April 1, 2019 at 12:10 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
UN human rights chief urges Brunei not to implement ‘draconian’ penal code
United Nations LGBT Core Group, gay news, Washington Blade
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on April 1, 2019, urged Brunei not to implement provisions of its new legal code that would impose the death penalty against anyone found guilty of engaging in consensual same-sex sexual relations. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Monday urged Brunei not to implement its new penal code that would impose the death penalty against anyone found guilty of engaging in consensual same-sex sexual activity.

“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,” said Bachelet.

Provisions of the new penal code, which is based on Shariah law, are scheduled to take effect on Wednesday.

A U.N. press release that contained Bachelet’s comments notes “provisions of the revised penal code may also encourage violence and discrimination against women, on the basis of sexual orientation and against religious minorities in Brunei.”

“Any religion-based legislation must not violate human rights, including the rights of those belonging to the majority religion as well as of religious minorities and non-believers,” said Bachelet, who is the former president of Chile.

The new penal code has sparked widespread outrage around the world. It has also prompted renewed calls to boycott the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles and other properties that Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei owns.

“The United States is concerned with Brunei’s decision to implement Phases Two and Three of the Shariah Penal Code,” a State Department spokesperson told the Washington Blade last week in a statement. “Some of the punishments in the law appear inconsistent with international human rights obligations, including with respect to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”

Bachelet in her statement also referenced international human rights laws and norms.

“Any religion-based legislation must not violate human rights, including the rights of those belonging to the majority religion as well as of religious minorities and non-believers,” said Bachelet.

“Human rights and faith are not opposing forces — indeed, it is human interpretation that creates tensions,” she added. “It is vital that the government, religious authorities and a wide range of civil society actors work jointly to uphold human dignity and equality for all.”

Bolkiah’s office on Saturday defended the penal code in a statement.

“Brunei Darussalam is a sovereign Islamic and fully independent country and, like all other independent countries, enforces its own rule of laws,” reads the statement. “Brunei Darussalam has always been practicing a dual legal system, one that is based on the Syariah Law and the other on Common Law.”

The statement notes “both systems will continue to run in parallel to maintain peace and order and preserve religion, life, family and individuals regardless of gender, nationality, race and faith.”

The Syariah Law, apart from criminalizing and deterring acts that are against the teachings of Islam, it also aims to educate, respect and protect the legitimate rights of all individuals, society or nationality of any faiths and race,” it adds.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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