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Title: Brunei Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State
Date:  March 1996


Brunei Darussalam, a small, wealthy monarchy located on the north coast 
of Borneo, is a sultanate ruled by the same family for 600 years.

The 1959 Constitution provided for the first delegation of political 
power by former Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin to an appointed council of 
state, but in 1962 the Sultan invoked an article of the Constitution 
that allowed him to assume emergency powers for 2 years.  These powers 
have been regularly renewed, most recently in September by the current 
Sultan.  Although not all of the articles of the Constitution are 
suspended, the state of emergency places few limits on the Sultan's 
power.  He also serves as Prime Minister, Minister of Defense, dean of 
the national university, and chief religious leader.

The police force, which has responsibility for internal security, 
reports to the Prime Minister's office and is firmly under the control 
of civil authorities.

Brunei's large oil and natural gas reserves, coupled with its small 
population, give it one of the world's highest per capita gross national 

Human rights in Brunei remain broadly circumscribed.  In practice, 
citizens do not have the right to change their government, and they 
generally eschew political activity of any kind, knowing that the 
Government and ruler will disapprove such activity and may punish them.  
Nor, constitutional provisions notwithstanding, do they genuinely 
exercise the freedoms of speech, press, and association.  Other human 
rights abuses, including discrimination against women and restriction of 
religious freedom, continued.


Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom 

  a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

  b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances.

  c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 

The media occasionally report on allegations of police mistreatment of 
prisoners, but these reports cannot be verified.  In 1988 caning became 
mandatory punishment for 42 criminal and drug-related offenses and for 
vandalism.  Since then, sentences of whipping have been handed down and 
carried out in the presence of a doctor who monitors implementation and 
has the authority to interrupt and postpone the punishment for medical 
reasons.  Reportedly, as many as 50 offenders per year are caned.

Prison conditions range from fair to good.  There is no overcrowding, 
prisoners usually have a cell to themselves.  Prisoners receive regular 
medical checkups.  Remand cells at police stations are Spartan but 

  d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

While the law provides for a prompt judicial determination of the 
validity of an arrest, those provisions, like the Constitution itself, 
may be superseded, either partially or wholly, through invocation of the 
emergency powers.  Moreover, the Internal Security Act (ISA) permits the 
Government to detain suspects without trial for renewable 2-year 
periods.  The Government occasionally has used the ISA to detain persons 
suspected of antigovernment activity, but apparently did not do so in 
1995.  A person detained under the ISA was released in April 1994 
following his pledge of loyalty to the Sultan.

Police officers have broad powers to make arrests without warrants.  
However, under normal circumstances, a magistrate must endorse a warrant 
for arrest.  Warrants are issued without this endorsement on rare 
occasions, such as when police are unable to obtain the endorsement in 
time to prevent the flight of a suspect.

Under the 1918 Banishment Act, any person deemed to be a threat to the 
safety, peace, or welfare of Brunei, may be forcibly exiled either 
permanently or temporarily by the Sultan.  There have been no cases of 
banishment of citizens in recent times.

  e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution does not specifically provide for an independent 
judiciary.  However, Brunei civil law, based on English common law, 
provides citizens with a fair and efficient judicial process.  Shari'a 
(Muslim law) supersedes civil law in a number of areas, including 
divorce, inheritance, and sexual crimes.

The judicial system consists of five levels of courts, with final 
recourse in civil cases available through the Privy Council in London.  
In January Brunei terminated appeal to the Privy Council in criminal 
cases.  Procedural safeguards include the right to defense counsel, the 
right to an interpreter, the right to a speedy trial, and the right to 
confront accusers.  There were no known instances of government 
interference with the judiciary and no trials of political opponents.

