Brunei Darussalam: implementation of Syariah Penal Code is anathema for Human Rights

by | Apr 2, 2019 | News

The ICJ raised serious human rights concerns following the announcement by the Government of Brunei of the third phase of implementation of the 2013 Syariah Penal Code with its entering into force on 3 April 2019.

This week, the Syariah Penal Code will come into full effect, which means the imposition of horrific punishments – including the severing of limbs, whipping, and stoning to death – on those found to have committed acts such as rape, adultery, sodomy, and to have engaged in extramarital sexual relations.

“There are no circumstances under which punishments such as stoning, amputation or public flogging are acceptable under international law,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

“They are blatant violations of the prohibition on all forms of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” he added.

Stoning, amputation and public flogging are contrary to the commitment that Brunei made when it became a party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), including its obligations to take all necessary measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women.

Those punishments also violate the Convention on the Rights to the Child (CRC) to which Brunei is a party.

The ICJ also notes that consensual sexual activities, such as sodomy, adultery and other extramarital and premarital sexual relations, as much as consensual same-sex sexual conduct, do not constitute recognizably criminal offences under international human rights law and standards and should therefore not be criminalized at all.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has stated that “any form of corporal punishment is contrary to the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, and cannot be considered a “lawful sanction” under international law.

When Brunei’s Syariah Penal Code was adopted in October 2013, the ICJ condemned it for violating international human rights law and standards.

The Syariah Penal Code will also effectively reintroduce the death penalty, which has generally been viewed as having been de facto abolished, as it has not been imposed since 1957.

“The re-introduction of the use of the death penalty in the Syariah Penal Code is out of step with the global trend towards the abolition of capital punishment and the establishment of a moratorium on executions,” said Rawski.

In addition, the ICJ is concerned about the disproportionate and discriminatory impact of the Code on women and girls and on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals in the country.

Although the 2013 Syariah Penal Code states that the penalty of stoning to death applies regardless of whether the offender is male or female, women face a greater risk of being convicted and sentenced to death because they are more likely to be found guilty of adultery or of otherwise having engaged in extramarital sexual relations.

“In addition to imposing penalties that are in clear violation of international law, the underlying ‘offenses’ are themselves discriminatory,” said Rawski.

“The Code is particularly regressive coming at a time when other Commonwealth countries are taking steps to de-criminalize same-sex consensual relations, and end discrimination and violence against women,” he added.

The ICJ strongly urges the Government of Brunei to withdraw the 2013 Syariah Penal Code, and take steps to ensure that its laws comply with international law and standards, consistent with Brunei’s obligations under international human rights instruments, including the CEDAW and the CRC.


Emerlynne Gil, ICJ Senior International Legal Adviser, t: +66 840923575, e: emerlynne.gil(a)

Additional information:

On 17 December 2018, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for a global moratorium on the death penalty, with the support of a 120 countries.

According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights more than 160 UN member countries have either abolished the death penalty or introduced a moratorium on its use in law or practice.

The ICJ considers the imposition of the death penalty to be a violation of the right to life and the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

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