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Opinion & Editorial

How Ohioans Can Confront Brunei’s Newest Sanctions

The Nation of Brunei Has Caused World Outcry Over New Rules. (Wikimedia Commons)

Located on the northern coast of Borneo in Southeast Asia, the country known as Brunei was of little knowledge to the average American citizen until a few weeks ago. 

Known for its luscious rainforests, striking beaches, and immense wealth, the nation–populated with just over 425,000 citizens–came into the limelight at the beginning of April as its shocking anti-LGBT laws fell into effect.

Beginning on Wednesday, April 3, Brunei joined a handful of other countries, five of the six being a Muslim-majority, using a draconian interpretation of the Sharia to punish homosexuals to death. 

Brunei is the first Southeast Asian country to implement nationwide Sharia law: others include Iran, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.

The penal code puts any Bruneian citizen who has reached puberty under the scope of these horrific punishments, punishments that explicitly violate international human rights codes regarding torture, as established by the United Nations. 

Prior to the implementation of these new regulations, homosexuality was already illegal in Brunei, with the punishments being up to ten years in prison. Now, those found guilty of gay sex risk being stoned to death.

These new punishments come under the rule of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the prime minister who has ruled Briunei for over five decades, in an attempt to strengthen Islamic teachings within his small nation, emphasizing that the country “always devotes its worship to Allah.”

International furor has naturally proceeded these new laws — laws that have been in the works for over five years but were not yet enforced — with the European Parliament immediately condemning them as “retrograde,” and the United Nations calling them “barbaric to the core.”

The U.S. State Department released a customary statement coming on the heels of the new regulations, stating that the nation is “concerned” with the situation, but President Trump has yet to make a statement. 

This statement was customary, and nothing but customary.

When asked whether our country, which supports fundamental human rights, has an opinion on the grim matter that now exists in Brunei, there should be more than a feeling of “concern.” Furthermore, there should at the very least be some statement from our Commander-in-Chief.

Celebrities such as Ellen Degeneres, Elton John, and George Clooney are taking to social media and calling all arms to raise awareness by encouraging a boycott of the hotels owned by the Brunei Investment Agency. This list includes nine hotels worldwide, including Los Angeles’ Beverly Hills Hotel and the Bel-Air.

While celebrities are taking to their accounts and even to the streets, our government remains actionless. It isn’t surprising that the President has stayed out of this situation, given the isolationist-dominated approach he has taken so far into his presidency, and so the question lingers of how to stand up against this regime. 

Nations that are fundamentally opposed to the new laws can implement sanctions against the nation-sanctions that could include a freeze on financial assets and a seizure of bank accounts. These kinds of laws fall under the Global Magnitsky Act, an act giving nations the right to sanction foreign officials involved in situations such as these. 

This would happen in an ideal world, but the truth of time is that this is not an ideal world. And as I said, it is unlikely given the stance of Trump’s administration that even a comment will come from our Commander-in-Chief anytime soon.

Nonetheless, the horrific impositions now in place for homosexuals within Brunei should ensue consequences for the Sultan and the Bruneian government.

For the average American citizen, this egregious mandate is a world apart, so spreading an awareness of the issue is the logical and most suitable first step. This is a time when the power of social media is as present as ever, so responsibly circulating information about this barbarism is one simple way to make a contribution.

Boycotting the Dorchester hotels is an action many celebrities are promoting; however, even Clooney admits that “over years of dealing with murderous regimes,” he has realized that you “can’t shame them.”

Nonetheless, there are countless other five-star hotels for those wanting luxury in the same cities in which Brunei-owned hotels exist. For those capable of paying the high-level bill associated with this caliber of establishment, it wouldn’t hurt to take your wallet to another location.

Going beyond the process of spreading recognition, the greatest effort the American citizenry can take during this time is to examine how our own nation, and how our own state handles LGBTQ+ rights. 

Just this past week, on Friday, April 13, a transgender woman named Muhlaysia Booker was brutally attacked in the middle of a Dallas street by numerous men. Booker suffered a broken wrist and other injuries before she was rushed to the hospital.

The primary attacker, Edward Thomas, was supposedly paid $200 to attack the woman, with the event being recorded by numerous bystanders before being shared on social media. 

That LGBTQ+ treatment within our own nation is far from ideal even with federal law that protect against hate crimes motivated by gender identity, too many states–including our own–do not protect against attacks of this nature. 

Within our own state, the Ohio Fairness Act was introduced in the State Senate this past February, which according to HRC and Equality Ohio, encourages the state to pass legislation banning discrimination based off of gender identity and sexual orientation in housing, employment, and public accomodations.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, our state is one of 30 without “explicit non-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people,” meaning that inequality in housing or employment based off these classifications remains fair game in almost every rural region of state territory.

Currently, such non-discriminatory laws are in place in certain zip codes. But as a whole, we have much more work to do.

Making an impact within our own territory is manageable and achievable by any Ohio citizen, and whether it is reaching out to your representative, participating in campaigns, being active in the voting process, or protesting certain issues, we are all capable of encouraging change for the betterment of the LGBTQ+ community. 

There is no easy way to stand up against the terror occurring thousands of miles away, but making an impact in our own immediate communities is a sound first step.

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July 18, 2019