• Regional Consultation on Expression, Opinion and Religious Freedom in Asia Highlights Hazards in Criminalization and the Need for Movement to Change Paradigm

    Jakarta, 5 June 2015—HRRC participated in the Regional Consultation on Expression, Opinion and Religious Freedom in Asia held on 3-5 June 2015, in Jakarta, Indonesia. The consultation was organised by Bytes for All Pakistan, in collaboration with FORUM-ASIA, Global Partners Digital, the Association for Progressive Communication, the Internet Democracy Project, ICT Watch and KontraS. The organizers invited Dr. David Kaye, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, as well as his predecessor, Mr. Frank La Rue.

    Dr. Kaye, in his keynote speech, observed that we live in a transitional moment, in a world where there are two overriding tensions: rule of law vs rule of identity. Rule of Law is described as the principle of being governed by objective rules adopted in democratic process, one of the aims of which is to protect the vulnerable. On the other hand, in rule of identity politics and law are constructed around an identity—either tribal, tradition, or way of seeing the world. Rule of identity, Dr. Kaye asserted, is of a great concern because the governing principle of identity is discriminatory. While he perceived that rule of identity has to be rejected, it would also be a mistake not to acknowledge the powerful hold of identity to people. Thus Dr. Kaye advocates for the implementation of Rabat Plan of Action, and to use it as a tool for advocacy. Its values should be consolidated, moving it from the international discourse to national implementation at the legal, political, and social levels.

    Mr. Frank La Rue noted that, while limitation of hate speech is in some contexts necessary, any limitation of the right needs to be for the purpose of protecting against violation of rights and should be necessary and proportional, pursuant to Article 19 and 20 of ICCPR. He advocated for minimization of criminalization, recalling that while Article 19 includes the reputation and honour of individuals as a cause for limitation, it can take the form of defamation as a civil law matter. Limitation based on national security, public order, public health and public moral, Mr. La Rue emphasized, has to be clearly defined and cannot be decided or issued by the implementing authorities.

    Attended by human rights defenders, activists and journalists from various parts of Asia, the consultation served as a forum to discuss and debate issues related to freedom of religious expression in Asia. During the two and a half days, discussions amongst participants noted the regional trends and challenges related to freedom of expression in the context of religion, including politicization of religion—which gives rise to reluctance on the part of the State to bring perpetrators to justice for fear of losing popular support, if not outright legitimization of human rights violations. It was also noted that there is a revitalization of the discourse on defamation of religion, coupled by reluctance by several governments in Asia to heed the international community to decriminalize blasphemy and apostasy. 

  • Keeping the Faith Roadshow: Discussion in Yogyakarta Underlines the Importance of Anti Discrimination Principles

    Yogyakarta, 30 May 2015—The “Keeping the Faith: A Study of Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion in ASEAN” discussion series arrived in Yogyakarta today. Held in collaboration with HRRC’s partner, the Law Faculty of Gadjah Mada University (UGM), the event was also organized with the support of the Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies (CRCS UGM), the Center for Human Rights Studies of the Islamic University of Indonesia (PUSHAM UII), and the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights.

    Ms. Lindayanti Sulistiawati SH, Msc, PhD, set the tone of the ensuing discussion in her opening remarks, reminding the audience that “Indonesia has been a melting pot for hundreds of years, a collection of people with diverse, ethnicities, languages, and faith.” Thus, she asserted the importance of discussing Indonesia’s position in terms of religious tolerance, and to also consider ASEAN’s role in this and other regional issues. Referring to the recent crisis relating to Ronghiya refugees, she emphasized that “We need to know where ASEAN is standing, now that ASEAN is about to open its doors to everyone.” Professor Tore Lindholm from the Oslo Coalition echoed the sentiment. He noted that Indonesia is one of the most important member states in the region, thus it is compelled to take the lead in human rights issues, including the refugee crisis. “There are measures that the government must do should the population demand it, including to help people in another country that need it.”  Thus he called for Indonesians and other citizens in ASEAN to cultivate a feeling of solidarity, not only because the persecuted are people of the same religion, but out of sheer humanity.

    Presenters at the event included Ms. Faith Delos Reyes, HRRC Research and Project Coordinator, who highlighted the trends in the region, and Dr. Zainal Abidin Bagir, the Director of CRCS and author of the Indonesia report in “Keeping The Faith.” Dr. Bagir underlined the fact that since the emergence of democracy in Indonesia in 1998, it has experienced progress in terms of acceding to human rights legal instruments. However, weak rule of law, politicization of religion, and the fact that democracy also opens the space for extremist groups are challenges that continue to occur. He observed that persecution of religious minorities is a result of the “State allowing people to use violence toward others they do not like, and allowing them to mobilize the population against minority groups.”

