As the World Celebrates Interfaith Harmony Week, HRRC Launches New Study on Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion in ASEAN

Jakarta, 5 February 2014 — The Human Rights Resource Centre today announced its plans to conduct the first study by a group of ASEAN-wide researchers on freedom of thought, conscience and religion (FOTCR) following the adoption of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD).    

Encouraged by Article 22 of the AHRD, whereby ASEAN governments committed to eliminate “all forms of intolerance, discrimination and incitement of hatred based on religious beliefs,” the study will provide legal analysis on the extent to which FOTCR is guaranteed in ASEAN’s 10 member states. Trends in responding to religious intolerance will also be considered. The study builds on the work of the Indonesian Human Rights Working Group to raise the profile of the issue.

“ASEAN’s commitment to eliminating religious intolerance is commendable,” said the HRRC’s Executive Director, Marzuki Darusman. “The study will seek to provide policymakers with much-needed analysis on both the extent to which legislative protections of freedom of religion exist, and how such protections contribute positively to regional integration and to international peace and security.”  It is worth recalling that in 2012, during the opening of the 8th ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community Council Meeting, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had stressed the benefits of conducting such a study.

ASEAN has embarked on an impressive program of efforts to achieve regional integration, including committing under its Political-Security Community Blueprint to “cooperation in political development with shared responsibility for comprehensive security.”  Under Chapter VIII of the Charter of the United Nations, regional arrangements, including ASEAN, have a duty to make every effort to achieve the pacific settlement of local disputes. Recent debates at the Security Council suggest that this obligation may be extended to include a much broader range of cooperative efforts than historically envisaged, including preventive measures and conflict mediation in non-international armed conflicts. In this regard, the role of Malaysia in facilitating the recently concluded 17-year negotiations between the government of the Philippines and Moro Islamic Liberation Front can serve as inspiration.

“We are seeking to look both at analysis of the existing situation as well as any best practices or lessons learned from the region,” said Michelle Staggs Kelsall, the Centre’s Deputy Director.  “The Study is therefore both retrospective and prospective.  We hope that it will open up avenues for constructive discussions on the way forward in ASEAN to secure protections for all persons, regardless of their beliefs.”

Professor Tore Lindholm, Professor Emeritus at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights and Board Member of the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief, has agreed to be one of four expert advisers to the study.  “This is an important study, and one which highlights the importance of guaranteeing freedom of religion, thought and conscience in a region with a wide variety of beliefs, particularly bearing in mind the goals of integration,” Professor Lindholm stated.

Researchers for the study have been recruited from 8 out of 10 ASEAN countries, with all 10 countries being considered.  Additionally, the HRRC will endeavour to engage in consultations with representatives from the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission for Human Rights, ASEAN governments and the ASEAN Secretariat, as well as civil society and religious groups, throughout the drafting process.

Results from the study will be released in the latter half of 2014.  Funding for the study comes from the Embassy of Norway in Jakarta.