A few political prisoners, probably "returnees" (individuals who 
participated in the 1962 rebellion, fled the country, and subsequently 
returned), are still in prison because of their role in the rebellion 
and their alleged refusal to renounce violence and pledge loyalty to the 

  f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 

Although the law permits government intrusion into the privacy of 
individual persons, families, or homes, this rarely happens.  There are 
sporadic reports of mail having been opened prior to delivery.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

  a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

While no law restricts freedom of speech and freedom of the press, the 
Government on a few occasions censored international newspapers and 
periodicals by removing or blacking out articles or photographs found to 
be objectionable, particularly those potentially embarrassing to 
Brunei's royal family, critical of the Government or the Sultan, or 
those judged sexually or morally improper by censors.  The growing use 
of facsimile machines and access to satellite transmissions make it 
increasingly difficult to keep such material from entering Brunei.  The 
independently owned local newspaper practices self-censorship by 
avoiding issues it knows the Government would object to.

The only Brunei-based television station is government owned.  Two 
Malaysian television channels are received in Brunei.  A 10-channel 
cable network of television stations, which includes the Cable News 
Network, the British Broadcasting Corporation World News, and several 
entertainment channels, is widely viewed.  Because of the almost total 
absence of criticism or opposing views, the Government's tolerance of 
political criticism has not been effectively tested recently.  In the 
past, it has not hesitated to arrest on national security grounds those 
who attempted to propagate unwelcome political views.

  b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom to assemble for political purposes also has not been seriously 
tested in recent years.  Following the 1967 ban on political parties, 
the Government allowed two parties to form in 1985 and 1986.  The 
Government severely restricted membership in both parties, disbanding 
one of them in 1988.  

The Brunei Solidarity National Party, which had been inactive for 
several years, held an assembly in February, reportedly with the consent 
of the Government.  About 50 people attended.  In May the party 
president resigned:  in a September interview in a local newspaper, he 
said he had resigned after the Home Affairs Ministry warned him not to 
involve himself in political activity because he is a former political 
detainee.  He told the interviewer that he is seeking authorization from 
the Government to resume political activity.  There has been no public 
party activity since the February assembly.

The activities of international service organizations continue to be 
constrained.  In 1995 the Government reminded local leaders of these 
organizations that Muslims may not be members.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

The Constitution states, "The religion of Brunei Darussalam shall be the 
Muslim religion according to the Shafeite sect of that religion:  
provided that all other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony 
by the person professing them in any part of Brunei Darussalam."  In 
1991 the Government began to reinforce the legitimacy of the hereditary 
monarchy and the observance of traditional Bruneian and Muslim values by 
reasserting a national ideology known as the Malaya Islam Beraja (MIB) 
or "Malay Muslim monarchy," the genesis of which reportedly dates back 
to the 15th century.

This reassertion of MIB has created a variety of impediments to the full 
and unconstrained exercise of religious freedom called for in the 
Constitution and in the 1993 Kuala Lumpur Declaration.  The Government 
in 1993 participated in issuing the Kuala Lumpur Declaration, which 
confirms the right of all persons to a wide range of human rights, 
including freedom of religion.  Despite this, and constitutional 
provisions, the Government routinely restricts the practice of non-
Muslim religions by:  prohibiting proselytizing; occasionally denying 
entry to foreign clergy or particular priests, bishops, or ministers; 
banning the importation of religious teaching materials or scriptures 
such as the Bible; and refusing permission to expand, repair, or build 
new churches, temples, and shrines.  In July a foreign nun was denied 
admission to Brunei to attend the annual assembly of the International 
Conference of Education Teachers (ICET), for which she was a duly 
registered delegate.

The Ministry of Education has also restricted the teaching of the 
history of religion or other courses in religion in non-Islamic schools 
while requiring courses on Islam or the MIB in all schools.  Only the 
International School, which Bruneian citizens or permanent residents 
generally are not permitted to attend, is exempted from these 

  d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, 
Emigration, and Repatriation

The Government restricts the movement of former political prisoners 
during the first year of their release.  Otherwise, it generally does 
not restrict freedom of movement for most citizens, visitors, and 
permanent residents.  The Government places some contractual 
restrictions on foreign travel for certain expatriate employees, but 
this is limited to the first year of the contract.  Although Brunei has 
not been willing to accept asylum seekers, it has agreed in principle, 
and subject to certain reservations, to the Comprehensive Plan of Action 
adopted by the 1989 International Conference on Indochinese Refugees.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government

Citizens are unable to change their government through established 
democratic processes.  Under the continuing state of emergency, there is 
no parliament, and political authority and control rests in the hands of 
the ruling monarch.  Individual citizens may seek to express their views 
or to influence government decisions and policies by petitioning the 
Sultan or handing him letters when he appears in public.