    Picking up the tone, Dr. Lena Larsen from the Oslo Coalition argued that “The State has the duty to protect religious interpretations, and this is difficult to implement with a monolithic understanding of religion.” A monolithic understanding of religion occurs when a religious norm becomes legalized, thus condemning any other interpretation deviating from that norm as a crime, as immoral, or a form of defamation. This practice suppresses crucial discussions from taking place, including with regard to gender equality, cautioned Dr Larsen.

    Mr. Eko Riyadi, the Director of PUSHAM UII, agreed with Dr. Larsen, noting that “It is most dangerous when the law is mixed with customs and power.” He asserted that discourse on freedom of religion and religious tolerance when placed in the context of theological debate will never be resolved. He suggested that it might be best to place the issue “in the context that the State has the duty to protect the rights of all human beings, whoever he is and whatever their belief or what they do not belief.” This sentiment was again underlined by Dr. Larsen at the end of discussion, stating that “The rules should be based on the principle of non-discrimination. This is the role and obligation of the State, in addition to guaranteeing well-being of the people, regardless of belief, race and other. This is the essence of the State, to provide justice for all people”.

    “Keeping the Faith” was produced with the support of the Norwegian Embassy in Jakarta. The HRRC also receives support from the WSD HANDA Center for Human Rights and International Justice, the East West Center, and the University of Indonesia. The last roadshow will take place on 29 June at the University of Philippines in Metro Manila. If you are interested to participate, please email us at info@hrrca.org.

  • “Keeping the Faith” Roadshow in Jakarta Highlights Importance of Multi-Disciplinary Discourse in Addressing Freedom of Religion in Indonesia

     
    Jakarta, 13 May 2015— The Human Rights Resource Centre, in collaboration with the Human Rights Center of the Law Faculty of the University of Indonesia (SENTRA HAM UI) and Abdurrahman Wahid Center at the University of Indonesia (AWC UI), today held a discussion on the findings of “Keeping the Faith: A Study of Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion in ASEAN.” As in the event in Bandung held earlier in the week, the resource persons and participants focused on the role of the state in protecting freedom of religion and belief. The event was opened by the Acting Executive Director of HRRC, Prof. Dr. Harkristuti Harkrisnowo, S.H.MA., and the Dean of the Law Faculty of University of Indonesia, Prof. Topo Santoso, S.H., M.H., Ph.D.
     
    Sharing the main findings of “Keeping The Faith” on the general trend of freedom of region and belief in ASEAN, Ms. Faith Delos Reyes, HRRC Research and Project Coordinator, highlighted the important role of civil society in supporting the state in maintaining religious harmony. She cited as examples grassroots activities like the Panzagar movement to halt hate speech in Myanmar and religious organisations such as the Muhammadiyah and Nahdhatul Ulama in Indonesia that endorse moderate religious views and recognize equal rights of religious minorities. She however also emphasized the importance of good governance, rule of law, and the state’s involvement as a neutral mediator in inter-belief dialogue.
     
    Focusing on the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, Ms. Delos Reyes said that ”While not a perfect document, the Declaration is a political statement that shows the willingness of Member States to improve human rights, including freedom of religion and belief. ASEAN as a region is interlinked, and this has become increasingly clear with calls from across the region to address the situation of the Rohingyas. Human rights problems of one country do impact neighbouring ones, and we should engage with the Member States and urge them to realise the commitments expressed in the Declaration as well as in other international instruments they are Parties to.”
     
    Dr. Zainal Abidin Bagir, Director of the Center for Religious and Cross Cultural Studies (CRCS) at Gadjah Mada University and author of the Indonesia country report in “Keeping the Faith,” focused on the country’s freedom of religion situation. “Law both shapes the society and is shaped by the society. Thus, engagement with the society is important to end discrimination and persecution against religious and belief minorities.” Specifically on the Law on Anti-Blasphemy in Indonesia, “there is a need to raise awareness in the society to repeal laws that open the room or pathway toward intolerance,” Dr. Bagir emphasized.
     
