Change.org petition pressures Oxford University to rescind honorary degree of Brunei’s leader
|May 08th, 2019|
|located in:||Brunei, United Kingdom|
|tags:||Brunei, human-rights, lgbtq rights, Sharia law|
Earlier this month, the Southeast Asian Sultanate of Brunei passed a series of laws which authorise the government to stone to death any person found ‘guilty’ of engaging in homosexual sex or adultery. The new decree also makes lesbian sex punishable with 40 lashes and/ or a prison sentence of up to ten years, as well as amputation for those convicted of theft.
Shortly after news of the decrees began to circulate, a worldwide backlash against Brunei had erupted, with activists and public figures demanding action by the international community in order to pressure the sultan to reverse the brutal laws.
Joining the global clamour against Burnei was L E Dee, who launched a Change.org petition calling on Oxford University to rescind the Honorary Degree of Civil Law by diploma granted to the sultan of Brunei in 1993, out of solidarity with the LGBTQ community and a recognition of their human rights.
While the University of Aberdeen and King’s College of London already confirmed that they will review the honorary degrees they conferred on the Sultan, Oxford University refused to do so. “This is unacceptable,” state the writers of the petition, who went on to assert that, “Through refusing to rescind the Sultan's Honorary Degree, the University of Oxford indicates that it is content for its name to be tied to human rights abuses and the persecution of LGBTQ+ people.”
The sultan of Brunei - whose personal wealth is ranked among the highest in the world - has begun to adopt a most strict interpretation of Sharia Laws in his country back in 2014. Among the decrees instituted since were ones banning alcohol, levying a fine for missing the Friday prayer, and outlawing public celebrations of Christmas. At the time, an international public outcry against the laws referring to sodomy, adultery, and theft, compelled the dictator of Brunei to postpone their implementation.
Alas, as public attention waned, the sultan proceeded with his plan, and on April 4th, 2019, the ugliest aspects of the law came into effect. With the recent policies in place, Brunei’s LGBTQ community went from being marginalised and oppressed to being downright outlawed. Thus, members of the community are forbidden from organising and lobbying for their rights, nor are activists from abroad permitted to operate in the sultanate on its citizens’ behalf, which makes extending a helping hand extremely challenging.
The attack of Brunei’s leadership on its citizens, and particularly on its vulnerable and marginalised communities, warrants an efficient international response. And while celebrities, activists, and a handful of corporations have been vocal in their condemnation of Brunei, the governments of the world have been relatively silent. The United Nations urged the kingdom to repeal the “extreme and unjustified” penal code, however those pleas resulted in no significant action.
Thus far, the sultan has shown no signs of backtracking, and in a recent letter to the EU Parliament the monarch has defended the laws, urging world leaders to respect the sovereignty of his nation.
Only persistent public pressure, backed up by major institutions, will compel the governments of the world to take bolder actions against the sultan of Brunei and pressure him to terminate his bloody campaign against the LGBTQ community.
Petitions such as L E Dee’s play a crucial role in mobilising civilians and institutions to support this vital cause. A university such as Oxford bears great responsibility to its students, staff, and to the public; now is its opportunity to demonstrate precisely which values it stands for and to translate its professed ideals of civility into action.
The petition has collected nearly 118,000 signatures so far. Sign it today to ensure that the plight of Brunei’s LGBTQ community will not be forgotten as the media cycle turns.
Update to this article:
Sunday, May 6, 2019: According to the BBC Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah on Sunday extended a moratorium on the death penalty to cover the new legislation. The rethink follows global outcry over the laws, including boycotts and celebrity protests.