Congressional members call on U.S. to suspend trade negotiations with Brunei until it revokes anti-gay criminal code

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U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan

A group of 119 members of Congress, including U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, called on Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to stop any further negotiations with the government of Brunei Darussalam on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement until Brunei addresses its human rights violations — part of its newly adopted a penal code.

An ever-growing coalition of groups — including LGBT and women's rights organizations — is calling for the U.S. to stop trade negotiations until Brunei revokes its criminal code.

Pocan, who is openly gay, drafted the letter to Kerry and Froman. It said:

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 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.