Advocacy statements

UPR statement on Brunei

  • Date / 2019
  • Location / Brunei
  • Relevant Institution / UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Item / Item 6: Universal Periodic Review


International Humanist and Ethical Union

42nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council (9th – 27th September 2019)

Universal Periodic Review: Brunei 

We were pleased to read Brunei Darussalam “highly regards the importance of freedom of religion of its population,”[1] yet were also left confused. Not only has it introduced a Sharia penal code which contains a range of provisions that restrict the right to freedom of religion or belief (including harsh penalties for not performing Friday prayers or observing Ramadan), under its Islamic Religious Council Act, anyone who teaches or promotes “deviant” beliefs or practices in public may be punished with three months incarceration and a fine.[2]

Whilst we welcome the State’s decision to extend the moratorium on the death penalty to crimes in the new Penal Code including adultery, homosexuality, apostasy or blasphemy, this is insufficient. In line with its international human rights commitments, these acts need to be decriminalised altogether.

In the meantime, we take it that the provisions for corporal punishment in its new Penal Code will be suspended once it has ratified the Convention against Torture, as planned (since such punishment amounts to cruel and degrading treatment)?

In its explanation for rejecting UPR recommendations on decriminalising same-sex relations, Brunei Darussalam reasons that, “the law is there to respect and protect the religion and social fabric and values of Brunei society.”[3] Whilst it is unclear why this argument would mean prohibiting same-sex relations in the first place, it should also be noted that it is not the job of law to protect the religion of society; rather it should protect individual people in that society and their freedom to believe what they want to believe, and indeed to love who they want to love, whatever their faith, or lack thereof.

The same applies when Brunei Darussalam defends its blasphemy laws on the grounds that they are necessary to “ensure the protection of religion from defamation or denigration.”[4] Religions don’t have rights, people do.  And this includes religious and non-religious minorities, LGBTI+ people, women, and children.


[1] A/HRC/42/11/Add.1, Comment on 121.117

[2] https://fot.humanists.international/countries/asia-south-eastern-asia/brunei-darussalam/

[3] A/HRC/42/11/Add.1, Comment on 121.90

[4] A/HRC/42/11/Add.1, Comment on 121.52

Suggested academic reference

'UPR statement on Brunei', Humanists International

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