Sunday, 14 April 2019

Will George Clooney's boycott of the Brunei owned hotels work?

It's been two weeks since Hollywood actor George Cloney called for a boycott of the nine luxury hotels that make up the Dorchester Collection over the introduction of strict Sharia (Islamic) laws that could see gay sex or adultery be punished by being stoned to death in the tiny oil-rich Nation of Brunei, the so-called abode of peace. 

The Dorchester Group is owned Brunei Investment Agency, which in turn is owned by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the ruler of Brunei and the instigator of the new strict penal code which began to be implemented in 2014 and has continued until this latest raft of laws which came into effect on 3rd April.  Under the new laws, theft will be punished by the amputation of a hand for a first offence and the amputation of a foot for a second offence. Having an abortion could result in a prison sentence, yet a husband can rape his wife, as long as she's over 13 with impunity because the law says rape isn't a crime in marriage. 

"Under international law, stoning people to death constitutes torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and is thus clearly prohibited," a spokesman for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Rupert Colville told a news conference in early April. Yet, children in Brunei are told to only use small stones, if attending a stoning, so they don't kill the prisoner too quickly!

Joining in the boycott of the luxury hotels are Ellen DeGeneres, Elton John, John Simpson, Stephen Fry and Dustin Lance Black among others. In the UK some MPs have called for the country to be punished with sanctions and even being expelled from the Commonwealth.  There have been calls for the Sultan to be stripped of his honours. Some companies, including Virgin Australia and Transport for London, have withdrawn tourism advertisements for Brunei because of the law.

But will it work, will such a boycott make the Sultan change his mind and repeal the laws?  

Unlikely, as in a recent speech, since the boycott was launched, he said: "I want to see Islamic teaching in this country grow stronger and more visible.".  

As far as the hotels go, it's hard to say for sure, there have been some cancellations, the UK's Police Federation has confirmed it will be making changes to its forthcoming bravery awards, "In light of recent events, we have decided not to host our annual Police Bravery Awards at The Dorchester Hotel and will be seeking an alternative venue." they said in a statement. Its chairman John Apter tweeted, "I can confirm that following recent events we have made the decision to move the @PFEW_HQ Bravery Awards away from the #Dorchester Hotel. My values, the PFEW and policing as a whole would not allow us to be associated with such a regime."

The review and booking site Trip Advisor has put the following message on its site "TripAdvisor has been made aware of recent media reports or events concerning this property which may not be reflected in reviews found on this listing. Accordingly, you may wish to perform additional research for information about this property when making your travel plans." although it also deleted a number of one-star reviews for the hotels concerned and it still allows you to book the hotels via its site, for which it earns a commission for. Other online booking sites, like Expedia and ebookers, haven't made any changes or added special announcements and so are still making money for the regime.

It seems like it is business as usual for the hotels, sure there have been a few protests outside some of them and the hotels concerned have deleted their social media pages, but little else has changed.

Even George Clooney himself is doubtful of the success of the boycott, "Brunei is a Monarchy and certainly any boycott would have little effect on changing these laws", he said. "But are we really going to help pay for these human rights violations?"


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