Earlier this month, the Sultan of Brunei announced that his country would not enforce part of its newly implemented penal code which called for death by stoning to adulterers and LGBT people.
This new law, which came into effect in April, came as a part of the country’s ongoing move since 2014 to implement the Islamic Penal Code known as Sharia Law. Over the past few years, Brunei has become increasingly more conservative, banning the sale of alcohol, pregnancy out of wedlock, or failing to pray on Friday. Brunei has outlawed homosexuality since colonial rule, however, previously it was punished with prison time instead of death.
In response, Amnesty International called upon Brunei to stop the plan in compliance with human rights obligations. The United Nations echoed the statement, calling the legislation “cruel and inhumane.” Meanwhile, celebrities including George Clooney, Elton John and Ellen DeGeneres rallied a boycott of nine hotels in the U.S. and Europe with ties to Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.
In response to such international criticism, the Sultan backed down, stating that these new sharia laws would lie under a de facto moratorium. And although this is undoubtedly a success, it is just the first step of a long road towards protection of LGBT rights worldwide. Even though death by stoning has been put on hold, those “convicted” of homosexuality can still face jail or caning. Lesbian sex, for example, is punishable by forty strokes of the cane and/or a maximum of ten years in jail.
Furthermore, Brunei is hardly the only country where homosexuality is criminalized. Same-sex relationships are still illegal in sixty-eight UN member states (38% of UN member states) and punishable by death in six according to an annual report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA).
Back in February, the Trump administration launched a global campaign to pressure countries to decriminalize homosexuality, partially in response to a reported execution by hanging of a young gay man in Iran.
“Reframing the conversation on Iran around a human rights issue that enjoys broad support in Europe could help the United States and Europe reach a point of agreement on Iran,” explains Josh Lederman of NBC News.