Brunei’s same-sex death penalty: advice

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As of 3 April 2019, Brunei, a country located on the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia, is to implement the death penalty for same-sex relationships – a move that indicates a serious deterioration of the security environment for LGBT travellers and residents. In light of this jarring development, Healix International, worldwide healthcare and risk management solutions provider, has offered guidance for employers with LGBT employees travelling to and working in the country.

Brunei has long criminalised homosexuality, with custodial sentencing, but with the new law soon to be imposed, any individual found guilty under the prescribed list of offences related to same-sex relationships will be subject to stoning or whipping to death, in a strict interpretation of Sharia law.

Brunei is a small, oil-rich nation, with oil and gas exports making up the majority of Brunei’s economy and as such, many foreign nationals who reside in the country do so due to working in these sectors. Healix notes that around 40 per cent of Brunei’s population consists of expats who have relocated to the country from Asia, Europe and North America, and Gavin Kelleher, Regional Security Co-ordinator (APAC) at Healix International, highlighted that with the introduction of this new law, there is now considerable onus on employers to ensure their LGBT employees are aware and protected.

Healix’s urgent advice to employers:

Healix has urged employers to alert all employees that may be affected, explaining that ‘one of the most time-critical actions is communication’. Healix notes: “The media is tightly controlled by the government and the country’s press is assessed by Freedom House as ‘Not Free’.” As such, many people currently working in Brunei may not be aware that the law has changed. Healix adds that communication should be directed at all employees currently working in and travelling to Brunei in the future: “LGBT employees should not be singled out for this alert, especially as it is likely that many LGBT employees will not have communicated their sexuality to their organisation’s security manager.”

It is crucial that organisations ensure that their travel risk policies are up to date to account for this new law. Healix sates: "Importantly, it should be measured, taking into account the safety of employees, as well as the risk tolerance of the employer organisation. For some businesses, this may mean that LGBT employees are advised against travelling to Brunei altogether, whereas others could choose to discount Brunei as a destination for LGBT employees who are participating in long-term relationships only.”

Healix also suggests that for LGBT travellers who commit to keeping a low profile in the country, the risks will remain low. However, it advises that those who have previously worked in Brunei and may have disclosed that they have a same-sex partner to local nationals will be at a much greater risk if they return. “A company’s travel risk policy considers that individual risk assessments may need to be made on a case-by-case basis,” recommends Healix.

Healix also advises that contingency plans are put into place. It notes that organisations need to identify the designated points of contact that travellers or employees in country should be alerting in the instance that an arrest has been made, or intelligence has been received to suggest that an employee is at risk of arrest. This step is integral in ensuring that an employee can receive legal assistance from a person or agency that is suitably qualified to counsel them in Brunei, as well as ensuring that consular support needs can be co-ordinated by the employer’s security manager and communication with families in their country of origin need can be managed. What’s more, media considerations are important: “Organisations should have established who will be responsible for communicating with the media and ensure that all employees are aware that any comments they make which confirm a colleague’s LGBT sexuality could be used by the Brunei government to demonstrate the guilt of the accused,” warns Healix.

In addition, Healix suggests that organisations deliver training on LGBT-specific security risks to ensure that LGBT travellers and employees fully comprehend the risks and also have direction on how these risks can be effectively mitigated – and even how they can’t in some security environments. Healix International has developed a comprehensive LGBT Security Awareness e-learning course which is also informative for non-LGBT travellers, so ‘they can educate themselves on how they can help to keep their colleagues safe’.

Lastly, Healix suggests that organisations should anticipate the possible enactment of sanctions on Brunei. “As has been demonstrated when other countries have introduced capital punishment for same-sex relations, the response from the international community can often involve condemnation and trade sanctions.” The company speculated that the likelihood of a country enacting sanctions against Brunei ‘will depend on the precedent for similar actions being taken by the country previously, as well as their current social agenda and economic relationship with Brunei’. Healix concluded: “Organisations with large workforces in Brunei should also be considering the possible implications of international sanctions and making preparations to minimise the impact of these if they are enacted.”