Covering events from January - December 2003

Six members of a banned religious group were reportedly detained without charge or trial. Criminal suspects were sentenced to caning. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child considered Brunei's initial report and made recommendations.


The monarch, Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, continued to exercise a wide range of executive powers, holding the offices of Prime Minister, Defence Minister, Finance Minister and head of the police. Under the state of emergency declared in 1962 constitutional provisions safeguarding fundamental liberties remained suspended. The sole opposition party remained inactive.

Arrests under the Internal Security Act

The Internal Security Act (ISA) allows the Minister of Home Affairs, with the approval of the Sultan, to detain any person deemed to be a threat to national security or public order. The Minister is empowered to sign two-year detention orders renewable indefinitely. ISA detainees are denied the rights to a trial, to legal counsel and to be presumed innocent. During prolonged interrogation, while held in isolation and denied access to lawyers, family members and independent medical attention, ISA detainees were at risk of ill-treatment or torture.

  • Six alleged former members of the Al-Arqam Islamic religious group were detained under the ISA in September. The six were alleged to have been involved in attempts to revive the group and to have been in contact with the group's former leader in Malaysia. Al-Arqam, which had maintained a wide membership and extensive business interests in the region, was banned in 1991 for religious teachings that "deviated" from the officially recognized Shafeite School of Islam.

Death penalty and corporal punishment

The trials of four Malaysian nationals facing the death penalty for alleged drugs offences continued. Although death sentences have been imposed for drugs and other serious criminal offences in recent years, no executions were known to have been carried out since 1957. Caning continued to be carried out as a mandatory punishment for a range of criminal offences.

Rights of the child and juvenile justice

Pursuant to reporting obligations under the UN Children's Convention – the sole international human rights treaty ratified by Brunei – government representatives presented an initial report before the Committee on the Rights of the Child in September. While welcoming high standards of health care and school enrolment, the Committee expressed concern about a number of issues including the absence of a juvenile justice system; the detention of children together with adults; and the use of caning as a form of punishment for boys. It urged that juvenile offenders under the age of 18 be held separately from adults and that non-discriminatory legislative measures be taken to prohibit all forms of physical and mental violence against children, including corporal punishment, in state institutions and within the family. The Committee also recommended the establishment of a national human rights institution and systematic cooperation with civil society to better ensure the monitoring and implementation of the Convention.

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