunei’s implementation of Sharia Law, under which same-sex relations are a crime punishable by death.
At 10.30 on Monday (9 April), a group of more than 30 LGBT activists, human rights activists and civil society representatives from Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries gathered in front of the Embassy of Brunei Darussalam in Bangkok in a peaceful protest against Brunei’s implementation of Sharia law, which entails punishments such as amputation, hanging and stoning, therefore leading to human rights violations.
The group also delivered a joint statement by ASEAN civil society organizations, signed by at least 132 organizations across ASEAN, which asks the Brunei government to “halt the full implementation of the Sharia Penal Code” since it “entails provisions that contradict international human rights standards.”
The statement notes that the Sharia Penal Code “inevitably ends up disproportionately targeting those who are already vulnerable and socially marginalized, including women, children, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people, the economically disadvantaged, religious minorities, and dissenting voices.” Brunei’s Sharia law criminalizes consensual same-sex relations, adultery, pregnancy out of wedlock, and access to abortion, and entails excessive penalties for violating the code, including flogging, amputation and death by stoning. These penalties constitute torture, ill-treatment and inhuman and degrading treatment, which is prohibited under international human rights law.
Stephen Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of Global Issues, also said in a statement last week that “This new penal code allows punishments such as amputation or death by stoning which are unspeakably cruel and have no place anywhere in the world.
“We are alarmed that the code criminalizes behaviour that should not be considered crimes at all. The international community must continue to condemn Brunei’s decision to put these cruel penalties into practice.”
Sulaiporn Chonwilai, an independent scholar and LGBT rights activist, said that Brunei’s criminalization of same-sex relationships is now a major issue among ASEAN LGBT activist networks. It was planned at first that the statement and letter would be delivered to representatives of the Brunei government in each ASEAN country, but because the atmosphere in other countries is not favourable, only the group in Thailand was able to deliver their statement.
“It’s hard to work for LGBT rights in ASEAN countries, because there are a lot of ASEAN member states who are clear that they don’t accept LGBT rights; ASEAN’s mechanisms, such as various human rights commissions, also don’t want to take a stand and say that LGBT rights are human rights; and ASEAN also has a principle of non-interference. In short, in the past nothing came out of our campaigning, and nothing will come out of it because we can see that this is what the system is like,” Sulaiporn said.
Matcha Phorn-in from the Sangsan Anakot Yawachon Development Project, who was at today’s event and was among those who helped mediate between the group and the Embassy, said that the death penalty in this case is problematic because LGBT people are not able to be open about their sexuality, and when one’s identity is criminalized and is punishable by death, it is a violation of human rights, since everyone is born equal and must not be discriminated against on the basis of sexual diversity or gender identity.
Matcha said that the LGBT community in ASEAN countries has to face many difficulties, from the level of beliefs down to the level of family. There are cases of parents abusing LGBT children, and Thailand ranks second in the world for such abuses. A UNESCO research project on bullying in schools from 2 years ago also found that more than 40% of LGBT students who are bullied have experienced suicidal thoughts or have tried to commit suicide. Laws in some countries still criminalize LGBT people, such as in Myanmar and Malaysia, where there has been a report of transgender people being murdered, and two years ago there was a report of two lesbians being sentenced to flogging. However, there are civil society groups all over the region working on LGBT rights in every area from legislation to acceptance in daily life.
Sirisak Chaited, an LGBT rights activist from Chiang Mai, said that there should be no discrimination by any country, institution, or religion. As a member of the LGBT community, he is directly affected, since the law is so severe, and even though people are talking more about human rights today, Brunei still implements such a cruel and inhuman law.
Sirisak, who was dressed in a costume representing stoning, said that “I want them to see that it’s torture to be stoned. Not only that, you’re half-buried and they get people to throw stones at you one by one. It’s a slow death. Sometimes the stones are big and sometimes they’re small. Even getting slapped or dropping a pen on your face hurts, but this is being stoned slowly until you die. It’s torture. It’s cruel and inhuman.”
Akekawat Pimsawan, an activist from the Togetherness for Equality and Action (TEA) group who was at yesterday’s activity, said that Thailand has to take a stand against Brunei’s implementation of Sharia law, which violates commitments Brunei made to the international community. He said that it is the state’s duty to make sure that the people are safe and secure, and if the state fails in that duty, the people might not be able to find any guarantee that they would be able to live, and if the society makes it difficult for them to live, they might not be able to feel secure.
Prasert Waedueramae, an official representing the Embassy of Brunei Darussalam, accepted the statement read by the activist group. The official said he would pass on the statement to the Ambassador.
According to Amnesty International, Brunei has signed but not yet ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and rejected all recommendations to this effect in its human rights review at the UN in 2014.
Statement of ASEAN Civil Society Organizations on the Full Enforcement of Sharia Law in Brunei Darussalam
We, the undersigned civil society organizations in the ASEAN region, urge the government of Brunei to immediately halt the full implementation of the Sharia Penal Code (SPC). The said law entails provisions that contradict international human rights standards, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) and the ASEAN Charter. Brunei has signed and ratified these instruments, and thereby must show commitment to respect, protect and fulfill its obligations. Moreover, Brunei should recognize the importance of progressive development of human rights therefore moving away from corporal punishment and death penalty.
By enforcing the SPC, Brunei will set a dangerous precedent for its neighbouring countries in Southeast Asia and broader Asia as it perpetuates the practice of violating fundamental freedoms, particularly freedom of expression, in the region.
We acknowledge the Brunei government’s intention to “maintain peace and order and preserve religion, life, family and individuals regardless of gender, nationality, race and faith” being a rationale behind the SPC. However, there are provisions in the law that provides excessive penalties, including whipping, imprisonment and death penalty, against those who commit adultery, consensual same-sex relations, pregnancy out of wedlock, access to abortion, and acts critical of state-interpretation of Islam.
The SPC inevitably ends up disproportionately targeting those who are already vulnerable and socially marginalised, including women, children, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ)
people, the economically disadvantaged, religious minorities, and dissenting voices. The penalties imposed by the law, including whipping and stoning to death, constitutes torture, ill-treatment, and inhumane and degrading punishment. As a consequence, this will further silence dissent, create a culture of fear among its people, and further shrink civic space in the country. A country that cares for its citizens needs to look out for those more vulnerable to discrimination, violence and injustice, and seek to protect them first.
By adopting conservative views of morality and excessive punishments, Brunei essentially legitimizes violence. The law and its enforcement will encourage extremist and fundamentalist groups in the region to continue sowing fear, social discord and violence.
We reiterate the commitment of ASEAN Member States Leaders under the ASEAN Community 2025 to realise a rules-based, people-oriented, people-centred community bound by fundamental principles, shared values and norms, in which our peoples enjoy human rights, fundamental freedoms, and social justice. The current situation in Brunei reflects the contrary, and will have negative implication to jeopardise the vision of ASEAN and consequently the identity of ASEAN as a collective region.
We urge Brunei to uphold its name being an “abode of peace”, a society that upholds and respects diversity, where difference is approached with compassion.
We look forward to seeing Brunei become a role model in ASEAN, as the region strives towards the better practices of democracy in partnership with civil society. We hope Brunei will strive to achieve this through the sharing of prosperity and by respecting the equal rights of all.