Brunei’s LGBT crackdown: 5 steps organisations can take to protect LGBT employees

Gavin Kelleher
Regional Security Coordinator (APAC)

In stark contrast to advances in LGBT rights that continue to be made in other parts of the world, the small oil-rich nation of Brunei is set to implement a new law next week that will make same-sex relationships punishable by death.

From 3rd April, any individual found guilty under the prescribed list of offences will be subject to stoning or whipping to death, in a strict interpretation of Sharia law. While homosexuality is already criminalised in Brunei with custodial sentencing, this latest move to enact capital punishment is indicative of a serious deterioration of the security environment nationally for LGBT travellers and residents.

These measures were first announced in 2014, when the introduction of the Sharia Penal Code was made. However, these specific elements relating to LGBT rights were shelved following international condemnation, and a boycott of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s hotel in the US. Brunei is ruled as an absolute monarchy, and it is certain that next week’s enactment of this element of the penal code has been the Sultan’s decision.

While this news will be unwelcome by LGBT nationals in Brunei, around 40 percent of the country’s population is made up of expats who have relocated to the country from across Asia, Europe and North America. There have been no exclusions made for foreign nationals, meaning that LGBT travellers and expats could legally be sentenced to death if convicted of same-sex activity from 3rd April.

Security managers responsible for employees in Brunei, or managing a travelling workforce that includes travel to Brunei on occasion, must now take quick and decisive action to ensure that their organisation is fulfilling its duty of care obligations to LGBT employees.

Gavin Kelleher, Regional Security Coordinator (APAC), outlines five steps that organisations should be taking:

 

1. Alert all employees who may be affected

 

One of the most time-critical actions is communication. Organisations should ensure that their employees, including contractors who may be working on only temporary contracts, are aware that the law in Brunei is changing. For those based in Brunei currently, the media is tightly controlled by the government and the country’s press is assessed by Freedom House as ‘Not Free’. In international media, the law change has already begun generating notable attention. However, it is still likely that many of your organisation’s employees will have no awareness.

Communication should be directed to all employees who are based in Brunei, as well as all employees who are travelling or may in the future travel to the country. 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.

 

2. Review your travel risk policy

 

Given the developments in Brunei, it is necessary for organisations to ensure that their travel risk policy is up to date, and that it adequately accounts for this scenario. The policy that you decide to implement should be measured, taking into account the safety of your employees, as well as the risk tolerance of your 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 relocations only.

LGBT travellers whose sexuality is not visibly identifiable, who commit to keeping a low profile in-country and are fully aware of how to mitigate the elevated security risks that they face, are at a lower risk of encountering problems. However, those who have been working in Brunei previously, and may have already disclosed that they have a same-sex partner to local nationals, are now at a much greater risk if they return. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach, and Healix recommends that your travel risk policy considers that individual risk assessments may need to be made on a case-by-case basis.

 

3. Prepare contingency plans

 

Even when organisations enact great risk mitigation strategies, they need to be prepared for the instances where these could fail. If an employee is arrested in Brunei on suspicion of contravening the penal code on the basis of same-sex activity, you should have established protocols ahead of time to anticipate this crisis. This includes identifying 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.

While the actual assistance that organisations can offer to an employee may be limited once they have already been detained, they will likely require legal assistance from a person or agency that is suitably qualified to counsel them in Brunei. Moreover, consular support may need to be coordinated by your organisation’s security manager, and communication with families in their country of origin will need to be managed. Media considerations are also important here, as interest is likely to be particularly high if foreign nationals are detained under this law. 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.

 

4. Deliver training on LGBT-specific security risks

 

The risks faced by LGBT travellers are uniquely different to those faced by the majority of heterosexuals. Threat actors include both state and non-state actors, and entrapment, blackmail, and physical and verbal abuse are serious concerns in many parts of the world. Organisations can ensure that LGBT travellers fully comprehend these risks, and fulfil their duty of care obligations by implementing training that gives employees direction on how these risks can be effectively mitigated and, in some security environments, even how they can’t.

Healix International has developed a comprehensive LGBT Security Awareness e-learning course that covers the range of elevated risks in detail, and is applicable to all travellers who identify as LGBT, with distinctions also made when the level of risk differs between sexualities. Moreover, the module has been designed to also be informative for non-LGBT employees, so that they can educate themselves on how they can help to keep their colleagues safe. Through this module, organisations can encourage all employees to complete this LGBT e-learning course, without the need for participants to openly identify themselves as being LGBT if they choose not to.

 

5. 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 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. Oil and gas exports make up the majority of Brunei’s economy, and are indeed the sectors that bring most foreign nationals to reside in the country. Therefore, 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.

LGBT RIGHTS AROUND THE WORLD

Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has the highest number of countries that still retain the legislative framework to implement capital punishment for those found guilty of homosexuality.

This includes Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Iran and the United Arab Emirates.

The security risk facing LGBT travellers in Eastern Europe is far higher than in Western Europe, owing to rates of homophobia and related violence.

The global spotlight has focused on Russia, where state-sanctioned homophobia has been compounded by an uptick in hate crime, vigilantism and entrapment incidents.

While homosexuality has been decriminalised across a number of African countries, many still live without legal protections and the risk of harassment persists.

Some countries have actually strengthened legislation to prohibit same-sex relations, namely Uganda and Chad.

North and South America have some of the most advanced LGBT rights globally.

In contrast, legal rights and societal attitudes in the Caribbean are far behind those in North and South America, and many countries in the region retain colonial legislation criminalising same-sex relations.

While some countries in APAC have taken progressive steps on LGBT rights, others have regressed in recent years.

Countries within Southeast Asia have tightened restrictions and increased discrimination against the LGBT community. These include Indonesia and Malaysia.

If you are interested in learning more about our LGBT Security Awareness e-learning course, or commissioning face-to-face training for your staff, you can email us at GSOC@healix.com.

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