LGBT Rights: Brunei

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:17 pm on 10th April 2019.

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Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State 5:17 pm, 10th April 2019

I will not, if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, because I want to try to answer as many of the points as I can.

The introduction of the sharia penal code and hudud punishments in Brunei will have an even more discriminatory and intimidating impact on those who are LGBT there. That is something that we cannot accept and that we believe is in contravention of Brunei’s international commitments to respect human rights and individual freedoms. We have expressed our concerns to the Government of Brunei. I personally raised the matter when I was there last summer, because we saw this car crash coming. To be fair, as my hon. Friend Richard Graham and others have pointed out, the pure weight of international opinion that has come out over the past week has surprised many within Brunei, and particularly within the court of the Sultan.

The day after the measures came into force on 3 April, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary called Brunei’s Foreign Minister, Dato Erywan, to reiterate our very deep concern. The Foreign Secretary, our high commissioner, Richard Lindsay, and I have heard explanations, first, that common law will continue to be the primary means of administering justice and, secondly, that the burden of proof under the sharia penal code is almost unattainably high—although I take on board the comments by the hon. Member for Bristol West about confessions.

Although those explanations provide a very small degree of reassurance, none of us, of course, accepts that they go anything like far enough. The fact remains that homosexual relationships will be illegal in Brunei, whether under common law or under the sharia penal code. We remain clear that homosexuality should not be illegal anywhere in the world, and that any form of punishment—particularly the abhorrent hudud punishments—is unacceptable.

The UK will remain committed to the principle of non-discrimination on any grounds, including sexual orientation, gender and identity. We are a party to the convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and a signatory to the UN convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. To answer the hon. Lady, I understand that Brunei plans to expedite its ratification of UNCAT. That is welcome, but what has happened with this code is, of course, directly in opposition to it. I will come to that towards the end of my speech.

As has rightly been said, these are universal issues, but it is worth pointing out the position of British nationals, who are obviously impacted to a large extent. As I assured the House last week, we have taken positive action to inform and support British nationals in Brunei, whether they are visitors, residents or among the garrison. We have updated our travel advice to ensure that British nationals are aware of both the introduction of the sharia penal code and all its potential, albeit unlikely, implications.

On military personnel, I will obviously ensure that this speech is passed on to the Defence Secretary.