    The Coordinator of AWC UI, Mr. Ahmad Suaedy, agreed with Dr. Bagir that the matter of protection of freedom of religion is not only about enactment and enforcement of laws. He emphasized the need for non-politicized forums for religious harmony as well as strong political will that is expressed by ensuring there is protection for law enforcers who resist communal pressure to discriminate and persecute minorities. “Problems related to religion and belief cannot be solved only by religious leaders,” he emphasized, “they have to be discussed and solved by involving other actors such as government agencies, law practitioners, city experts, and urban planners.”
     
    Echoing this stance, the Chairperson of SENTRA HAM, Dr. Hadi Purnama, quoted Roscoe Pound and said that “Law is a tool of social engineering.” There is a need for a legal system that is built by involving relevant actors, which provides consistent protection to minorities from the highest to the lowest legal instrument. He called upon the Ministry of Law and Human Rights to take a more active role in ensuring quality and consistency of legal instruments relating to freedom of religion in Indonesia.
     
    “Keeping the Faith” was produced with the support of the Norwegian Embassy in Jakarta. The HRRC also receives support from the WSD HANDA Center for Human Rights and International Justice, the East West Center, and the University of Indonesia. The roadshow kicked off during the ASEAN People’s Forum in April in Kuala Lumpur. The next roadshows will take place on 30 May at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta and June 29 in Manila. If you are interested to participate, please email us at info@hrrca.org.
  • “Keeping the Faith” Roadshow in Bandung Discusses the Role of the State in Upholding Freedom of Religion in Indonesia and Other Multi-Faith Countries

     
    Bandung, 11 May 2015—Today the Human Rights Resource Centre, together with the Community for Human Rights of the Law Faculty of Padjadjaran University (PAHAM FH UNPAD), held a discussion on the role of the state in protecting freedom of thought, conscience and religion (FOTCR) at the Law Faculty of Padjadjaran University in Bandung. This event is part of a series of workshops for the dissemination of “Keeping the Faith: A Study of Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion in ASEAN.”
     
    The event was attended by representatives from civil society organizations and local offices of the Ministry of Religious Affairs from a number of regions in West Java as well as academicians and university students.
     
    In his opening remarks, Dr. Gusman Siswandi, Director of Cooperation of Padjadjaran University Law Faculty, noted the importance of holding discussions and encouraging healthy discourse on freedom of religion among various stakeholders. Ms. Faith Delos Reyes, HRRC’s Research and Project Coordinator, shared the main findings of “Keeping the Faith” with regard to the general trend of freedom of religion and belief in the region. She outlined three main factors that threaten FOTCR in a number of ASEAN member countries, namely politicization of religion, ethno-religious nationalism, and weak rule of law. She noted that ASEAN Member States regulate religion differently, but “what is crucial in preventing religious intolerance and persecution is the state’s commitment and ability to afford all groups with equal protection,” she emphasized. “It is necessary for a state to balance the interests of different groups through rule of law.”
     
      
     
    The Director of PAHAM FH UNPAD, Dr. Susi Harjanti, focused on the legal system in Indonesia, stating that “the concept of human rights will be meaningless without the instrument to implement it.” She pointed to the need for good legal drafting and consistency among the legal instruments in Indonesia. Particularly on freedom of religion, Dr. Harjanti stressed the importance of dialogue in order to formulate the best way to protect this freedom in Indonesia.
     
    Dr. Zainal Abidin Bagir, Director of the Center for Religious and Cross Cultural Studies (CRCS) at Gadjah Mada University and author of the Indonesia country report in “Keeping the Faith,” concurred that “Discussions on different interpretations of legal and religious concepts are necessary, and a legal system should accommodate rather than restrict such discourse.” Dr. Bagir also reflected on the condition of FOTCR in Indonesia post 1998 and the international discourse on human rights. “Protection of freedom of religion should not be hindered by discussions or objections based on conceptual critique of the international human rights regime. It is clear that there are victims of discrimination and persecution, and the state should not fail to protect them.”
     
    “Keeping the Faith” was produced with the support of the Norwegian Embassy in Jakarta. The HRRC also receives support from the WSD HANDA Center for Human Rights and International Justice, the East West Center, and the University of Indonesia. The roadshow kicked off during the ASEAN People’s Forum in April in Kuala Lumpur. This month, the HRRC will be hosting discussions on 13 May at the Depok Campus of University of Indonesia, 15 May at Udayana University in Bali, and 30 May at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta.
  • “Keeping the Faith” Roadshow Comes to Singapore to Explore Best Practices and Challenges in Promoting Inter-Belief Harmony

     
    Singapore, 30 April 2015—The Human Rights Resource Centre today presented its latest research study, “Keeping the Faith: A Study of Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion in ASEAN,” at the National University of Singapore. The event was hosted by the Centre for Asian Legal Studies (CALS), headed by Professor Andrew Harding.
     
