On April 3, Brunei will legalize the stoning to death of LGBT people. A new law in the southeast Asian country imposes death by stoning or whipping for sodomy, adultery or rape, and amputation of a hand or foot for theft.
Global outrage has greeted news of the introduction of the new law under the Syariah Penal Code (SPC). On Friday, the British government and European Union called on Brunei to abandon the law, while George Clooney called for a boycott of hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei in a column for Deadline.
After nearly 24 hours of declining to clarify its position, the State Department finally sent The Daily Beast a statement saying the U.S. was “concerned” about the new law, minutes after we published a story noting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the department's silence.
However, when asked by The Daily Beast, Pompeo and the Department of State declined to directly condemn, or state an objection to, the stoning to death of LGBT people.
The full statement reads: “The United States is concerned with Brunei’s decision to implement Phases Two and Three of the Sharia Penal Code. Some of the punishments in the law appear inconsistent with international human rights obligations, including with respect to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
“We have encouraged Brunei to ratify and implement the United Nations Convention Against Torture, which it signed in 2015, and to sign, ratify, and implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”
The Daily Beast asked the State Department what had Pompeo or State Department officials said to Brunei officials or the Sultan of Brunei about the new law. Had any objections to it been lodged, and what had been the nature of State Department representations over the new law been?
Specifically, The Daily Beast asked, did the U.S. Government object to the stoning to death of LGBT people as stated under the new law?
On Friday afternoon, a Department of State spokesperson sent another statement. “We regularly communicate with the Government of Brunei regarding human rights and encourage it to uphold its international commitments on human rights.
“Governments have an obligation to ensure that all people, including LGBTI people, can freely enjoy the universal human rights and fundamental freedoms to which they are entitled. We strongly oppose human rights violations and abuses against LGBTI persons, including violence, the criminalization of LGBTI status or conduct, and serious forms of discrimination.”
The Daily Beast again asked if Pompeo or the Department of State objected to the stoning to death of LGBT people under the new law. A spokesperson would not address this question directly, and instead referred us to the statement above.
A request for comment by The Daily Beast to Vice President Mike Pence, given his influence when it comes to U.S. foreign policy, went unresponded to.
In a statement the Human Rights Campaign’s Global Director Ty Cobb said: “We are facing a dangerous crisis as Brunei is close to implementing laws that impose state-sponsored torture and murder of LGBTQ people.
“It’s absolutely crucial that the international community speak out now and demand that the Sultan of Brunei stop these barbaric changes that threaten the lives of Brunei citizens. The Trump-Pence Administration must also immediately make clear that these outrageous human rights abuses will not be tolerated.”
The State Department’s cautious condemnation is in stark contrast to a 2017 report it published detailing extensive human rights abuses in Brunei, including against LGBT people.
The report said: “The SPC bans ‘liwat’ (anal intercourse) between men or between a man and a woman who is not his wife. If implemented, this law would impose death by stoning. The SPC also prohibits men from dressing as women or women dressing as men “without reasonable excuse” or “for immoral purposes.” There were no known convictions during the year.
“Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTI) community reported unofficial and societal discrimination in public and private employment, housing, recreation, and in obtaining services including education from state entities.
“LGBTI individuals reported intimidation by police, including threats to make public their sexuality, to hamper their ability to obtain a government job, or to bar graduation from government academic institutions. Members of the LGBTI community reported the government monitored their activities and communications.
“Events on LGBTI topics were subject to restrictions on assembly and expression. The LGBTI community reported that the government would not issue permits for such events.”
While the report laid out how difficult life is for LGBT people in Brunei, it is unknown if the Trump administration is as outraged by the prospect of LGBT people being stoned to death in Brunei as other foreign governments are.
“The Minister for Asia and High Commissioner have raised their concerns in person,” a British foreign office spokeswoman said in an emailed statement to Reuters on Friday. “Corporal and capital punishment goes against our national values.”
Clooney noted that a similar boycott had begun (and fizzled out) in 2014 of hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah, when news of the introduction of stricter Sharia law punishments was first reported.
In his Deadline column, Clooney wrote of the hotels owned by the Brunei Investment Agency: “Let’s be clear, every single time we stay at or take meetings at or dine at any of these nine hotels we are putting money directly into the pockets of men who choose to stone and whip to death their own citizens for being gay or accused of adultery… are we really going to help pay for these human rights violations? Are we really going to help fund the murder of innocent citizens?
“I’ve learned over years of dealing with murderous regimes that you can’t shame them. But you can shame the banks, the financiers and the institutions that do business with them and choose to look the other way?”
Clooney then listed the hotels owned by the Sultan: The Dorchester, London; 45 Park Lane, London; Coworth Park, U.K.; The Beverly Hills Hotel, Beverly Hills; Hotel Bel-Air, Los Angeles; Le Meurice, Paris; Hotel Plaza Athénée, Paris; Hotel Eden, Rome; and Hotel Principe di Savoia, Milan.