The only form of popular representation lies in a traditional system of 
village chiefs who, since 1992, are elected by secret ballot by all 
adults.  These leaders communicate constituents' wishes through a 
variety of channels, including periodic meetings, chaired by the Home 
Affairs Minister, with several officials appointed by the Sultan.

Substantial numbers of women serve at the junior and middle levels of 
Brunei's large government bureaucracy.  Nevertheless, at higher levels 
of the bureaucracy a clear pattern of discrimination exists.  Since 
independence, no woman has been appointed to head a ministry, and women 
continue to be passed over despite the fact that there are by now a 
number of well-qualified candidates for promotion to positions at 
permanent secretary and deputy minister levels.  A woman now serves as 
an intermediate court judge, the highest judicial position held by 

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There are no government or private organizations that deal specifically 
with the protection of human rights.  Given the tight restrictions on 
freedom of speech and press and the Government's unwillingness to 
tolerate criticism, any group or individual attempting to investigate 
and report publicly on human rights issues would face severe 
constraints.  There were no known allegations of abuses or requests to 
visit by international human rights groups.

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status

Except for religion (see Section 2.c.), the Constitution does not 
contain specific provisions prohibiting discrimination based on the 
factors listed above.


The extent to which spousal abuse may occur and go unreported is not 
known.  However, in response to a growing perception that domestic 
violence is a serious problem, the police established a special unit to 
investigate allegations of spousal abuse in October 1994.  Approximately 
16 cases of domestic abuse were reported to police in the first half of 
1995.  The Government has established a shelter for abused women, and 
reportedly there were four residents there in 1995.  In January the 
Government initiated a well-publicized telephone "hot line" to report 

The criminal penalty for a minor domestic assault is 1 to 2 weeks in 
jail and a fine.  An assault resulting in serious injury would be 
punished by caning and a longer jail sentence.  One area of apparent 
abuse involves female domestic servants.  While the level of violence in 
Bruneian society is low, beating of servants--or refusing them the right 
to leave the house on days off, sometimes on grounds that they "might 
encounter the wrong company"--is less socially unacceptable behavior.  
Since most female domestics are foreign workers who are highly dependent 
on their employers, those subject to abuse may be unwilling or unable to 
bring complaints, either to Bruneian authorities or to their 
governments' embassies in Brunei.  When such complaints are brought, 
however, the Government is generally quick to investigate allegations of 
abuse and impose fines and punishment as warranted.

In accordance with Koranic precepts, women are denied equal status with 
men in a number of important areas, such as divorce, inheritance, and 
custody of children.  Under the Brunei Nationality Act, citizenship is 
passed on through males only.  Female citizens who are married to 
foreigners or bear children by foreign fathers cannot pass on Bruneian 
citizenship to their children, even when such children are born in 
Brunei.  This has resulted in creation of a sizable population of 
stateless children, estimated at more than 5,000 residents, who are 
entitled to live in Brunei and be documented for travel by the 
Government, but who cannot enjoy the full privileges of citizenship, 
including the right to own land.

Although men are eligible for permanent positions in government service 
whether or not they hold university degrees, women who do not have 
university degrees are eligible to hold government positions only on a 
month-to-month basis.  While recent changes eliminated some previous 
inequities, women in month-to-month positions continue to receive 
slightly less annual leave and fewer allowances than their male and 
female counterparts in permanent positions.

Religious authorities strongly encourage Brunei Muslim women to wear the 
tudong, a traditional head covering, and many women do so.  Some Muslim 
women do not, however, and there is no official pressure on non-Muslim 
women to do so.  All female students in government-operated schools are 
required to wear the tudong, however, while students in nongovernment 
schools are officially encouraged to wear it.

