The foreign minister of Brunei has defended his country’s new penal code — which made adultery and gay sex punishable by death from stoning, and allows for the amputation of limbs for theft — saying the laws are meant as a deterrent.
The United Nations and international rights groups have denounced the punishments, saying they amount to torture and a violation of human rights.
Erywan Yusof, Brunei’s minister of foreign affairs, in a letter sent to several United Nations rights officials this week, outlined a detailed defense and said the penalties focus “more on prevention than punishment.”
Brunei, a tiny sultanate of about 430,000 on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo, has drawn condemnation and calls for boycotts over the laws. Its leaders say the punishments are in line with the country’s culture and religious tradition.
Homosexuality has been illegal in the country for years. While the new laws reflect a severe escalation in enforcement, Mr. Yusof claimed that Brunei’s toughened penal code was in line with international human rights standards.
“Its aim is to educate, deter, rehabilitate and nurture rather than to punish,” Mr. Yusof wrote of the laws, which went into effect on April 3. “It seeks to strike the right balance between protecting the rights of the accused person and the rights of the victims and their families.” Mr. Yusof did not say whom Brunei considered victims.
Amnesty International has called Brunei’s claims that the laws are preventive “callous and reckless” and called on the country to repeal them immediately.
“To defend the threat of amputation and stoning as aiming to ‘rehabilitate and nurture’ is plainly absurd,” Stephen Cockburn, the deputy director of global issues at Amnesty International, said in a statement on Friday. “Merely enacting such laws creates a toxic and threatening environment.”
Brunei first announced the new penalties for gay sex, adultery and theft six years ago. It delayed putting the measures into effect after they were greeted with international outrage.
When the laws did take effect this month, rights groups raised the alarm, and celebrities and other public figures encouraged boycotts of businesses owned by the country and the family of its enormously wealthy leader, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.
These include some of the world’s most exclusive hotels, which are owned by the Brunei Investment Agency, an arm of the government.
The sultan has in recent decades advocated for a hard-line vision of Islam. The royal family’s opulent life, financed by Brunei’s immense oil wealth, has often seemed to be at odds with the country’s increasingly restrictive culture and legal system.
The new laws also introduced public flogging as a punishment for abortion, and criminalize exposing Muslim children to the beliefs and practices of other religions.
Mr. Yusof, in his letter, defended the country’s right to enact religiously based laws and said the new penal code “does not criminalize nor has any intention to victimize a person’s status based on sexual orientation or belief, including same-sex relations.”
“Brunei is a small country, with a small population,” he wrote. “Strong religious values with rich heritage of tradition and culture form the very foundation of the unique Bruneian identity.”
Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has called on Brunei to repeal the laws because they enshrine punishments that breach international human rights law. She said they reflected a “serious setback for human rights protections.”
Introducing any law based on religious traditions, Ms. Bachelet said, must also take into account the rights of all citizens. She warned the new laws could encourage violence and discrimination against women, the L.G.B.T. community and religious minorities.
“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 nonbelievers,” Ms. Bachelet said. “Human rights and faith are not opposing forces — indeed, it is human interpretation that creates tensions.”
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