The sultan of Brunei has been on the throne for 52 years, making him the second-longest reigning monarch in the world, after Queen Elizabeth II.
In Brunei – a rather traditional, deeply Muslim Southeast Asian country – the sultan is known for leading a decadent life.
once dubbed Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and his brother, Prince Jefri Bolkiah, “constant companions in hedonism.” They spend lavishly on luxury cars, yachts and real estate, and according to the magazine, “allegedly sent emissaries to comb the globe for the sexiest women they could find in order to create a harem the likes of which the world had never known.”
Now, Brunei’s sultan appears to have found religion.
Under Brunei’s new laws, gay sex and adultery can result in death by stoning, and having an abortion is punishable by public flogging. Dressing in clothing associated with a different sex may a fine and imprisonment up to three months. Younger children can be for these offenses.
Diversion from Economic Woes
Why is Brunei’s sultan suddenly so keen to enforce Sharia across this island nation of 430,000?
“This is obviously not coming from a place of religious devotion, since the sultan himself is in violation of every single rule of Sharia you could possibly imagine,” religious scholar Reza Aslan in 2014, when the sultan first flagged his intention to impose strict Islamic law in Brunei.
Perhaps the Sultan thinks that implementing Sharia will enable him to leave a religious legacy that outweighs his decades of very public excess and indulgence.
Do Boycotts Work?
Tomorrow, the country of #Brunei will start stoning gay people to death. We need to do something now. Please boycott these hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei. Raise your voices now. Spread the word. Rise up. pic.twitter.com/24KJsemPGH— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) April 2, 2019
For one, they can cause the offending government to harden its position to show it will not give in to foreign pressure. That can make it harder to work collaboratively with leaders of that country to actually improve the situation.
“I advise friends from the West not to make this an issue, because if they make it an issue the more they will lose,” he said. “Outsiders cannot dictate to us. This is our country.”
This risk is compounded by the evident double standard of an international boycott of Brunei and the sultan’s businesses. Other countries that impose the for same-sex sexual conduct – including Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia – are not subjected to similar global condemnation.
Who Can Stop the Sultan?
The United Nations may stand a better chance of curbing Brunei’s behavior.
Brunei’s human rights record will be reviewed by the UN’s Human Rights Council next month, as part of a regular assessment called the Universal Periodic Review – a relatively new process as “the most progressive arena for the protection of the LGBTI community internationally.”
Though the Universal Periodic Review has no power to enforce its recommendations, it has in advancing human rights in UN member countries. Its method is to foster dialogue with and between governments and civil society, create a plan for improving rights and closely monitoring progress.
Brunei’s allies and neighbours are also well placed to put pressure on the sultan.
Brunei is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, a voluntary association of 53 sovereign states, most of them former British colonies. , set to take place in Rwanda next year, is a potential forum for meaningful dialogue about the state of LGBTQ rights across the Commonwealth of Nations, since Brunei is one of 35 Commonwealth countries that .
If negotiations with Brunei are unsuccessful, the Commonwealth of Nations can take the powerful step of its membership. That would prevent Brunei from participating in group meetings and events – including the popular , which have been described as “sport with a social conscience.”
Over 100 LGBTQ and human rights groups from Southeast Asia have also the Association of South East Asian Nations – ASEAN, a regional intergovernmental organisation – to take a hard line against member state Brunei, saying its new laws “legitimise violence.”
But ASEAN’s – which does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and contains that significantly dilutes its power – seems unlikely to demand an institutional response.
Does the Sultan Mean It?
Brunei, it’s important to note, has not actually used the death penalty since 1957.
An optimist could conclude that the new laws are mostly symbolic – designed to beef up the sultan’s Islamic credentials and garner favour with other Muslim countries to boost trade and tourism.
That interpretation, however, is unlikely to diminish the fear of the vulnerable minorities targeted by Brunei’s Sharia laws.
(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here.)
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