Members of Congress Urge Brunei to Repeal Anti-Gay Laws

Protesters at the Beverly Hills Hotel
Protesters at the Beverly Hills Hotel
 Chris Godley

More than 100 members of Congress have signed a letter urging Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to force Brunei to repeal recently imposed laws that call for the stoning of gays and adulterers -- or face expulsion from ongoing trade negotiations.

"We write to express our concern over the Government of Brunei Darussalam’s recently adopted penal code, which threatens the human rights of minority groups including women, religious minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals and urge you to insist that Brunei address these human rights violations as a condition of the United States participating with them in any further Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations," read the letter drafted by Congressman Mark Pocan, a Democrat from Madison, Wisc.

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According to a spokesman, Pocan plans to continue collecting signatures from his fellow lawmakers through Wednesday afternoon. The letter will be delivered to Kerry and Froman on Thursday. The missive marks the first public action by U.S. lawmakers to pressure the small country in Southeast Asia into abandoning its draconian laws, which have promoted a wide-ranging boycott in Hollywood against properties with ties to the Sultan of Brunei, including the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel-Air

"As Members of Congress, we believe that protecting fundamental human rights is a cornerstone of American values and must always be a priority in our relations, both diplomatic and economic, with foreign countries," the letter continues. "The United States is committed to protecting the rights of religious minorities, LGBT individuals and women across the globe. Moreover, time and again, the United States has spoken out against anti-LGBT activity and discriminatory laws in countries like Nigeria and Uganda and against unequal protection of women, in countries such as Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, and against the persecution of religious minorities in the Central African Republic, China and Pakistan.

"Brunei’s adoption of the revised penal code legalizes violence against its citizens, constituting torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. The United States must make it clear that we will not tolerate such abuses. International trade partners have much to gain from an economic relationship with the United States and our trade agreements should insist that participating countries adhere to internationally recognized civil, political and human rights standards. Targeting LGBT individuals or religious minorities and opening the door for discrimination and violence against women is a threat we cannot overlook and should trade agreements like the TPP go into effect with the participation of human rights violators, the United States would lose its leverage to provide economic pressure on countries to reverse unacceptable policies.

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"As the world’s largest economy, the United States holds a significant place in world affairs and must use this position to address human rights atrocities in countries like Brunei. According with all applicable rules and regulations, we urge you to insist that Brunei address these human rights violations as a condition before the United States enter into any trade negotiations."

Before the Sultan announced that his country was adopting a new penal code based on Sharia law, which calls for flogging, dismemberment and death by stoning for crimes such as sodomy and adultery, the U.S. was set to fast-track Brunei's full membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

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