• 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.
  • First Comprehensive Guidance for Companies on Human Rights Reporting Launches in London

     
    by SHIFT, London, 24 February 2015—The first comprehensive guidance for companies to report on human rights issues in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) launches today in London. The guidance, the United Nations Guiding Principles Reporting Framework, is the culmination of 18 months of research and consultation led by the leading centre of expertise on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Shift, and international accountancy firm Mazars.
     
    Companies from five different industries are early adopters of the Guiding Principles Reporting Framework, including Unilever – the first adopter – plus Ericsson, H&M, Nestlé and Newmont. Many other companies across industries are expected to start using the Reporting Framework in 2015.
     
    At an evening reception in London, Richard Howitt MEP will moderate a discussion about the importance of corporate reporting on human rights with Professor Ruggie, the author of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Jo Swinson, UK Minister for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs, and Marcela Manubens, Global VP for Social Impact at Unilever.
     
    Caroline Rees, President of Shift, comments, “The UN Guiding Principles Reporting Framework is a ground-breaking and vital tool for companies to know and show that they are managing risks to human rights effectively throughout their operations and value chain, with the potential for positive impact on millions of peoples’ lives. We are delighted by the positive reactions of companies, investors and civil society to the Reporting Framework thus far and we look forward to seeing many more businesses take it up in the future.”
     
          
     
    Sixty-seven investors representing $3.91 trillion assets under management have signed a statement of support for the Reporting Framework, calling it, “an essential tool for investors to review companies’ disclosure on their understanding and management of human rights risks, to incentivize improved disclosure on human rights issues, and to guide their engagement with companies.” 
     
    The Reporting Framework, organized in a series of ‘smart’ questions, enables companies to begin reporting on their human rights performance, regardless of size or how far they have progressed in implementing their responsibility to respect human rights. It is also designed to incentivize them to improve over time.
     
    Richard Karmel, Head of Human Rights at Mazars explains, “The Reporting Framework will act further as a guide to companies on how they can modify their behaviours and enhance their controls to reduce the potential for negative human rights impacts. The Reporting Framework places the focus of reporting on a company’s salient human rights issues: the human rights that are most severe, based on what the company does, where it works and with whom it works.”
     
    Although the Framework is relevant and accessible for all companies, recent growth in reporting requirements on human rights focus mostly on large and listed companies. In October 2014, the European Union adopted a directive requiring around 6,000 companies to disclose non-financial information, including human rights performance, by 2017. However, as Karmel concludes, “If 2017 reporting is to be meaningful, new approaches are needed for behavioural change – now. We see the Reporting Framework as a catalyst for this change.”
     
    Notes
    1. For additional information and to download the complete Reporting Framework, visit www.UNGPreporting.org.
    2. The Reporting Framework project is supported by the United Nations Working Group on Business and Human Rights and overseen by an Eminent Persons Group chaired by Professor John Ruggie, author of the UN Guiding Principles on Business. The project is facilitated by Shift, the leading centre of expertise on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, and international accountancy firm Mazars, in liaison with the Human Rights Resource Centre for ASEAN.
    3. The names of the lead investor signatories to the aforementioned statement of support for the Reporting Framework are listed below. Additional investors are listed in the investor statement. Additional investors are expected to sign the statement of support in the future.
      1. Boston Common Asset Management
      2. F & C Investments
      3. APG Asset Management
      4. Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR)
      5. Aviva Investors
      6. Calvert Investments
      7. Robeco
      8. Church of Sweden
      9. BNP Paribas Investment Partners
      10. MN Services
      11. Alliance Trust
      12. Rockefeller Sustainability and Impact Investing Group
      13. Hermes Equity Ownership Services
      14. Domini Social Investments LLC
      15. NEI Investments  
    4. Shift is the leading centre of expertise on the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. Founded in 2011, Shift’s team of experts works globally with businesses, governments, civil society and international organizations to embed the Guiding Principles into practice. Further information on Shift and its work is available at shiftproject.org.
    5. Mazars is an international, integrated and independent organisation, specialising in audit, advisory, accounting and tax services. As of 1 January 2015, the Group operates in 73 countries and draws on the expertise of 14,000 professionals to assist major international groups, SMEs, private investors and public bodies at every stage in their development. In the UK, Mazars has over 1,500 partners and staff serving clients from 20 offices.
  • Message from Chairman of the Governing Board Ong Keng Yong: Executive Director Marzuki Darusman leaves the Human Rights Resource Centre

     
    Jakarta/Singapore, 17 February 2015—We wish to announce today the resignation of Marzuki Darusman from the post of Executive Director of the Human Rights Resource Centre. 
     