There are no separate pay scales for men and women, and in recent years 
there has been a major influx of women into the work force.  Women serve 
in a wide variety of capacities in the armed forces, although they may 
not serve in combat.  The number of female university graduates is 
increasing, and nearly two-thirds of Brunei University's entering class 
is female.


There are no published statistics regarding the welfare of children.  
The strong commitment to family values within society, the high standard 
of living, and government funding for children's welfare provides most 
children a healthy and nurturing environment.  With a few exceptions 
involving small villages in extremely remote areas, nutritional 
standards are high, and poverty is almost unknown.  There were 18 
reported cases of child abuse in the first half of 1995.  

  People with Disabilities

While no legislation mandates accessibility or other assistance to 
disabled persons, they are well integrated into Brunei society and the 
workplace, due mainly to past and ongoing efforts of the Government and 
nongovernmental organizations to raise public consciousness.

  Indigenous People

The 6 percent of Brunei's population that is composed of indigenous 
peoples has long been integrated into Bruneian society, and enjoys the 
same rights as other citizens.

  National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Some members of non-Malay minorities, such as ethnic Chinese, including 
those born and raised in Brunei, are not automatically accorded 
citizenship and must travel abroad as stateless persons.

Section 6  Worker Rights

  a.  The Right of Association

Trade unions are legal in Brunei but must be registered with the 
Government.  There are three generally inactive registered trade unions, 
all of them in the oil sector, with a total membership amounting to less 
than 5 percent of that industry's work force.  All workers, including 
civil servants, other than those serving in the military and police, may 
form or join trade unions.  Unions are independent of the Government.  
The Trade Unions Act of 1962 permits the formation of trade union 
federations in Brunei but forbids affiliation with labor organizations 
outside Brunei.  An individual contract is required between an employer 
and each employee, but legal trade union activities cannot be deemed to 
violate employee contracts.  Local legal experts interpret this 
provision as conferring the right to strike, but there have been no 
strikes.  Brunei is not a member of the International Labor 

  b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Government has not prevented the legal registration of trade unions, 
nor has it dissolved any.  The Government did not interfere with lawful 
union activity.  It is illegal to refuse employment or discriminate 
against an employee on the basis of membership or nonmembership in a 
trade union.  While unions are legal and easy to register, conditions in 
Brunei are not conducive to the development of trade unions.  There is 
little interest on the part of workers in forming trade unions, and 
existing unions are not very active.  Brunei law is silent on collective 
bargaining, and it occurs in only a few industries.  There are few 
industries of the kind in which unions have traditionally developed.  
Also, cultural tradition favors consensus over confrontation.  Wage and 
benefit packages are based on market conditions and tend to be generous.

There are no export processing zones.

  c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced labor, and it is not practiced.

  d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Chapter XI of the Labor Enactment Laws of 1954 prohibits employment of 
children below the age of 16.  Parental consent and approval by the 
Labor Commission is required for those below the age of 18.  Women under 
age 18 may not work at night or on offshore oil platforms.  The 
Department of Labor (DOL), which is a part of the Ministry of Home 
Affairs, effectively enforces laws on the employment of children.  There 
were no reports of violations of the child labor laws.

  e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

Skilled labor is in short supply, and market forces enable most citizens 
to command good salaries.  There is no minimum wage.  The standard 
workweek is Monday through Thursday and Saturday, with Friday and Sunday 
off, allowing for two 24-hour rest periods each week.  Overtime is paid 
for work in excess of 48 hours a week, and double time is paid for work 
performed on legal holidays.  Occupational health and safety standards 
are established by government regulations.  The DOL inspects working 
conditions on a routine basis and in response to complaints.  The DOL 
generally enforces labor regulations effectively.  However, in the 
unskilled labor sector enforcement is lax, especially for foreign 
laborers.  The DOL is empowered to close any workplace where health, 
safety, or working conditions are unsatisfactory, and it has done so in 
the past.


[end of document]


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