Discrimination and Violence Against Women in Brunei Darussalam on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

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This submission is made by OutRight Action International on the application and implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women for lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender (LBT) persons in Brunei Darussalam. The information we are presenting is pertinent to the List of Issues adopted by the CEDAW Committee’s pre-sessional working group in March 2014, and raises our concerns about the current conditions for LBT persons in Brunei Darussalam and the outlook for protections.

Syariah Penal Code Order 2013

In October 2013, the State adopted the Syariah Penal Code (SPC) Order 2013 which imposes syariah (sharia) punishments for a broad range of offenses, including some that were also previously considered illicit but incur more severe penalties under SPC Order 2013 than before (e.g., drinking alcohol, not carrying out Islamic rites). Although syariah has always existed in Brunei Darussalam, in October the State chose to implement syariah provisions selectively and imposed higher fines, longer prison terms, more whipping, even stoning to death for some offenses. Among these offenses are “prohibited sexual relationships,” and “sexual offenses” including infidelity, adultery, pre-marital sex, cohabitation outside marriage, abortion, homosexuality, lesbianism, and gender impersonation.

The State has allegedly planned to carry out the selective implementation of these more severe punishments in three phases. Phase one began in April 2014 and covered fines and imprisonment for various offenses including cross-dressing, lesbianism, abortion, theft, alcohol consumption, and sexual abuse. Phase two will enforce whipping and amputation. Phase three will enforce death by stoning which applies to a broad range of sexual offenses, including rape, adultery, pre-marital sex, and anal sex between heterosexual or homosexual couples. Phases two and three have yet to be implemented in keeping with the timeline set by the religious council responsible for the syariah code enforcement.

Based on what OutRight Action International knows from other countries that use “morality laws” to control women’s sexuality, and secular and religious laws to criminalize same sex relationships and gender nonconformity, SPC Order 2013 will disproportionately impact mostly women, LGBT people, and anyone who does not conform to strict norms on gender and sexuality.

Brunei Darussalam does not currently have legislation to protect women from discrimination or specific legislation criminalizing gender violence. These realities compound the implications that SPC Order 2013 almost certainly will have for the physical integrity and autonomy of all women, including lesbians, bisexual women and gender non-conforming persons.

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