    During his remarks as Guest of Honour, H.E. Bilahari Kausikan,
 Ambassador-at-Large and Policy Advisor at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, speaking in his personal capacity, argued for a practical approach to human rights and for the recognition “that not all rights are compatible or capable of simultaneous realization.” He then highlighted the important role of the state in maintaining the balance among conflicting belief systems. He observed that the conception of rights that is predominant in the west is one in which rights are held by the individual against an overly powerful state. “But the essential problem in much of the rest of the world, and in my view certainly in Southeast Asia as regards freedom of belief, arises when the state is too weak to hold the balance between competing belief systems or too timid to be willing to resist political pressures to privilege one belief system over another.” Thus, Ambassador Kausikan said that it is a matter of determining the most urgent priority—which will vary according to specific circumstances. “You cannot—or at least only very rarely can—do everything simultaneously, particularly when the state is weak.”
     
     
      
     
    According to Mr. Eugene Tan, Associate Professor of Law at the Singapore Management University and author of the report on Singapore, the state’s neutral stance in mediating conflicts and its firm commitment to having all parties take part in regular dialogues have helped trust- and confidence-building, ensuring that different beliefs co-exist harmoniously in Singapore. Tan, however, cautioned that intrusive government regulation could stifle religious groups’ ability to engage each other as well as hamper society’s effort to nurture resilience against forces that seek to divide in the name of religion. “Governments have to provide ample space for people to practise their faith as well as be fair and even-handed in how they treat the various religious and belief systems, including those who subscribe to none,” he said.
     
        
     
    Dr. Jaclyn Neo, lead researcher of the study, pointed to the implications on regional peace and security of states’ failure to deal with concerns relating to freedom of religion or belief within their respective countries. She stressed the important role of ASEAN, noting positively that the ASEAN Foreign Ministers had committed in September 2014 and again in January 2015 to work with the international community to fight against extremism, radicalism and terrorism and, most importantly, address its root causes. Aside from governments taking a more active role, Dr. Neo said that religious adherents and religious networks could also contribute to inter-belief harmony. “In ASEAN, a religion that is the minority in one country is the majority religion in another. One possibility that could be explored is for religious adherents to assist their co-religionists in another state in bridging disagreements with other belief systems.”
     
    The Study, consisting of 10 country reports and a Synthesis Report, is the product of experts and researchers working in the fields of law, government, human rights, and/or academia, who are mostly citizens of ASEAN Member-States. The HRRC’s regional road show kicked off during the ASEAN People’s Forum in Kuala Lumpur earlier this April. The next dialogues are planned to be held in Bangkok and Bandung on 11 May. 
     

    *The views of government representatives or participants and guest speakers in HRRC events do not represent the views of the Human Rights Resource Centre, which is an independent, not-for-profit partnership network spanning 7 out of 10 ASEAN countries and headquartered at the University of Indonesia.

  • At the ASEAN Peoples Forum in Malaysia, eliminating intolerance, discrimination and hatred based on religious beliefs remains key to the agenda

    Kuala Lumpur, 24 April 2015—As Defence Ministers in ASEAN gather and consider the Malaysian government’s proposal to set up an ASEAN Peacekeeping Force to secure regional stability following the rise of Islamic State, ongoing discussions at the ASEAN People’s Forum centre on how regional actors can work together to foster tolerance and respect, and ensure the peaceful coexistence of religious groups in ASEAN.  Together with the Global Movement of Moderates, researchers and staff will today be discussing the Human Rights Resource Centre’s most recent study, Keeping the Faith, with a focus on the situation for freedom of religion in ASEAN’s Muslim majority states (Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam) and Myanmar. 

    Researcher for Malaysia, Ms Long Seh Lih of the Malaysian Centre for Human Rights and Constitutionalism, was keen to address the issues but also ensure the focus was on human rights. “Right now, Malaysia is facing a number of challenges when it comes to freedom of religion. Of particular concern for us is the rise of sporadic acts of intolerance which continue to rupture the fabric of Malaysian society," Long said. “Yet we don’t want to fuel the fire or give credence to those who engage in such incidents by making it a religious issue: the discussion should be focussed on our common humanity and why we all need to work together to prevent these acts from occurring.”

