Southeast Asian Faith-Based Groups Agree to Contribute to Enhancing Regional Peace and Security

Jakarta, 31 May 2016—As an interconnected community of nations, ASEAN aspires to build a united, peaceful, and prosperous region. Building on the Roadmap for an ASEAN Community 2009-2015, the Association in November 2015 issued blueprints to define, up to 2025, the characteristics, elements and the strategic measures required to achieve the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC), ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC). ASEAN 2025: Forging Ahead Together places much emphasis on the need to engage the people of ASEAN to deepen the ASEAN identity, including by involving them as stakeholders in the development of policies and programmes as well as in their implementation and monitoring—these stakeholders include spiritually inspired groups.

Thus, on 26 and 27 May, the Human Rights Resource Centre, with the support of the ASEAN Foundation, the Japan-ASEAN Solidarity Fund, Bahá’í International Community, East West Center, WSD Handa Center for Human Rights and International Justice, and Universitas Indonesia, convened a civil society consultation to engage spiritually inspired groups in achieving the goals set out in the ASEAN 2025 Blueprints. Introduction to ASEAN Community 2025: Engaging a Wider Stakeholdership in Enhancing Regional Peace and Security aimed to advance collective understanding and action on the potential contribution of spiritually inspired values and practices to regional peace and security. The conference brought together around 30 representatives from across Southeast Asia representing spiritual communities, faith-based organizations, and higher institutions. The event featured, as Keynote Speakers, former Secretary-General of ASEAN H.E. Mr. Ong Keng Yong and Mr. Lee Yoong Yoong, the Director of Community Affairs Directorate of the ASEAN Secretariat.


H.E. Mr. Ong Keng Yong giving his keynote address

H.E. Mr. Ong Keng Yong shared the historical origins of ASEAN and the initiative surrounding the ASEAN Community Blueprints. He recalled that ASEAN first came together to create conditions necessary for lasting peace and more prosperous economic development. While progress has been made, there are also several challenges, especially considering that many Member States face urgent domestic issues that have to be prioritised. H.E. Mr. Ong Keng Yong emphasised that ASEAN citizens need to go beyond tolerance. “Religion conveys love for humanity and love for peace… there is a need for all of us to understand each other, do not just tolerate each other, but we need to appreciate what each of the religions stand for, what we can do together… Together we can promote the peace and love for humanity that our respective beliefs tells us to do.”

Mr. Lee gave further and more in-depth background on the ASEAN, particularly on the components of the three community blueprints. He specifically emphasised the successes and strengths of ASEAN, including its sizable population and workforce, the combined volume of its trade and incoming flow of foreign direct investments, and the size of its economy. ASEAN has, through the five decades of its existence, built the confidence and trust of relevant major powers. It has stayed together and maintained peace and stability in the region in the face of various challenges and has established strong networks beyond the region. Moving forward, ASEAN continues to explore ways to expand and deepen civil society participation and means to provide feedback to governments. He noted that there has been challenges in building a regional ASEAN identity, with the concept not being consistently pursued and not well embraced by the people. Additionally, regional initiatives are not always incorporated into national plans. He also emphasised narrowing the development gap across countries, “ASEAN is only as strong as the slowest member.”

Other speakers at the event included Dr. Sriprapha Petcharamesree (former AICHR Representative for Thailand), Ms. Faith Delos Reyes (HRRC Research and Project Coordinator), Mr. Asrul Daniel Ahmed (Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Research, Global Movement of Moderates Foundation) and Mr. Yoshinori Shinohara (Director of Peace Building Department, Religions for Peace Japan).

The bulk of the conference invited the active engagement of the attendees through plenary and group discussions, where they gave their views on the vision of ASEAN and the three community blueprints.

In considering the term unity in diversity, a key principle found in the ASEAN Charter, they agreed that the rich cultural diversity of the region already necessitates unity in diversity. They also said that the concept should be based on fellowship; that communities and faiths should not merely tolerate each other, but begin to understand the value of other religions or beliefs and, if applicable, heal past wounds and pursue avenues for reconciliation. They also emphasised the need to continuously build a common identity and actively cultivate a sense of belonging in ASEAN by highlighting shared goals, cultural values and history. Finally, they said that unity in diversity means being solutions-oriented by being aware of common problems and having the determination to take collective action.

With regard to another key principle in the Charter, shared prosperity, they were of the view that this involves economic prosperity among all countries and all sectors/classes of society; political, economic and social empowerment of vulnerable groups; environmental protection and preservation for future generations; cultural wealth and resilient/supportive social fabric; clean and non-corrupt governments; access to education and tools for economic/social development; and access to opportunities in other ASEAN countries. They also emphasised that shared prosperity entails shared responsibility in that it requires positive economic, political, social and cultural participation and contribution to regional peace and development from the community.

The participants also expressed their concerns as well as the possible contributions and areas for further engagement of faith-based organisations with regard to the different community blueprints. For instance, they suggested formalising an ASEAN association of faith-based organizations; creating a regular platform for ASEAN to engage with faith communities on economic challenges and other issues, possibly by appointing a dedicated liaison in the ASEAN Secretariat to work with faith-based organizations; intensifying and expanding interfaith dialogue at both national and regional international levels; involving faith-based organizations in influencing and negotiating with governments in the context of peace-building; and promoting inter-religious studies.


Plenary discussions at the event

The findings of the conference will be presented to the Committee of Permanent Representatives to ASEAN, representatives of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights and of the ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation, and the Deputy Secretaries-General of the ASEAN Secretariat. This presentation, scheduled for 27 June 2016, will seek the inputs of these key officials as regards possible next steps, including the most productive means of engagement with faith-based organizations.

The pre-event press release may be accessed here. For more information, please contact Ms. Paula Luciana at