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Defence secretary seeks assurance gay soldiers in Brunei are safe

Lydia Smith April 5, 2019

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 09: Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson arrives for a Cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street on October 9, 2018 in London, England. Parliament returns today after taking a break for party conference season. (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Defence secretary Gavin Williamson has asked Brunei to confirm that gay British soldiers in the country will not be affected by its new anti-LGBT laws.

The southeast Asian state has faced an international backlash over its new penal code, which allows death by stoning as a punishment for gay sex or adultery, while lesbian sex is punished by 100 lashes with a whip.

Williamson said the UK was intervening at the “highest levels” to protect its troops there.

“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has immediately started discussions with the government of Brunei to discuss this because we want to ensure that they do not affect our service personnel in any way whatsoever,” Mr Williamson said, The Times reported.

The news comes as the defence secretary announced the creation of a centre of excellence for human security, which will deliver training for military personnel on areas such as women, children and armed conflict, human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Calls for Brunei to be suspended from Commonwealth

MPs have called for the Brunei, which was a British colony until 1984, to be suspended from the Commonwealth due to the law.

In a statement to the i newspaper, Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Scotland said that she had “strongly urged” the Brunei government to repeal the law.

The baroness said Brunei had “committed itself to upholding the values and principles of the Commonwealth Charter which underscores a commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights covenants and international instruments.”

Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah delivers a speech during an event in Bandar Seri Begawan on April 3, 2019. (Getty)

She added: “I have communicated my concern to the Government of Brunei, strongly urging it to reconsider the introduction of the punishments proposed under the new Penal Code which, if implemented in its current form, will potentially bring into effect cruel and inhuman punishments which contravene international human rights law and standards.

UK Labour MP Khalid Mahmood had told Parliament: “It is a clear breach of Brunei’s obligations under the Commonwealth charter on human rights [which must have] immediate consequences for Brunei’s membership of the Commonwealth.

“It is time for the Commonwealth to draw a line in the sand on LGBT rights, and that line must be drawn now in relation to Brunei. We cannot be in a situation whereby a Commonwealth country announces plans to stone and whip LGBT people to death and the Commonwealth does nothing.”

Brunei penal code “barbaric to the core”

Homosexuality was already illegal in Brunei, but was previously punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The new penal code came into effect on Wednesday (April 3).

Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch said: “Brunei’s new penal code is barbaric to the core, imposing archaic punishments for acts that shouldn’t even be crimes.

“Sultan Hassanal should immediately suspend amputations, stoning, and all other rights-abusing provisions and punishments.”

He added: “Every day that Brunei’s penal code is in force is a multifaceted assault on human dignity.

“Governments around the world should make clear to Brunei’s sultan that there can be no business as usual so long as the threat of whipping, stoning or amputation remains on the books.”

More: british army, Brunei, defence secretary, gavin williamson

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