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.