GENEVA - The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, is urging the government of Brunei to stop its revised penal code from entering into force on Wednesday. Bachelet says the application of the death penalty under the new law, which she calls cruel and inhumane, violates international human rights law.
Brunei’s tourist brochures describe the country as a haven of tranquility. That may once have been the case as Brunei, a Muslim monarchy, has not executed anyone since 1957. But, its recent decision to impose the death penalty, including death by stoning, is stirring international outrage.
Under the revised penal code, people would be executed for offenses such as rape, adultery, homosexual relations, robbery and insult to the Prophet Mohammed.
U.N. rights chief Michelle Bachelet warns the new code, if implemented, would mark a serious setback for human rights protections in Brunei. Her spokeswoman, Ravina Shamdasani, tells VOA it is very easy to fall afoul of this law because it is so broad.
“For example, it criminalizes exposing Muslim children to the beliefs and practices of any religion other than Islam," she said. "It also introduces public flogging as a punishment for abortion, for example, which again would disproportionately affect people who are already vulnerable. It would disproportionately affect women.”
Shamdasani says there is no contradiction between human rights and faith. They are not opposing forces. She says her office has worked with religious leaders from all over the world to draft the so-called Beirut Declaration on “Faith for Rights.”
“This is a very constructive document, which again helps countries that are motivated by the desire to integrate religious tenets into their law to do so while fully respecting international human rights obligations so that they can work jointly to uphold human dignity and equality for all,” she said.
International law allows for the imposition of the death penalty only for the crime of murder or intentional killing. Bachelet says any religion-based legislation must not violate human rights. She says her office is ready to work with the Brunei government to bring it into compliance with its international human rights obligations.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah rules the oil-rich monarchy and is one of the world's wealthiest people.