    Similarly, Dr Jaclyn Neo of the Faculty of Law at the National University of Singapore thought the focus should be on efforts that are working, rather than those that aren’t. “I think it’s important to both look at the trends and acknowledge the concerns, and in this regard we will be focussing on ethno-religious nationalism, weak rule of law and the politicisation of religion,” Neo noted.  “However, it’s not enough to stop there. There has already been some strong evidence of the positive things grassroots mobilization and community engagement can achieve, and we want to ensure we highlight that.”

    The ASEAN people’s forum continues in Kuala Lumpur today. An estimated 1,600 civil society groups have gathered in Kuala Lumpur to consider key human rights and development issues across the region.  The Human Rights Resource Centre has taken this opportunity to launch it’s regional roadshow of Keeping the Faith across ASEAN and will present the Study in Singapore, Bangkok, Bandung, Jakarta, Bali and the Philippines together with many of its partner institutions.

  • HRRC Presents "Keeping the Faith: A Study of Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion in ASEAN" in Oslo

     

    Jakarta, 24 March 2015—On 12 March 2015, the Human Rights Resource Centre presented “Keeping the Faith: A Study of Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion in ASEAN” at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights (NCHR), University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway. The launch seminar for the HRRC’s latest report was hosted by the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief (OC), which is headed by its Project Director, Ms. Lena Larsen. 
     
    Ms. Inga Bostad, Director of the NCHR, welcomed around 40 participants from academia, governments, and CSOs to the launch. Ambassador Petter Wille of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway also addressed the attendees at the start of the program. Ms. Michelle Staggs Kelsall, HRRC’s Deputy Director, gave the background of the study, including its purpose and methodology as well as the ASEAN context. 
     
    The lead researcher of the study, Dr. Jaclyn L. Neo of the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore, presented the main findings of the report. Aside from discussing the ASEAN legal framework, Dr. Neo highlighted areas of increasing intolerance and conflict in the region. Drawing trends from the country reports, Dr. Neo argued that politicization of religion, ethno-religious nationalism, religious conservatism, and weak state are key factors contributing to religious intolerance in ASEAN.
     
    A brief discussion of the Indonesian country report between Mr. Aksel Tømte (NCHR Indonesia Program) and Ms. Aviva Nababan (HRRC Governing Board Member) then followed. Iselin Frydenlund (NCHR researcher) and Faith Delos Reyes (HRRC Research and Project Coordinator) thereafter discussed the Myanmar country report. A panel discussion was then held, with the team from HRRC answering questions that focused mostly on the ASEAN framework and the factors that surround religious conflict in the region. Mr. Tore Lindholm, Professor Emeritus at NCHR, concluded the program with his remarks.
     
      
     
    The HRRC also discussed the findings of the study with Master students of the Human Rights program of the University of Oslo the following day on 13 March. The launch in Oslo marks the start of the roadshow HRRC will be conducting together with partner universities to encourage discussion of the report. News on the next discussion forums will follow.
     
    “Keeping the Faith: A Study of Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion in ASEAN,” was funded by the Norwegian Embassy in Indonesia. The HRRC receives continuous support from the WSD HANDA Center for Human Rights and International Justice and the University of Indonesia.
  • The Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief to Host a Launch Seminar on "Keeping the Faith: A Study of Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion in ASEAN"

     
    Jakarta, 2 March 2015—On 12 March, the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief (OC) will be hosting a launch seminar for the Human Rights Resource Centre's latest report “Keeping the Faith: A Study of Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion in ASEAN.” There will be a panel discussion with the lead researcher, Dr. Jaclyn L. Neo of the Faculty of Law, National University of Singapore. Michelle Staggs Kelsall, HRRC Deputy Director; Faith Delos Reyes, HRRC Research and Project Coordinator; and Aviva Nababan, HRRC Rule of Law Program Coordinator will also be presenting and joining discussions at the launch. Comments will be given by experts at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights (NCHR). The HRRC will also be presenting the main findings of the study to Master students of the Human Rights program of the University of Oslo the following day on 13 March.
     
    The OC is an international programme at the NCHR. Relying on an international network of representatives from religious and other life-stance communities, NGOs, international organisations and research institutes, and also on its Advisory Council, the OC works to advance freedom of religion or belief as a common benefit that is accepted and embraced by all persuasions. 
     
    “Keeping the Faith: A Study of Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion in ASEAN,” was supported by the Norwegian Embassy in Indonesia. Download the report here.
     
    Read more about the launch event here.

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