Death by stoning in Brunei

Sharia law and anti-homosexuality legislation . . .

Human rights groups around the world have focused their attention on the introduction by Brunei of the Sharia law penal code into its common law system. The small Southeast Asian country recently enacted anti-homosexuality legislation that has become one of the most contested legislative developments the Sultanate has ever seen. Under current interpretations, acts of rape, adultery, sodomy, robbery, and insult or defamation of the Prophet Muhammad could carry the maximum penalty of death, which can include death by stoning.

Global boycotts and response . . .

Human rights groups both in-country and internationally have decried the newly-enacted laws. Corporations like J.P. Morgan and Hollywood celebrities have publicly announced boycotts of businesses (primarily hotels) owned by Brunei’s Sultan. In an effort to calm the storm, the Sultan has extended a moratorium on the death penalty, with legal and policy pundits quickly pointing out that the actual enforcement of the law is highly unlikely and very hard to accomplish on a procedural basis. The law states that for any penalty to be incurred, contravening acts would need to be eye-witnessed by four qualified Muslim persons.

What about progressive trade?

This leaves a few questions in the air for Canada’s trade relations with Brunei as our government has maintained a clear stance that human rights are an integral part of our trade agenda. One need only think back to a year ago when the Prime Minister’s statements on human rights in the Philippines resulted in President Duterte’s cancellation of a C$300-million agreement for the Philippines to buy Canadian helicopters. With the CPTPP agreement now in force and with Brunei being one of the original 11 members, it remains to be seen how Ottawa engages with its trading partners under this new framework.