UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on 1 April urged the government of Brunei to halt the entry into force of the revised Penal Code which, if implemented in its current form, would enshrine in legislation cruel and inhuman punishments that seriously breach international human rights law – including death by stoning.
The revisions, due to enter into force on 3 April 2019, stipulate the death penalty for offences such as rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations for Muslims, robbery, and insult or defamation of the Prophet Muhammad, among others.
It introduces public flogging as a punishment for abortion, and amputation for theft. It also criminalises exposing Muslim children to the beliefs and practices of any religion other than Islam.
Brunei currently retains the death penalty in law but the country has been abolitionist in practice, with the last execution carried out in 1957.
“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,” Bachelet said, noting that various UN human rights mechanisms have expressed their concerns about the cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments contained in the Penal Code order.
Bachelet stressed that international human rights laws and standards impose stringent restrictions on the use of the death penalty, which may only be applied to the crime of murder or intentional killing, after a trial that fully meets due process requirements.
“In reality, no judiciary in the world can claim to be mistake-free, and evidence shows that the death penalty is disproportionately applied against people who are already vulnerable, with a high risk of miscarriages of justice. I urge Brunei to maintain its de facto moratorium on the use of capital punishment,” she said.
The 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,” Bachelet said.
“Human rights and faith are not opposing forces – indeed, it is human interpretation that creates tensions. 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.” “My office stands ready to assist the government of Brunei, using the constructive approach laid out by the faith-based framework of the Beirut Declaration on ‘Faith for Rights’,” the high commissioner said.