WASHINGTON — A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers are urging the government to leverage trade talks with Brunei to convince the country to eliminate new laws that the representatives say violate human rights.
The sultan of Brunei recently began phasing in laws that include death sentences for LGBT people and imprisonment for women who have abortions. The United States is currently negotiating a trade deal with Brunei and 10 other nations, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Led by Wisconsin Democrat Rep. Mark Pocan and Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the group is circulating a letter to members of the House that calls on Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to force Brunei to "address these human rights issues" before continuing to negotiate with them. Reuters reported that 20 lawmakers, mostly Democrats, have pledged to sign the letter.
"The United States must make it clear that we will not tolerate such abuses," the draft letter reads. "International trade partners have much to gain from an economic relationship with the United States, and our trade agreements should insist that participating countries adhere to internationally recognized civil, political, and human rights standards."
Other Democrats circulating the letter include Reps. Rosa DeLauro, Louise Slaughter, and Henry Waxman.
The State Department previously told BuzzFeed Brunei's laws would not be factored into TPP negotiations, but they would be "closely monitoring how new rules" in Brunei will be implemented.
Brunei's laws were brought into the national spotlight several weeks ago when several Hollywood celebrities publicly supported a boycott of two top Los Angeles hotels owned by the Brunei government.
Here is the text of the draft letter:
Dear Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Froman:
We write to express our concern over the Government of Brunei Darussalam's recently adopted penal code, which threatens the human rights of minority groups including women, religious minorities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, and urge you to insist that Brunei address these human rights violations as a condition of the United States participating with them in any further Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade negotiations.
As Members of Congress, we believe that protecting fundamental human rights is a cornerstone of American values and must always be a priority in our relations, both diplomatic and economic, with foreign countries. The United States is committed to protecting the rights of religious minorities, LGBT individuals and women across the globe. Moreover, time and again, the United States has spoken out against anti-LGBT activity and discriminatory laws in countries like Nigeria and Uganda and against unequal protection of women, in countries such as Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, and against the persecution of religious minorities in the Central African Republic, China, and Pakistan.
Brunei's adoption of the revised penal code legalizes violence against its citizens, constituting torture or other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. The United States must make it clear that we will not tolerate such abuses. International trade partners have much to gain from an economic relationship with the United States, and our trade agreements should insist that participating countries adhere to internationally recognized civil, political, and human rights standards. Targeting LGBT individuals or religious minorities and opening the door for discrimination and violence against women is a threat we cannot overlook, and should trade agreements like the TPP go into effect with the participation of human rights violators, the United States would lose its leverage to provide economic pressure on countries to reverse unacceptable policies.
As the world's largest economy, the United States holds a significant place in world affairs and must use this position to address human rights atrocities in countries like Brunei. According with all applicable rules and regulations, we urge you to insist that Brunei address these human rights violations as a condition before the United States enter into any trade negotiations.