    As the Centre’s first Executive Director, Pak Marzuki helped shape the vision of the organization and its core areas of research expertise, namely, rule of law; business and human rights; and the rights of vulnerable groups.  His depth of knowledge on the human rights situation in ASEAN, coupled with his insightful understanding of the governmental response to human rights in the region enabled the Centre to develop a strong reputation as an active human rights network during its foundational years. 
     
    We wish Pak Marzuki every success in his new endeavours.  We look forward to being able to invite him back as an expert for the Centre’s seminars and workshops. 
     
    Professor Harkristuti Harkrisnowo will serve as the Acting Executive Director of the Human Rights Resource Centre until a new Executive Director is appointed.
  • HRRC, SMU, CALS, and ASEAN CSR Network Hold Side Event at the ASEAN Next-Gen CSR Forum in Bali

     
    Denpasar, 5 February 2015—The year 2015 is significant both in terms of establishing the integrated ASEAN Economic Community and marking the target year for achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals. In this context, the ASEAN CSR Network is conscious of the key role the private sector plays in building a more sustainable, equitable and inclusive ASEAN as the region charts the way forward. Thus, together with its co-organisers, the ASEAN CSR Network is hosting the “ASEAN Next-Gen CSR Forum” from 3-6 February 2015 at the Laguna Resort in Bali, Indonesia. By tackling thematic issues such as corruption, sustainable agriculture, natural resource management and human rights, the forum aims to dig deeper into the responsibilities of business and offer tangible ways forward in addressing key ASEAN Challenges.
     
    Keeping well aware of the tremendous progress that can be achieved when business initiatives are in line with the vision of governments and civil society, the Human Rights Resource Centre, Singapore Management University, Centre for Applied Legal Studies and the ASEAN CSR Network hosted a side event on 4-5 February entitled “Roundtable & Consultation: Business and Human Rights National Action Plans.” A National Action Plan (NAP) would be an important means to strengthen protection against human rights abuses by business enterprises through an inclusive process of identifying needs and gaps as well as practical and actionable policy measures and goals.
     
    To set the tone for the discussions, Thomas Thomas, CEO of the ASEAN CSR Network gave opening remarks, while keynote addresses were given by H.E. Rafendi Djamin, Indonesia’s Representative to the AICHR, and Prof. Michael Addo, Chairperson of the UN Working Group for Business and Human Rights. Attended by around 100 participants and with speakers representing governments and civil society, including academicians, the side event discussed key business and human rights concerns in the region as well as the ASEAN perspectives and outlook with regard specifically to NAPs. The attendees also considered the process of developing and monitoring NAPs to secure compliance with the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework.
     
        
     
    Speakers from ASEAN governments included H.E. Dr. Seree Nonthasoot, Thailand’s Representative to the AICHR; H.E. Tan Sri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah, Malaysia’s Representative to the AICHR; H.E. Srun Thirith, Cambodia’s Representative to the AICHR; Prof. Dr. Aung Tun Thet, Economic Adviser to the President of Myanmar; Mr. Husendro, an Expert Staff in Commission 3 of the Indonesian Parliament; Mr. U Soe Phone Myint of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission; and Mr. Jose Manuel S. Mamauag of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines. The event also drew expertise from outside the region, with speakers from China, Japan, India, and Hong Kong.
  • Respect of Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion Essential to ASEAN Stability

    Jakarta, 5 February 2015—A recent article of the Bangkok Post, “Faith and peace a good mix for Asean stability,” highlighted the HRRC’s latest research project, “Keeping the Faith: A Study of Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion in ASEAN.” The article drew attention to the findings of the study, including the observation that in a religiously and ethnically diverse region like ASEAN, there is a close connection between religious freedom and peace and security. Thus, persecution and violations of religious freedom raise the risk of conflict that can threaten national and regional security.
     
     
    The article quoted H.E. Ong Kong Yong, Chairperson of HRRC’s Governing Board and former Secretary-General of the ASEAN, during his remarks at the launch of the study in Jakarta this January. Ong said that while ASEAN leaders for the past 10 years had made efforts to institutionalise the protection and promotion of human rights, “[w]e are still not perfect; we are still trying to navigate ourselves through these difficult areas.”
     
     
    Comprised of 10 country reports covering the state of religious freedom and belief in each of the ASEAN countries and a synthesis report, the study hopes to generate discussions so that views of different members of society could contribute to finding solutions to discrimination or persecution based on religion or belief. In this respect, the open forum during the launch of the study gave valuable insight. Commenters generally noted that the study is helpful and, more importantly, gave suggestions on how to improve future research on the area as well as possible next steps.
     
