Gay sex. Adultery. Leaving the Muslim faith. Each of these will now merit death by stoning in the Kingdom of Brunei. The small country’s rapid shift towards being one of the most extreme countries in the world has generated worldwide outrage.
Led by the Sultan of Brunei, the Kingdom is a former UK colony. The criminalisation of homosexuality stems from a colonial era penal code, that has now mutated into an imported version of Sharia Law. In the face of such barbaric and unjust laws the world is now grappling with how best to respond. What would halt the murder and brutalisation of Brunei’s people?
The problem for the world is that the warning signs have been there for a while. It was in 2014 that these horrific laws were first raised, sparking the first wave of protests against the Sultan and his Kingdom. An aborted boycott and a lack of international pressure failed to result in any change from the Bruneian Sultan.
Indeed, the Sultan has now pushed the immediate implementation of some of the most draconian and unforgiving laws in the world. Laws that not only target gay people, but will result in women, the poor and minorities facing incredibly harsh and unforgiving punishment.
The UK’s Conservative Governmental response has been rather lacklustre. Mark Field a Minister in the Foreign Office called the Sultan a “great friend” who has become a bit “pious in his old age.” Such a lickspittle response hardly seems to indicate any willingness to respond with any great force from our government.
Yet it’s precisely action from the UK government that could be instrumental in generating change. Brunei only became independent from the UK in 1984. Before and now it remains a regime deeply reliant on UK support. In 1962 it was British troops that helped the previous Sultan quash a democratic revolt and institute the oppressive regime we still see in power today.
Even today 2,000 troops remain stationed on the island, legitimising the Sultan’s rule. An arrangement that is serendipitously up for review come 2020.
A UK government that put human rights first could do much more. We could withdraw our troops. We could fight to have Brunei thrown out of the Commonwealth. Not to say that the Commonwealth isn’t a deeply problematic organisation, but it is one the Sultan cares about being part of.
Protesters across the world are struggling with how to respond. Calls to boycott luxury hotels have failed before and the Sultan is one of the wealthiest men in the world. His personal wealth is buoyed by oil rather than his hotel chain.
The answer is a sustained and coordinated campaign. The Sultan must be made an international pariah. All governments should be pressured into rethinking their international ties, particularly the UK. Protests outside the Sultan’s hotels do a brilliant job of drawing attention to the matter, but they must be joined by coordinated pressure on government, whose support and inaction over the regime’s actions makes them complicit.
It calls into attention the Conservative Government’s deprioritisation of human rights. Too many regimes actions are overlooked because of their wealth or their strategic importance.
Saudi Arabia has brutally severe laws, is caught murdering journalists and bombing Yemeni citizens. Yet our government still sells weapons to the Kingdom and does little to challenge human rights abuses.
Uganda’s state sanctioned brutalisation of LGBT people came with no action on its Commonwealth membership.
We need to see action on fossil fuel dependence. Countless despotic regimes remain in power because of the worlds reliance on fossil fuels. A shift to renewables would do so much to topple despotic rulers, whilst saving our planet. But still the Global North does too little to make that change.
We also need our government to do much more to prioritise all human rights. It’s taken opposition parties to call out inaction from the Foreign Office time and time again.
It’s why protesters will be outside the Foreign Office this Friday from 4pm calling for action from Jeremy Hunt. These laws are too brutal and unfair to be ignored.