Countries in the Pacific and Southeast Asia — from Kiribati to Brunei — are home to some of the world's harshest anti-LGBTQ+ laws. While the regulation of sexuality in the area broadly stems from colonial-era laws, each country’s legislation is different.
Still, some similarities exist across the region. LGBTQ+ people are criminalised and punished; in many cases the language used in penal codes is outdated and offensive; and members of the community face discrimination and homophobia on a daily basis.
Tuvalu, a country of just 11,000, has outlawed same-sex marriage and sex between men.
The nation also has no system to protect or support LGBTQ+ individuals in the aftermath of hate crimes. While same-sex relations between men are forbidden, there is little to suggest that Tuvalu’s leaders hold anyone accountable in instances where the law is breached.
There are no laws criminalising sexual activity between women nor laws restricting the discussion of LGBTQ+ topics.
"Any person who commits buggery (anal sex) with another person … or permits a male person to commit buggery with him or her, shall be guilty of a felony, and shall be liable to imprisonment,” the Tuvalu Penal Code reads.
"Buggery” holds a 14-year prison sentence for men and women while “indecent practices between males” has five years.
The Soloman Islands criminalises same-sex marriage, sex between two men and sex between two women. The nation’s 1996 penal code uses derogatory and stigmatising terms to criminalise these acts, referring to them as acts of “buggery,” “gross indecency,” “unnatural offences” and “indecent practices.”
The laws, however, appear to have been predominantly obsolete in practice over the past 15 or so years.
The act or attempted act of “gross indecency” with an individual of the same sex is punishable with up to five years imprisonment. “Buggery” has a penalty of 14 years in jail.
Both men and women can be criminally prosecuted in Brunei for same-sex relations.
Brunei’s Syariah Penal Code Order 2013 — a new code that went into effect in 2019 — includes provisions that specifically target transgender and gender-diverse individuals. Clause 198 of the code states that men who “dress and pose” as a woman or vice versa can be fined between B$1,000 and B$3,000 and be jailed for up to one year.
If a man is married and found to be having sex with another man, he can be sentenced to death by stoning, with the penal code stating the stoning should be witnessed by a group of Muslims. If an unmarried man has sex with another man, he can be whipped with 100 stokes, as witnessed by a group of Muslims, and sentenced to one year in jail.
A woman who has sex with other women can be fined B$40,000, whipped 40 times and sent to prison for 10 years.
International outrage over Brunei's Syariah Penal Code — specifically the code's same-sex death penalty — erupted in 2019, with celebrities like George Clooney and Ellen DeGeneres leading protests. In response, Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah extended a moratorium on the penalty — which has remained in place since.
New legislation is expected to be tabled this coming October, which would officially abolish the penalty for good.
Papua New Guinea
Men in Papua New Guinea can be criminalised for same-sex sexual activity under the nation's Criminal Code 1974. Sexual penetration by a man to another man has been labelled "against the order of nature" under the "unnatural offences" section of the code.
Same-sex sexual activity between men comes with a prison sentence of up to 14 years. Attempts to commit the act are subjected to imprisonment for up to seven years, while "indecent practises between males" can be punishable with three years.
In 2015, a man named Joe Sevese was found guilty of "indecent practises between males" and sentenced to two years imprisonment. The enforcement of the law against Sevese was the last publicly known prosecution.
Same-sex sexual activity between men is prohibited under the Cook Islands’ Crimes Act, which includes provisions like “indecency between males” or acts of “sodomy” — an offensive, outdated term for anal or oral intercourse that promotes prejudice and stigma among the LGBTQ+ community.
An amended Crimes Act, put together in 2017, seeks to decriminalise homosexuality.
The drafted legislation has been sitting idle for five years.
"Indecency" between men is criminalised by up to five years imprisonment, while "sodomy" accompanies a jail time that must not exceed seven years. The Te Tiare Association — the only LGBTQ+ community group in the Cook Islands — says the law does not align with the nation's constitution, including rights to non-discrimination.
There is little evidence to suggest that the laws and prison sentences are enforced nationwide.
"Sodomy" between men is criminalised in Samoa, as is "keeping a place of resort for homosexual acts."
"A person who commits sodomy is liable where the act of sodomy is committed on a male, and at the time of the act that male is under the age of 16 years, and the offender is of or over the age of 21 years, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years," the nation's Crimes Act reads.
In 2013, the Samoan Government updated the Crimes Act, with key changes made to decriminalise female "impersonation" — a clause that predominantly impacts Samoa's Fa'afafine and Fa'afatama community of gender non-conforming people.
"Indecent acts" between males were also decriminalised in 2013.
Sexual orientation and HIV status were amended and added to protected employment laws the same year.
The maximum term for a person who commits "sodomy" to a female is seven years. The prison term is five years for a man who engages in a same-sex sexual relationship or attempts to engage in a relationship with another man over the age of 16.
Same-sex sexual activity is outlawed in Kiribati.
"Any male person who, whether in public or private, commits any act of gross indecency with another male person, or procures another male person to commit any act of gross indecency with him, shall be guilty of a felony, and shall be liable to imprisonment for five years,” the nation’s penal code states.
"Buggery” and “gross indecency” carry a maximum jail sentence of 14 years.
A US Department of State report from 2020 on human rights practises in Kiribati said, however, that “there have been no reports of prosecutions for many years.”
"There were no reports of investigations into violence and abuse against persons based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but social stigma and the inaccessibility of government services may prevent reporting of incidents of discrimination or violence based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” the report read.
Tonga has outlawed all same-sex relations and criminalises various forms of gender expression. The country’s Criminal Offences Act allows for corporal punishment, specifically whipping, for the individual convicted of “sodomy.”
"Whenever any male person shall be convicted of … [sodomy] ... the Court may, in its discretion in lieu of or in addition to any sentence of imprisonment … order the person so convicted to be whipped,” the act states.
Men and women face jail terms of a decade if found guilty of same-sex sexual activity.
While prosecutions under the law are rare, stigma, violence and discrimination against members of the LGBTQ+ community continue to exist. Last year, Polikalepo Kefu — one of the country’s leading LGBTQ+ activists and president of LGBTQ+ organisation Tonga Leitis Association — was murdered on a beach close to his home.