Brunei Darussalam: Fundamental Rights and Freedoms Violated under the new Shari’a Penal Code

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The groups here listed are deeply concerned by the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam’s announcement of a new penal code based on a strict interpretation of Shari’a law.  We add our voices to the growing concerns of the international community that this move towards stricter Shari’a law demonstrates a disturbing disregard of basic civil and political rights of the people of Brunei.

Stoning as a cruel form of punishment and discrimination against women

Women’s rights organisations are particularly concerned that the new penal code includes stoning as a punishment for the crime of adultery.  There are 15 countries in which stoning is either practised, legalised, or both, and if this law comes into effect, Brunei will be the sixteenth.


Stoning is not prescribed in the Qur’an or in any other religious texts.  We view the introduction of this penal code as part of a larger retrogressive step for women’s rights and gender equality in the country where spousal rape, for instance, is still tolerated under the Shari’a law. We reiterate our call that no ‘religion’, ‘culture’, or ‘tradition’ should be used to excuse killing and maiming for supposed moral crimes.  While stoning is a method of punishment to be applied to both women and men, the victims in reported cases of stoning are overwhelmingly women.  This stems from the fact that stoning is primarily used for crimes of adultery or other crimes related to moral or sexual conduct.  Patriarchal and misogynist interpretations of religious laws – aimed at controlling women’s basic freedoms of movement and expression and control over their bodies – underlie judicial codes governing sexual relationships and the family [1].

Human rights and stoning

The Universal Declaration for Human Rights (UDHR) is the basis of the two international human rights treaties that Brunei has signed and acceded to: the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against women (CEDAW) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).   As a State party to these two Conventions, Brunei has the obligation to respect, protect, and fulfil these rights to all its citizens.

Under the UDHR, the penal code will be in violation of  the right to  life,  liberty, and security of person (Article 3);  the right not to be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 5); the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law (Article 6); the right to be treated as equal  before the law and entitlement without any discrimination to equal protection of the law (Article 7); the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted by the Constitution or by law (Article 8), the right not to be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile (Article 9); and the right to be entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly, where Brunei is represented, called for a worldwide moratorium on executions [2].  Although Brunei has not ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), it is also expected to abide by the standards in this Covenant.  For instance, the Human Rights Committee has noted that when the death penalty is applied by a State party for the most serious crimes, it must be carried out in such a way as to cause the least possible physical and mental suffering [3]. The practise of stoning clearly does not fulfill this recommendation.

Given stoning affects women disproportionately, and because it is justified by rules and practices that impair or negate the exercise by women of their human rights, stoning is inconsistent with the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex, as recognized under CEDAW.  Stoning is also a form of extreme violence against women, which States should, in accordance with the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, strive to prevent and eliminate, be it perpetuated by state institutions, private individuals, or communal groups.

Our Appeal

The groups party to this statement call on the Sultanate of Brunei to immediately cease the implementation of the new Shari’a penal code, which allows the penalty of stoning.  The penal code is in contravention of the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is embraced by all member States of the United Nations including Brunei as the highest moral and legal authority in human rights.

We also call on the State of Brunei to take the following measures:

1. Submit its long overdue report to the UN CEDAW Committee in fulfilment of its State obligations under CEDAW to which it is a State party since 2006; and

2. Sign and ratify the ICCPR and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (United Nations Convention against Torture).

We also call upon the international community, particularly United Nations Member States, to call upon Brunei to halt the enforcement of the new penal code and the practice of stoning and to initiate a UN resolution to totally ban the practice of stoning.


This statement is supported by the following organisations:

Aid Centre for Advocacy and Legal Consultation, Sudan

Aliansi Nasional Bhineka Tunggal Ika, Indonesia

Ardhanary Institute, Indonesia

Centre for Secular Space

Forum Anti Korupsi dan Transparansi Anggaran (FAKTA), Indonesia

Forum Islam Rahmatan Lil’alamin (FIRL), Indonesia

Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP)

GaYA Nusantara, Indonesia

Global Sisterhood Network

Ikatan Pemuda Nahdlatul Ulama (IPNU), Indonesia

Jaringan Masyarakat Sipili Peduli Syariah (JMSPS), Indonesia

Jari Aceh, Indonesia

Justice for Iran

KOMPAK, Indonesia

LBH APIK, Indonesia

Lembaga Solidaritas Perempuan dan Anak (eLSPA), Indonesia

Perhimpunan Bhineka Tunggal Ika (PBTI)

Practical Solutions

Salmmah Women’s Resource Centre, Sudan

Serikat Inong Aceh (SeIA), Indonesia

Shirkat Gah Women’s Resource Centre, Pakistan

Sisters in Islam, Malaysia

Solidaritas Perempuan, Indonesia

Syrian Women Forum for Peace

Violence is Not Our Culture

Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML)

Women’s UN Report Network (WUNRN)

Yayasan Anak Bangsa (YAB), Indonesia

Yayasan Lembaga Kajian Islam dan Sosial (LKIS), Indonesia

YEE APINDO, Indonesia


11th November 2013

If your organisation would like to be added to the list of signatories, please email

[1] Hamid R. Kusha, The Sacred Law of Islam: A Case Study of Women’s Treatment in the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Criminal Justice System (2002), p.279.

[2] In its adoption of resolution 62/149 on 18 December 2007

[3] General Comment 20, Article 7 (Forty-fourth session, 1992)