How to Help People in Brunei Darussalam

Brunei is a small nation located in the northern coastal area of the island of Borneo, which also encompasses parts of Malaysia and Indonesia. Brunei‘s territory extends itself through an area of 5,765 kilometers of land, where about 423,000 citizens live.

How to help people in Brunei is not an easy question to answer at first glance. The fact is that despite its size, Brunei’s economy is considered to be one of the best performing in the world.

The country mainly exports liquefied gas and crude oil across the globe; natural gas and petroleum represent 60% of the country’s economy. Brunei’s extended forest territory allows it to produce abundant amounts of non-renewable resources and energy.

In spite of Brunei’s level of productivity, the issue of how to help people in Brunei remains because, despite the country’s great wealth, the social and political system causes difficulty for Brunei’s citizens.

As an absolute monarchy led by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, freedom of speech has been limited within the media, including radio, television, and print, as well as for citizens.

In 2014, Brunei adopted sharia law, a list of laws based on the religion of Islam. Consisting of three phases, two of which have to be yet implemented, sharia law is currently enforced among Brunei’s citizens.

The only approved phase for the moment includes prison sentences for what most developed first world countries would consider minor. Pregnancy outside marriage, failing to attend Friday prayers, propagating religion other than Islam, among other offenses, are severely punished with prison sentences or fines.

Organizations such as the United Nations have spoken out regarding Bolkiah’s intentions, but despite commenting on the sultan’s ideas for the future of Brunei, the country remains part of the United Nations due to providing free medical care, education and more to its citizens.

Boycotts of the Beverly Hills Hotel and other properties that Bolkiah owns have been enacted by numerous international companies to put pressure on the sultan to repeal sharia law. Celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres and Elton John have taken up the issue to bring awareness to the inequality and discrimination that is currently taking place in Brunei.

How to help people in Brunei is a social issue rather than an economic one. Brunei is a country that violates human rights every day and no organizations are actively fighting against it. The imposition of sharia law in Brunei is continuous and awareness is key in order to eradicate such human rights violations.

Paula Gibson

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in Saudi ArabiaA long-standing ally of the United States, Saudi Arabia is famous–some may say infamous–for the vast oil reserves in the country and the wealth and geopolitical clout that oil grants the nation of 32 million. Despite its fortunes, much of Saudi Arabia’s citizens live in an outdated system that oppresses and threatens the rights of both other nations in the region and its own people. Though their own nation may do far too little, how to help people in Saudi Arabia is a question well worth asking.

Domestically, Saudi Arabia still adheres to a system of male guardianship under which patriarchs control nearly all aspects of female family members’ lives, including who they marry, what opportunities for an education or career they can or cannot pursue, and even their ability to move about and interact in public. This guardianship system falls in line with the overarching sharia law that the nation as a whole is governed by, which is notorious for the abuses that can be carried out under its banner, such as vague and broad charges, lack of due process, censorship and corporal punishment, up to and including public execution.

Internationally, the Saudi government has used its influence to promote the spread of sharia law in the region, and funding for terrorist groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda can be traced back to Saudi sources. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has been engaged in a conflict in Yemen in which they have conducted numerous unlawful airstrikes that have taken the lives of over 4,000 civilians.

The Saudi government and people have a lot of obstacles to overcome before their nation can enjoy the same freedom and rights of many Western nations. Here are some ways to get involved and how to help people in Saudi Arabia:

-Write to your representatives in Congress encouraging the U.S. to require more transparency from Saudi Arabia for it to receive U.S. aid. Currently, the country fails to meet the standards of financial transparency that are technically required, but continues to receive the money due to its importance as an ally in the region.
-Get involved with programs that advocate for women’s rights in nations like Saudi Arabia, such as the U.N. Women initiative and its subsidiary the Commission on the Status of Women, of which Saudi Arabia is a member. By backing the programs and campaigns of U.N. Women, the hope is to help the Saudi people and make their nation worthy of its seat on the Commission.
-Educate yourself on the issues affecting the Saudi people and the complex geopolitical situation the country is entangled in.
-Hold the U.S. accountable for continuing to support and sell billions of dollars in weaponry to a nation that treats people in the manner Saudi Arabia does.
-Spread information on social media about Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses and support of terrorism.

The quandary of how to help people in Saudi Arabia has no easy solution, and each viable method will take a long time and a lot of effort to see tangible change. But there are still valuable steps that can be taken to helping those who are suffering in Saudi Arabia.

Erik Halberg

Photo: Flickr

Hunger In BruneiBrunei is a country located on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Brunei is the only country on the island and has territory between the nations of Malaysia and Indonesia. Hunger in Brunei is a growing problem inherently linked to the government.

Recently, the leader of the country, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, announced his intention to make Shari’a law the primary form of law in the nation. This change stems from the fact that two-thirds of the country’s population is Muslim. This shift of policy in conjunction with growing governmental corruption led to the United Nations expressing grave concern for the country.

In Brunei, food is scarce due to the insurgent groups in the region and arid climates, making growing crops difficult for the farmers in the area. Due to its tropical climate and proximity to the ocean, the main supply of protein comes from marine catches. Marine wildlife acts a primary source of food for the people of Brunei, and the government has made an effort to increase the yields of fishers to meet the requirements for the nation’s food supply.

Outside of the fishing industry, a majority of food is shipped into the country internationally. Although the Brunei government states that they have adequate food distribution policies that ensure food products get distributed to the majority of citizens, data shows that this is not the case. Regardless, the food distribution system distributes sugar, rice and other basic foods. Once transported to communities, they get sold at “fair” food prices.

Political corruption began right as the country found independence in the early 18th century and has continued to affect the country’s population since. Due to much of the food supply being under control by the government and militant groups roaming the country seizing the little amount of food available for the country’s citizens, the amount of hunger in Brunei has increased dramatically since the country’s independence.

Malnutrition in Brunei is commonplace, and children under the age of five are the group most affected. This issue is compounded by the high prevalence of citizens being underweight. For females under the age of five, there is an 8.5 percent chance of being underweight, and males have a 10.8 percent chance.

The significant amount of hunger in Brunei stems from political corruption and the shift to Shari’a law as the primary form of governance. In general, a pregnant mother will struggle to find the volume of food necessary to have babies that are born healthy. The rate of babies born underweight is now at 11.9 percent, an increase since Shari’a law was implemented in the nation.

Beyond issues with the country’s government, the food that is available to the citizens of Brunei is either of low quality or often gets contaminated with toxins. This low quality of food has led to children growing up in the nation to be underdeveloped. About 22.8 percent of males and 16.7 percent of females suffer from stunted development as a direct result of malnutrition and toxic foods.

The political situation in Brunei has contributed significantly to the country’s inability to feed its citizens. Although the government has tried to make strides in better distributing the food the country has, many people still face the issues created by hunger in Brunei.

Continued pressure by the EU should ensure that the government continues to distribute food and sell that food at fair prices. However, as present trends suggest, this may not be possible until more political change occurs in the country.

Nicholas Beauchamp

Photo: Flickr

LGBT Rights
Senator Edward Markey (D – Mass.) has introduced a new bill, known as the International Human Rights Defense Act, to the Senate that would commit the U.S. to protecting the rights of members of the LGBT community all around the world.

Markey, who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on International Development and Foreign Assistance, has brought this bill to the floor due to the fact that there are many countries around the world that condemn homosexuality to some degree. This includes more than 80 countries that criminalize homosexuality and the support of LGBT rights, as well as seven countries that punish homosexuality with the death penalty. The vast majority of these countries are located in poorer parts of the world, such as Africa and South Asia.

One country where being gay can land someone in jail is Nigeria. The northern part of the country is governed by strict Sharia law and prohibits homosexuality and anyone who supports it.

Although the government does not invoke the death sentence for this offense, local Islamic law often calls for the public stoning of anyone found guilty of homosexuality. Those who are turned in to officials for suspected homosexuality are often turned in by informants who secretly gather information. This activity is the result of the mindset in Nigeria and other countries that homosexuals and supporters of LGBT rights are a pestilence that society must be cleansed of.

The bill that hopes to change this focuses mainly on the discrimination and violence that LGBT men and women face, and imposes new strategies to counteract these, including the following:

· Making prevention and response to violence and discrimination against the LGBT community a priority

· Promoting LGBT rights via private sector, governments, multilateral organizations and local advocacy groups

· Creating a new position within the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor that would be known as the Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT People. This envoy would be responsible for organizing all U.S. involvement with foreign LGBT affairs.

· The continuation of the LGBT rights sector of the annual State Department Report on Human Rights

The bill has already garnered 24 co-sponsors, including Markey’s fellow Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. In addition to congressional co-sponsors, the bill is also being endorsed by many LGBT rights groups, including MassEquality, which is the leading advocacy group in Massachusetts for LGBT rights.

Markey stated that “for the United States to hold true to our commitment to [defend] the human rights of all people around the world, we must stand with the LGBT community,” and if this bill were to pass, it would be a significant step toward equality around the world, as well as a more progressive American stance on LGBT rights.

— Taylor Lovett

Sources: LGBTQ Nation, MassEquality, Mass Live, NY Times
Photo: Frontiers LA

Sharia Law Penal Code
While the country of Brunei planned to introduce severe Islamic criminal punishments to be put into effect by April 22, the country decided to postpone the laws.

The delay is “due to unavoidable circumstances,” according to Jauyah Zaini, the assistant director of the Islamic Legal Unit.

Brunei is a wealthy sultanate, due to its large reserves of oil and gas, and is ruled by the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, one of the richest men on the planet. The majority of the country is made up of ethnic Malays, with smaller groups of Chinese, Indians and indigenous groups in the country.

As a former British protectorate, Brunei’s civil courts are based on British law. Sharia law was mainly practiced for family complications, marriage, and inheritance. However, once implemented, the new penal codes will widen the scope of Islamic law to a broader range of possibilities.

The new Sharia criminal punishments are medieval, extreme, and potential violations of human rights. For example, the code allows, “stoning to death to punish rape, adultery, sodomy, extramarital sexual relations [for Muslims], defamation of the Prophet Mohammed, insulting any verse of the Quran and Hadith, blasphemy, and declaring oneself a prophet or non-Muslim.”

Robbery is punishable by amputation and drinking alcohol will result in flogging.

The United Nations is one of the few international organizations that has taken a stand in opposition against the new penal codes.

“Under international law, stoning people to death constitutes torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” UN members said. “It is thus clearly prohibited.”

Sultan Bolkiah reasoned that the Sharia Penal Code would only pertain to Muslims as a “special guidance” from God. Muslims comprise around two-thirds of Brunei’s population of 420,000.

However, it is naïve to assume that the laws will not be applied to non-Muslims by law enforcement. Both non-Muslims and Muslims are prohibited from drinking alcohol in Brunei, and thus there is a high possibility that the other one-third of the population will be subjected to the penal codes.

Sultan Bolkiah called the penal code, “a part of the great history of our nation” in October and said that the new laws would not drastically change Brunei’s existing policies. Does this suggest that the penal codes are simply ceremonial and will not be enforced? Brunei still has the death penalty, but its last execution took place in 1957. Perhaps these codes are merely there to project an image of religious devotion.

Countries and international organizations should not wait to observe whether or not these penal codes will actually be enforced. These criminal punishments are a violation of human rights and all of Brunei’s citizens can potentially be subjected to the inhumane penal code.

— Sarah Yan

Sources: The Daily Beast, BBC, The Diplomat, BBC(2)
Photo: Military Photos

The Arab Spring brought the air of revolution to Tunisia, and after years of struggling to create a steady and free democracy, the assembly has reached an agreement and approved a new constitution.

Out of the 216 members of the Tunisian assembly, 200 affiliates voted to pass the constitution. Of the remaining 16 members, 12 voted against the constitution and four members abstained from the vote.

Three years ago, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali was ousted from the highest political office in Tunisia, which marked the beginning of the tumultuous journey towards democratic stability.

Ben Ali was overthrown in January 2011, and it was not until about October 2012 that the Islamist party, Ennahda, gained control of Tunisia. It has held power ever since, but agreed to step down from office once the final draft of the constitution was passed in the assembly.

After the overthrow of Ben Ali, there came multiple terrorist attacks and two political assassinations of secular leaders. The Islamist party Ennahda denounced the violent acts, but certain radical Islamists are held responsible. Their motive was to maintain Islamic leaders in powerful positions.

The two years it took to draft the new Tunisian constitution stirred tensions between Islamists and Secularists, as the Islamists wanted to invoke Sharia (Islamic) law. The compromise within the constitution seems promising, and the Ennahda has stepped down. An appointed caretaker government will be taking power until elections that will take place later this year. The Prime Minister of the caretaker government, Mehdi Jomaa, is a respected technocrat who will lead the transitional period until the time comes for free elections.

The Assembly Speaker, Mustapha Ben Jaafar, was quoted after the vote, saying, “This constitution, without being perfect, is one of consensus… we had today a new rendezvous with history to build a democracy founded on rights and equality.”

From what is known of the new constitution so far, it seems to be the most broadminded within the Middle East/North African region, with the guarantee of gender equality and protection of the environment. There are also laws that keep the state responsible for detecting and confronting corruption.

Power is split between the Prime Minister and the President, with more control in the Prime Minister’s hands and the President’s dominance lying mostly within defense policies and foreign relations.

The Tunisian constitution does not cite Sharia law, but Islam is declared as the country’s religion and the state outlaws attacks on Islam. As religious differences were a major obstacle in drafting this new constitution, this is a remarkable step for the North African country.

“All eyes around the world are fixed upon Tunisia’s democratic experience,” Jaafar stated. His words are appropriate, especially with the most recent turmoil in nearby countries, such as Egypt and Yemen.

Hopefully this milestone in Tunisia will be a model for countries struggling to obtain stability after the turmoil of the Arab Spring. The revolutions were necessary for the inspiration of new democratic ideals, however the loss of control has left many countries vulnerable to terrorist organizations and leaders with ulterior motives. The constitution marks a new era for the Tunis people that will hopefully lead to a thriving economy and strong democracy.

– Danielle Warren

Sources: Aljazeera, CNN, New York Times
Photo: Blouin News