HRRC Launches Latest ASEAN-wide Study, “Keeping the Faith: A Study of Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion in ASEAN”

Jakarta, 12 January 2015—The HRRC today presented its latest research project, “Keeping the Faith: A Study of Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion in ASEAN,” at a launch in Jakarta attended by a cross-section of society. After HRRC’s Executive Director, Mr. Marzuki Darusman, welcomed the guests, remarks were given by H.E. Stig Traavik, Norway’s Ambassador to Indonesia; H.E. Rafendi Djamin, Indonesia’s Representative to the AICHR; and H.E. Ong Keng Yong, former Secretary-General of the ASEAN and Chairperson of the HRRC’s Governing Board.

The study takes its inspiration from the Article 22 of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, wherein the Member States make a firm pledge guaranteeing freedom of thought, conscience, and religion as a fundamental freedom, and express a strong statement that “All forms of intolerance, discrimination and incitement of hatred based on religion and beliefs shall be eliminated.”

This political intent to eradicate religious intolerance in ASEAN is highly commendable, particularly as it sets the bar high at eliminating incitement of hatred. This study aims to contribute to understanding how, and in what ways both Member States and ASEAN as a regional grouping can begin to honour this commitment by providing an overview of state practice on the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion across ASEAN. Aside from highlighting serious issues of religious persecution and conflict, it provides a critical analysis of recent significant events, through which ASEAN, its Member States, and civil society organizations can reflect on both the progress made and the challenges that need to be addressed to ensure that this aspiration is fulfilled.

While being encouraged by the commitment contained in the AHRD, the study draws heavily from the norms and standards that have been developed in international law with respect to Article 18 of the ICCPR.

This study hopes to support regional and domestic efforts to ensure religious freedom, including those of the ASEAN Inter-governmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) in fulfilling its function of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms of the peoples of ASEAN. It may also assist ASEAN Member States in determining further measures to take to promote effective implementation of international human rights treaty obligations, as well as encourage them to consider acceding to and ratifying international human rights instruments. Furthermore, this study aims to underscore recent empirical research which notes the positive impact freedom of religion or belief in furthering other development and social aims.

Comprised of 10 Country Reports covering each of the ASEAN Member States and a Synthesis Report, the study is funded by the Norwegian Embassy in Jakarta and led by Dr. Jaclyn Neo of the National University of Singapore. The lead researcher and 10 country rapporteurs received guidance and feedback from six advisors with established expertise in research methodology, freedom of religion, and/or conflict (including based on religious intolerance). These advisors are Professor David Cohen of the WSD Handa Center for Human Rights and International Justice, Professor Kevin Tan of the National University of Singapore, Professor Tore Lindholm of the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, Professors Cole Durham and Brett Scharrfs of the International Center for Law and Religion Studies, and Ms. Sidney Jones of the Institute for Policy Analysis on Conflict.

It is a basic premise of this report that human rights abuses have significant domestic as well as regional impact. Guaranteeing religious freedom and preventing religious discrimination, intolerance, and persecution which could lead to religiously-triggered conflict is key to guaranteeing peace and security in the region, trans-nationally as well as domestically.