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Yesterday, the Southeast Asian country of Brunei enacted laws that will punish homosexual sex and adultery with death by stoning. These new laws expand on Brunei’s previous anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, which punished such acts with long prison sentences.
Although Brunei’s new laws have been met with ample backlash from the international community, their arrival should not come as a surprise. The tiny Borneo nation of just 500,000 citizens — smaller than the 38 most populous cities in the U.S. — announced its intent to pass such harsh laws in 2014, but outrage across the world caused the government to delay implementing these laws. However, the laws are now being enacted, and news of their official enforcement came with just as much global ire as Brunei faced in 2014 for floating the idea.
In an op-ed published March 28th, actor George Clooney — married to prominent international human rights expert Amal Clooney — restated a call for a boycott that many urged when Brunei first proposed these laws five years ago. Clooney explained in his article that the Sultan of Brunei, who is the leading figure of an authoritarian country that hasn’t held an election since 1962, owns the Brunei Investment Agency. This agency owns nine prominent luxury hotels across the world, in part explaining why a nation as small as Brunei is the world’s fifth-richest country. Clooney suggested boycotting these hotels, which include Los Angeles’ Hotel Bel-Air and The Beverly Hills Hotel. Soon after Clooney published his op-ed, prominent gay singer Elton John joined Clooney in calling for this boycott, as did the United Nations.
The U.S. government has commented as well. When The Daily Beast contacted the U.S. Department of State to ask whether the American government objects to Brunei’s legalization of murdering LGBTQ+ people, a representative gave a roundabout answer. In this answer, the representative stated that the government “strongly opposes” all infringement of the human rights of LGBTQ+ people and said all governments need to guarantee LGBTQ+ people basic rights. However, at no point did the U.S. government explicitly condemn Brunei for its laws.
Vice President Mike Pence, who strongly influences U.S. foreign policy, could not be reached for comment. Former Vice President Joe Biden, however, tweeted his unabashed contempt for these laws. Even Ted Cruz, who has sponsored anti-LGBTQ legislation in the U.S., has expressed his opposition to these laws.
Despite the unending criticism Brunei has faced for these laws, the country has defended its choices. In a statement issued March 30th, the government stated that such laws are intended to enforce the teachings of Islam. In the same statement, the government said that these laws work to protect the rights of people of any faith or race.
Although Brunei has not held an election in nearly six decades, the country does not tax its citizens, offers free healthcare and education, and subsidizes housing costs. Included aside the new wave of anti-LGBTQ+ laws are provisions that call for the amputation of a person’s right hand as a punishment for stealing, and the amputation of a person’s left foot if caught stealing a second time.