HRW urges Brunei to repeal Sharia law

May 23 (UPI) — An international human rights organization called on the sultan of Brunei to repeal his country’s newly enacted Sharia penal code as it violates a range of internationally recognized human rights.

Enacted April 3, the Syariah Penal Code imposes death by stoning for extramarital and anal sex, limb amputation for theft and 40 whip lashes for lesbian sex, among other restrictions critics say target women and sexual and gender minorities.

“The provisions contained in the penal code pave the way for multiple violations of human rights, including the right to life, freedom from torture and other ill-treatment, freedom of expression, privacy and religion,” four directors of Human Rights Watch said in a letter dated Wednesday to Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who is also the prime minister of Brunei.

A detailed report of the new penal code attached to the letter states that the code violates Brunei’s obligations to international human rights conventions the country has signed, including the Convention on Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women as well as others it has signed but not yet ratified.

“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 report said.

Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said the new penal code is a “multifaceted assault on fundamental human rights.”

“The sultan holds absolute power in Brunei, so responsibility for this abhorrent penal code falls squarely on his shoulders,” Robertson said in a statement. “Brunei’s repeated commitments to respect human rights amount to little so long as the Syariah Penal Code is in force.”

The rollout of the new penal code was met with opposition from both celebrities, such as actor George Clooney and comedian Ellen DeGeneres who encouraged boycotts of Brunei-linked hotel brands, and countries such as the United States, Britain, France and Germany who protested the country’s use of Sharia law.

In response, the sultan on May 5 said there are many “misperceptions” about the code that may cause “apprehension.”

He said despite the implementation of the penal code, Brunei will continue to uphold its de facto moratorium on the death penalty.

“There should not be any concern on the Sharia law as it is full of Allah’s mercy and blessings,” he said.

However, Human Rights Watch rejected this explanation Wednesday, stating the moratorium “is subject to political whim and could be lifted at any time, while leaving in place dozens of other rights-offending provisions.”

The death penalty is also only one of many issues with the penal code, the directors said in their letter.

Human Rights Watch then urged the sultan to immediately repeal the penal code, ensure the new one is aligned with international human rights law and ratify conventions and treaties Brunei has previously signed.

“The sultan should revoke this law and fulfil his promise to respect human rights,” Robertson said.

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