Freedom of Religion and Belief and the Challenge of Intolerance in ASEAN: Tolerant Groups Should Be More Vocal to Counter Intolerance

Jakarta, 7 December 2015—In commemoration of the upcoming Human Rights Day, which is on 10 December, the Indonesian Representative for AICHR and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands in Indonesia held a viewing of “Timbuktu” followed by a discussion on “Freedom of Religion and Belief and the Challenge of Intolerance in ASEAN.” It was the fifth and final discussion in a series of debate on ASEAN and Human Rights this year. Previous ones highlighted the human rights architecture of ASEAN, human rights and migration, business and human rights, and gender-based violence. HRRC attended the event and distributed the Indonesian translation of the Synthesis and Indonesia Country Report of Keeping the Faith: A Study of Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion in ASEAN to the participants.

Timbuktu is a film directed by Abderrahmane Sissako which captures how an armed religious jihadist group enforced their brand of Syariah and affected the lives of the community in a desert area nearby Timbuktu, Mali. The film showed how freedoms, from making music, playing soccer, to how women should dress and who to marry were slowly taken away. The movie was disconcerting and served as a good prelude to the discussion on freedom of religion in Indonesia and ASEAN.

H.E. Rob Swartbol, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to Indonesia, in his opening remarks noted how 10 December is an important date as it commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the same date in 1948. He noted that “While universality (of human rights) is beyond question, the world is still struggling with their implementation.”

The Indonesian Representative to the AICHR, Mr. Rafendi Djamin, in opening the dialogue remarked on the progress in the ASEAN human rights architecture, including the signing of the ASEAN Convention on Trafficking in Persons (ACTIP) last month. He also noted that the signing of the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on ASEAN 2025 is a very important event for human rights in the region. It further affirms the vision of ASEAN Community beyond economic integration to include the social and political ones. In order to realize this vision of a region that is united in diversity, answering challenges to democracy and human rights, including the enforcement of freedom of religion and belief, is extremely crucial. He further noted that the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) adopts the UDHR’s precedent in rendering it a non-derogable right. The question that remains is how to implement this normative agreement. Mr. Djamin pointed to the fact that in December 2015 seven of AICHR representatives will end their term, including himself. He expressed his fervent hope that the progress made by the organ, including pursuing the realization of freedom of religion and belief in the region, will be followed up by the new representatives.

Also attending the dialogue were Prof Dr H.M. Machasin, MA, Director General for the Guidance for Moslem Community, Ministry of Religious Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia, and Dr. Abdurrahman M. Fachir, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia. Both speakers outlined how Indonesia is in fact a country where tolerance is part of its culture. The founding of the nation reflected this, with the decision in 18 August 1945 to delete the provision in the draft constitution obliging Moslems to follow Shariah. However, this tradition needs to be defended as there are groups who would like to undermine it.

“In Indonesia we need people to be courageous,” Prof. Machasin stated, referring to pressures exerted by intolerant groups to enforce policies that harm minorities. Dr. Fachir also encouraged the audience to wield one of the most influential factors in the globalized world, social media. He insisted that “It is our obligation to flood it with positive content. Discussing positive values in respecting human rights, dialogue and tolerance,” to counter messages of intolerance.

Prof. Machasin acknowledged there are challenges in resolving the existing religious conflicts but encouraged people not to judge the state of the nation by the acts of a few bad actors. He also cautioned the audience to scrutinize closely what are being branded as religious conflicts in Indonesia. He found that most of these conflicts are in fact motivated by resources or politics, but religion is brought forth as justification. This, he impressed, is why in overcoming such conflicts a multi-faceted approach needs to be employed.