government: absolute monarchy or sultanate
state of civil and political rights: Not free
constitution: 29 September 1959
legal system: mixed legal system based on English common law and Islamic law; note - in May 2014, the first of three phases of sharia-based penal codes was instituted, which applies to Muslims and non-Muslims and exists in parallel to the existing common law-based code
legislative system: Legislative Council met on 25 September 2004 for first time in 20 years with 21 members appointed by the Sultan; passed constitutional amendments calling for a 45-seat council with 15 elected members; Sultan dissolved council on 1 September 2005 and appointed a new council with 29 members as of 2 September 2005; council met in March 2006 and in March 2007
judicial system: Supreme Court, chief justice and judges are sworn in by the monarch for three-year terms; Judicial Committee of Privy Council in London is final court of appeal for civil cases; Sharia courts deal with Islamic laws
religion: 67% Muslim; 13% Buddhist; 10% Christian; 10% others
death row: 6 (www.deathpenaltyworldwide.org)
year of last executions: 0-0-0
death sentences: 0
international treaties on human rights and the death penalty:
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (signed only)
The death penalty is mandatory for murder, unlawful possession of firearms and explosives, and drug
trafficking (import and export of over 15g of morphine or heroin; possession of
over 30g of morphine or heroin for the purpose of unauthorized trafficking and
unauthorized manufacture of morphine or heroin). In 1992 possession of more
than 200g of cannabis or opium was made a capital offence. Other criminal
offences are: terrorism, kidnapping, treason, arson of certain public
utilities, military crimes, perjury in a capital trial that ends with the conviction of an innocent person
and other offenses that result in death.
In February 2002, the Misuse of Drugs Act was amended making anyone
caught trafficking or smuggling more than 50 g of the synthetic drug methamphetamine hydrochloride, commonly called Ice or
shabu, punishable by death. Before this amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act,
the death penalty was reserved for those trafficking or smuggling more than 200
g of shabu. The new law also provides that anyone caught in possession of more
than 100 g of shabu - as opposed to 250 g earlier - would be sent to the
The last execution in Brunei took place in 1957.
On 22 October 2013, Brunei Darussalam enacted a new Sharia
Penal Code, which provides tough Islamic punishments including stoning to death
for adultery, severing of limbs for theft, and flogging for violations ranging
from abortion to alcohol consumption. “By the grace of Allah, with the coming
into effect of this legislation, our duty to Allah is therefore being
fulfilled,” said the 67-year-old Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, who has
presided over a shift to more conservative Islam in recent years.
On 1 May 2014, the new Sharia Penal Code of Brunei Darussalam came into force effectively, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah stated in a
royal decree. “With faith and gratitude to Allah the almighty, I declare that
tomorrow, Thursday May 1, 2014, will see the enforcement of Sharia law phase
one, to be followed by the other phases,” the absolute monarch said in his
decree on 30 April.
The Shariah Penal Code Order 2013 provides for the death penalty as a possible penalty – for both Muslims and non-Muslims – for the
crimes of robbery (Article 63), rape (Article 76), adultery and sodomy (Article
82). Death is also prescribed as a penalty – for Muslims only – upon conviction
for acts constituting extramarital sexual relations (Article 69). Insulting any
verses of the Quran and Hadith (oral reports of the deeds and sayings of
Muhammad), blasphemy, declaring oneself a prophet or non-Muslim, and murder are
the other offences for which the death penalty could be applied under the
The 2013 Penal Code also specifies that the manner by which
capital punishment is to be imposed for rape, adultery, sodomy and extramarital
sexual relations is stoning to death.
Brunei is the first country in East or Southeast Asia to introduce a Sharia Penal Code on a national level.
The initial phase beginning on 1 May introduces fines or jail terms for offences ranging from indecent behaviour, failure to attend
Friday prayers, and out-of-wedlock pregnancies. A second phase covering crimes
such as theft and robbery is to start later 2014, involving more stringent
penalties such as severing of limbs and flogging. Late 2015, punishments such
as death by stoning for offences including sodomy and adultery will be
The new Penal Code sparked rare domestic criticism of
authorities and international condemnation. But Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah said in
his decree that the move was “a must” under Islam, dismissing “never-ending
theories” that Sharia punishments were cruel. “Theory states that Allah’s law
is cruel and unfair but Allah himself has said that his law is indeed fair,” he
“Application of the death penalty for such a broad range of
offences contravenes international law,” said Rupert Colville, spokesperson for
the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). He added that,
“under international law, stoning people to death constitutes torture or other
cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is thus clearly
prohibited.” Noting that Brunei has maintained an effective moratorium on the
use of the death penalty since 1957, OHCHR urged the Government to establish a
formal moratorium and to work towards abolishing the practice altogether.
In 2009, Brunei did not accept the recommendations to
institute an official moratorium on the death penalty or officially abolish the death
penalty made by members of the Human Rights Council during the Universal Periodic
Review of human rights.
On 2 May 2014, Brunei Darussalam was reviewed again under the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council. On 10 September
2014, in its response to the recommendations received, Brunei Darussalam
rejected the recommendations to postpone the implementation of the Sharia Penal
Code Order, 2013, and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death
penalty. The Government noted that, to date, the abolition of the death penalty
is not required by international law.
On December 19, 2016, Brunei Darussalam once again voted against the Resolution
on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly.