Protests are growing after the Sultan of Brunei introducing the punishment of death by stoning for adultery and gay sex. In an open letter, students from Oxford University are calling for the honorary degree awarded to the Sultan to now be rescinded in light of the inhumane laws. Read the letter below and sign the petition
Dear Vice Chancellor and Registrar,
We the undersigned, are writing this letter, in conjunction with attempts from OxSU and a petition with support of over 57,000 individuals, to express the view that the honorary degree in Civil Law awarded to the Sultan of Brunei in 1993 should be rescinded. The arguments for this are threefold and reflect the impact that his continued possession of this honour have. Firstly, on a University level, the University’s failure to oppose the developments in Brunei will be directly seen by its student body, particularly its LGBTQ+ community, as a refusal to acknowledge the horrific impacts the new laws will have.
Secondly, on a national level the University’s inability to call out oppression and violence will not go unnoticed by those who look to it as a forerunner in representing the values of tolerance and liberty – and damage to the University image will serve as a barrier to prospective students from diverse backgrounds. The third impact is international and relates to the ethos and teachings of all Oxford law degrees: For the University to stand by, and through its omissions, support these blatant violations of Human Rights and International law, is in no way acceptable.
On the 3rd April 2019 the state of Brunei introduced new laws under the model of a Shariah legal system. Shariah law has operated, to some extent, within the country since 2014. The new laws allow for those participating in anal sex to be punishable by stoning, lesbian sex to be punished by 40 strokes with a cane, thieves to be punished by amputation and rape, adultery and defamation to be punishable by death. To quote members of the LGBTQ+ community of Brunei, these punishments are “medieval”.
“Honorary degrees are supposed to confer respect and honour on individuals whose contributions, particularly in a specific field of study, are meritable. To be awarded one from one of the world’s most prestigious Universities lends significant authority to an individual”
As reported by the BBC, one gay Bruneian suggested “You wake up and realise that your neighbours, your family or even that nice old lady that sells prawn fritters by the side of the road doesn’t think you’re human, or is okay with stoning,”. The country of Brunei is governed absolutely by wealthy ruling royals, including the Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah who is in possession of an honorary Civil Law degree from the University of Oxford. The lack of democratic channels means the only effective way to condemn any actions committed by the state of Brunei is through international means.
Protestors outside the Dorchester hotel in London, owned by the Sultan of Brunei
Honorary degrees are supposed to confer respect and honour on individuals whose contributions, particularly in a specific field of study, are meritable. To be awarded one from one of the world’s most prestigious Universities lends significant authority to an individual. Having an Oxford degree to his name means Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s reputation is protected and his actions publicly legitimised. The developments in Brunei show him to be clearly unworthy of this honour, regardless of any prior achievements that may have suggested otherwise.
Oxford University has a strong LGBTQ+ community amongst both its staff and students and has, over the years, established a safe and inclusive environment in which this community can thrive. To see stigmatisation anywhere in society is upsetting and can have a profoundly damaging impact on individuals. To live in fear of being punished for your sexuality is unimaginable for anyone who hasn’t lived through such fear, and thankfully is something which is becoming increasingly rare.
A University that honours anyone who can inflict torture upon individuals for being themselves, does itself and its students, especially those within the LGBTQ+ community, a great injustice. The University prides itself on its position in the top 100 of LGBTQ+ friendly employers, more than this the University Equality Policy claims that Oxford “promotes equality”. To maintain the Sultan’s honorary degree not only violates the University’s Equality Policy but also is contradictory to its ranking in the top 100. The students of Oxford have cultivated a safe and respectful environment for each other, regardless of sexuality. To see the University overtly ignore the ethos of its own students in maintaining this honorary degree, will lead to a great deal of faith in the University itself being irreparably lost.
“The same can be said of Oxford University. In allowing for the honorary degree to continue to exist, the University is supporting mass Human Rights violations, associating itself with the persecution of the LGBTQ+ community, and failing to take a necessary stand in solidarity with its students”
To see fundamental human Rights not only violated but ignored so blatantly is upsetting. What makes it worse in this instance is that these violations of international law come from an individual in possession of an Oxford law degree. The University has shown a strong ethos for promoting international Human Rights in the past. The Oxford University Bonevaro Institute of Human Rights advertises itself as being “dedicated [to] fostering world-class research and scholarship in human rights law, to promoting public engagement in and understanding of human rights issues, and to building valuable conversations and collaborations between human rights scholars and human rights practitioners.”
This raises the question how a University can simultaneously, within the same faculty, advocate for the protection of Human Rights whilst honouring those that openly violate them. As a member of the United Nations (as of 1984) Brunei is bound by the international declaration of Human Rights and the fundamental principles and treaties that stemmed from this. Since introducing the new laws on Wednesday, the UN has openly called out the state for its violation of International law. If the existence of this common Human Rights ethos is to be maintained, it is the responsibility and duty of the University to support the condemnations from the UN
The international prestige of Oxford University places it in a prime position to call out oppression in whatever form it takes. A collective of other institutions and individuals are already showing anger and disdain at the creation of these new laws. Both Kings College London and the University of Aberdeen are reviewing the honorary degrees held by the Sultan at their institutions. Celebrities including George Clooney are encouraging a boycott of all Brunei Investment Agency businesses, notably the Dorchester Collection hotels in London, Los Angeles and France. Mr Clooney expressed that “Every single time we stay at or take meetings at or dine at any of these nine hotels we are putting money directly into the pockets of men who choose to stone and whip to death their own citizens,”. The same can be said of Oxford University. In allowing for the honorary degree to continue to exist, the University is supporting mass Human Rights violations, associating itself with the persecution of the LGBTQ+ community, and failing to take a necessary stand in solidarity with its students.
On the 3rd of April abusive laws were forced onto innocent individuals without democratic procedure. Without international pressure and condemnation, absolute monarchs are free to exploit the very fabric of the international community and debase their own citizens into the bargain, the LGBTQ+ community being particularly affected by these atrocities. The University, due to its position and prestige, has an obligation to its students, to the citizens of Brunei and to the bodies governing international law to call out the behaviour of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.
As senior officers to the University, we ask that you do everything within your power to ensure the University rescinds the Sultan’s honorary degree. The eyes of the world, the eyes of the LGBTQ+ community suffering in Brunei, and the eyes of the students under your care are upon you.
We look forward to your response,
Rhiannon Ogden-Jones, Corpus Christi College JCR President
William Song, Corpus Christi College JCR Equal Opportunities President
Sebastian K-W, Corpus Christi College JCR LGBTQ+ Rep
Ed Lawrence, Jesus College JCR President
Olivia Campbell, Jesus College JCR Equal Opportunities Rep
Jennifer Crompton, Jesus College JCR LGBTQ+ Rep
Keelin Willis, Jesus College JCR LGBTQ+ Rep
Roshan Shah, Pembroke College JCR President
Niamh McAndrew, Pembroke College JCR LGBTQ+ Rep
Emily Capstick, Merton College JCR President
Sarah Berwick, Brasenose College JCR President
Vishal Kumar, Brasenose College JCR Diversity and Ethics Rep
Emily Thwaites, St Edmund Hall JCR President
Maia Webb- Hayward, St Edmund Hall JCR Sexual Diversity Officer
Phoebe Whitehead, St Catherine’s College JCR President
Elliot Frame, St Catherine’s College JCR LGBTQ+ Rep
Gaby Kaza, St Catherine’s College JCR LGBTQ+ and Welfare Rep
Gemma Roper, St Peter’s College JCR President
Lucy Koster, St Peter’s College JCR Gender, Sexuality, and Orientations Rep
Joss Tricks, Magdalen College JCR President
Ellie McSorley, Magdalen College JCR LGBTQ+ Officer
Sam Edwards, Keble College JCR President
Abi Harindra, Keble College JCR Equal Opportunities Officer
Hannah Al- Qaryooti, Keble College, JCR LGBTQ+ Rep
Stuart Mcloughlin, Keble College, JCR LGBTQ+ Rep
Heba Jalil, University College JCR President
Ffion Price, University College JCR Access and Equal Opportunities Representative
Emmanuel Amissah-Eshun, Somerville College JCR President
Joe Creswell, Somerville College JCR LGBTQ Rep
William Robinson, Regent Parks College JCR President
Patrick Hegarty- Morrish, Oriel College JCR President
Leo Gillard, Oriel College JCR LGBTQ Rep
Harry Sudgen, St John’s College JCR President
Saba Shakil, Mansfield College JCR President
Emma Lalande, Lincoln College JCR President
Mitchell Tate, Hertford College, JCR President
Fenella Sentance, Hertford College, JCR LGBTQ Officer
Rose Laurie, New College JCR LGBTQ+ Officer
Joesph Grehen-Bradley, Christ Church College JCR President
Arun Smith, Christ Church College JCR LGBTQ+ Officer
Gagan Khurana, St Anne’s College JCR President
Asher Aslam, St Anne’s College JCR LGBTQ+ Officer
Ellie Dibben, Alumnus, Former LGBTQ+ Campaign Co-chair and petition creator
Cllr Shaista Aziz, journalist, Oxford City Council Representation in the workforce champion.
You can sign the petition for Oxford University to rescind the Sultan of Brunei’s honorary degree here