    In particular, the Representative of Malaysia to the ASEAN, H.E. Dato' Hasnudin bin Hamzah, proposed that good practices of ASEAN governments be emphasized more and that HRRC should consider doing research activities that would gather and collate raw data and first-hand information. Dr. Denison Jayasooria of the Society for the Promotion of Human Rights (PROHAM) suggested that HRRC provide the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) with a policy statement based on the study so that ASEAN countries could verify and address the issues highlighted. It was also suggested that the study be publicised and disseminated widely. Through this, governments and their agencies could possibly draw examples of good practices in governance. 
     
        
     
    A representative of the Human Rights Directorate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Indonesia, noted that the study does not provide suggestions to governments on what actions to take to address the issues raised in the study and suggested that HRRC provide recommendations. Ms. Michelle Staggs-Kelsall, Deputy Director of the HRRC, particularly appreciated this suggestion. Kelsall noted that HRRC had sought, through the study, to encourage debates and dialogues so that stakeholders could work together to find solutions. According to her, the suggestion to include recommendations “shows openness to suggestions of civil society.”
     
    Guests from countries outside ASEAN also provided their comments. A representative from the Embassy of Pakistan in Jakarta noted that the region is impacted by religious movements all over the world that contribute to religious extremism in Muslim countries. This factor, he noted, might be important in reshaping the future landscape and should be taken into account when considering how to address issues in the region.
     
    The study, which is funded by the Norwegian Embassy in Jakarta, had included a consultation process wherein experts gave their comments on the study while it was being drafted. Through this exercise, the HRRC was able to consider their observations and suggestions in drafting the final report. A group of NGOs had furnished HRRC with a letter stating that, “[i]n light of the concerns mentioned [in the letter], [they] consider it not only ineffective but also damaging for human rights proponents to apply/use the AHRD when assessing human rights performance or conduct in the region.” Demonstrating the richness and range of opinions in the region, a member of the faculty of the University of Indonesia expressed reservations during the launch in January on the use of Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as a normative baseline for the research, voicing a stronger preference for Article 22 of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD).  
     
    In response to the said letter, Professor Tore Lindholm and Professor W. Cole Durham, Jr., as expert advisors of the study, stated that, while they agree with the argument of the NGOs that the AHRD falls short of the full freedom of religion and belief protections articulated in other human rights documents, improvements can be made over time by amending the AHRD provisions, and even more easily, by construing AHRD commitments in ways that conform to the overall body of human rights instruments. They emphasized that “such improvements are less likely if there is no clear empirically based analysis of the actual compliance situation on the ground. That is precisely what the Keeping the Faith report seeks to provide.” The experts opined that “it is not counterproductive to identify problems crying out for solution, even if solving these problems does not achieve full compliance with international norms. It may be more realistic to have interim targets that can lay the foundation for evolution toward full compliance.” 
     
  • Law Faculty of Udayana University and HRRC Host Studium Generale on International Criminal Law

     
    Denpasar, 30 January 2015—The Master of Laws Program of the Law Faculty of Udayana University held in cooperation with the HRRC a Studium Generale on International Criminal Law. In her remarks preceding the lecture, Dr. Ni Kt. Supasti Dharmawan, SH.,M.Hum.,LLM, Head of the Master of Laws Program, expressed her appreciation of the event and noted that it was made possible by the HRRC’s on-going cooperation with the University. She conveyed her hope that the cooperation would continue to flourish and the Centre would assist the development of law students at Udayana University, including by holding more Studium Generales on current legal issues being researched by the HRRC or topics that its experts are knowledgeable on.
     

    During the one and a half hour lecture, Professor David Cohen, a Special Advisor of the HRRC, gave a presentation on Recent Developments in International Case Law: The Responsibility of Military Commanders. Attended by approximately one hundred law students from bachelor’s and master’s programs as well as doctoral candidates, the Studium Generale discussed the different forms of individual responsibility in war crimes after World War II. Professor Cohen emphasized the importance of command responsibility as the doctrine enables prosecution of the most responsible in war crimes, including genocide and crimes against humanity. He also referred to more recent ICTY jurisprudence, including the appeal judgments of General Gotovina, General Perisic and Sainovic, to highlight different perspectives developing with regard to whether or not “specific direction” to field perpetrators is a necessary element for a commander to be found guilty of aiding and abetting an attack. The Professor concluded that international criminal tribunals are relatively new institutions. Standards are still developing and the same can be said about the doctrine of command responsibility.

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