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Brunei’s attack on LGBT rights demands a tough response from the UK

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Labour's Thangam Debbonaire MP writes ahead of her Westminster Hall debate on LGBT rights in Brunei.

Today, Wednesday 10th April, I will be leading a Parliamentary debate in which I will call on the UK government to hold the Sultan of Brunei accountable for his horrific persecution of lesbian, gay, bi and trans people and of women in his country.

The third phase of Brunei’s Sharia Penal Code (SPC) permits brutal punishment for whole swathes of society. Brunei is now the eighth country that can use the death penalty to punish consensual same-sex sexual activity.

The strictures that came into effect with the implementation of ‘phase three’ of SPC include Death by stoning for adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations (for Muslims); public flogging as a punishment for abortion, lesbian sex or consumption of alcohol; amputation of limbs for theft. Trans people can also be criminalised through charges of ‘indecent’ dressing.

The Sultan of Brunei’s actions have already attracted regional and international condemnation. But the UK is in a unique position to hold Brunei to account.

The UK has maintained a military presence in Brunei since 1962. The forces stationed in Brunei comprise of an infantry battalion of Gurkhas and an Army Air Corps Flight of Bell 212 helicopters. As a result, the Institute for Public Policy estimates that around 2000 UK citizens live and work in Brunei through our defence forces. According to the UK Defence Journal, the presence of British Armed Forces acts as a ‘political stabiliser’ for the Sultan of Brunei.

The UK’s military base in Brunei is secured through the Brunei Garrison Agreement, the most recent of which was signed in 2015, and will inspire next year. Securing human rights protection – especially for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people and for women – should surely be an important part of the negotiations surrounding the renewal of this agreement.

Brunei’s economy is also heavily reliant on oil and gas, and hundreds of UK citizens work in this industry in Brunei. But Brunei is also looking to diversify its economy in the light of falling oil reserve and oil prices. Tourism is an important part of Brunei’s economic strategy. There has been a recent high profile campaign discouraging people from visiting hotels owned by the Sultan. Transport for London has also removed advertisements promoting Brunei as a tourist destination. These actions demonstrate the ways that we in the UK can stand against Brunei’s oppression of its citizens.

There are further ways that the government can bring diplomatic pressure against Brunei if it chooses to do so. Brunei’s membership of the Commonwealth is one avenue. Possible future trading links with Brunei is another. Brunei is a member of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Transpacific Partnership (CPTPP), and the Department for International Trade is currently consulting on a possible future free trade agreement between the UK and the CPTPP. If we want to protect our place in the world as a protector of human rights, the government ought to consider making any trade agreement conditional on the revocation of this brutal penal code.

I called for this Parliamentary debate because I was horrified at the monstrous violence that Brunei is willing to inflict on its citizens, particularly women and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans community. I believe that the UK is in a unique position to stand up for Brunei’s oppressed citizens. I will call on the Home Office to make sure that our asylum system will give sanctuary to those who need our protection and I will be calling on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to do everything in its power to show that Britain will not tolerate attacks on anyone’s human rights – especially for being who they are, or for loving who they love.

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Read the most recent article written by Thangam Debbonaire MP - We must eliminate sexual harassment from Parliament


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