Monday, July 7, 2014
ASEAN & PROTECTION OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM OR BELIEF
July 5, 2014
Consultation Brief Report of Findings
ASEAN & PROTECTION OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM OR BELIEF
The Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) and The Association for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham) hosted a Consultation on Religious Freedom or belief in the ASEAN region on July 2 & 3, 2014 which was attended by about 60 people. This consultation reviewed the Guidelines prepared by the Indonesian Human Rights Working Group (HRWG) entitled “How to promote and protect the freedom of religion or belief in the Asean region?”
The Consultation was officially declared open by the YB Tan Sri Joseph Kurup, Minister in charge of National Unity in the Prime Minister’s Department. Tan Sri Shafee Abdullah, the Malaysian representative to the Asean Inter-governmental commission on Human Rights (AICHR) and the Indonesian counterpart HE Rafedi Djamin who was instrumental in the development of these guidelines for religious freedom in the Asean region shared some reflections. Also speaking at the opening was the EU Ambassador HE Luc Vandebon who drew some parallel developments in EU on religious freedom.
The organisers were supported by SUHAKAM; the Institute of Ethnic Studies, UKM; the Bar Council Human Rights Committee and the European Union delegation in Malaysia.
The draft religious freedom guidelines for Asean was presented by Ms Yuyun Wahyuningrum and Mr Muhammad Hafiz of HRWG. There were a number of people invited to give feedback and comments on the relevance and applicability to Asean and Malaysia.
Among them who gave their views were Datuk Kuthubul Zaman (Proham), Tan Sri Michael Yeoh (ASLI), Datuk Khaw Lake Tee (SUHAKAM), Ms Ratna Osman (Sisters in Islam), Assoc Prof Dr Raihanah Abdullah (OIC Human Rights Commission), Ms Zainah Anwar (MUSAWAH), Mr Sadar Jagir Singh (MCCBCHST), Datuk Vaithalingam (Proham), Rev Dr Herman Shastri (CCM), Ms Loh Pai Ling (Buddhist Missionary Society Malaysia), Dr Daniel Ho (DUMC), Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir (NUCC), Mr Myo Win (Smile Education & Development Foundation, Myanmar), Mr Andrew Khoo (Bar Council) & Prof Dr Harry Harun Behr (German Islamic Conference).
Arising out of the Consultation are fifteen key points which could be noted as further reflections on this theme of promotion & protection of human rights in the Asean region.
First, the participants appreciated the work of HRWG in the preparation of the Guidelines based on human rights framework and instruments. It is recognised as a very useful tool for Asean member countries. It was also acknowledged that these guidelines could be formally adopted by Asean heads of government and that Malaysia when it takes over the chair of Asean in 2015 could play a lead role as Malaysia has been promoting moderation and harmony in international relations.
Second, the participants recognised that ASEAN and its 600 million people belonging to ten different nations are very diverse with rich cultures, different linguistic grouping, numerous ethnic communities, multiple religious and philosophical heritages and varied historical traditions. At the same time, ASEAN has been experiencing many difficult periods of conflict and contestation especially between majority and minority communities with respect to religious freedom. In some cases it is not only inter religious conflicts but also intra religious ones.
Third, the Consultation heard reports of the suffering and violations experienced by the Rohingya community in Myanmar, many issues confronting Muslim women and unresolved concerns confronting religious minorities in Malaysia. It was felt that the principles of mutual respect, moderation and greater appreciation of human rights are a potential way forward. That these proposed guidelines will enhance greater promotion and protection of religious freedom.
Fourth, that ASEAN has over the past forty-seven years of its founding on August 8, 1967 made significant efforts towards the forging of the Asean community. Two major consensus actions were the establishment of the Asean Inter-governmental Human Rights Commission (AICHR) and approving the Asean Human Rights Declaration (AHRD) on Nov 18, 2012.
In this declaration there is a specific article on the protection of religious freedom (Article 22). It reads: - “Every person has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. All forms of intolerance, discrimination and incitement of hatred based on religion and beliefs shall be eliminated”
Fifth, we also heard the initiatives undertaken by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in the understanding and promotion of human rights from an Islamic perspective among the 57 Islamic majority countries. That the Cairo Declaration and the “UN Resolution 16/18 on combating intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatization of, and discrimination, incitement to violence and violence against, persons based on religion or belief” firmly supports religious freedom and provides useful initiatives in the protection as well.
Sixth, the participants agreed that the leaders of each member states of Asean have the obligation to respect, protect and promote religious freedom or belief. There is therefore, an urgent need for clear policy guidelines in the interpretation and implementation of Article 22 of the AHRD within the ASEAN region. This HRWG document of Religious freedom could serve that purpose in developing a common set of standards for the Asean community
Seventh, it is recommended that ASEAN should establish a High Level Taskforce on Religious Freedom. We recognise religious freedom and conflicts are very sensitive issues at the nation state level, however we recognise that human rights violations at the domestic level have an impact for regional peace and security, there is therefore an urgent need for resolution and reconciliation, a higher level panel might be the best way forward. This measure can complement the role of AICHR and enable it to also have greater role in protection by empowering AICHR to receive complaints, investigate it and provide resolution and remedies.
Eight, it was strongly expressed that civil society, academia with the cooperation of National Human Rights Institutions should establish an Asean level monitoring mechanism which will regularly document gross violations and alert member states, AICHR and international treaty bodies.
Ninth, it was also discussed and recommended that Asean should establish an Asean Human Rights Court. There could be also some regional mediation centres at the Asean level like community mediation or as in the case of business there are arbitration centres.
While some felt that the Asean current policy of non-interference and consensus decision making will not allow it nonetheless it was felt that this must be a vision and goal towards enhancing the regional resolution mechanism in order to strengthen regional peace and security. This can therefore be seen as peers from within the regional addressing violations such as what is currently being experienced by the
Ten, it was also felt that there is a need to establish an inter-faith dialogue mechanism at the Asean level. Currently there are very strong mechanism for the ten governments, the business community, civil society and even academic networks. It is proposed that at an Asean level the meeting of religious and spiritual leaders from the diverse traditions is very necessary to enhance greater understanding, mutual
respect and appreciation. These leaders whether Buddhist, Muslim, Christian or Hindu have a major influence among their followers. They can become a major vehicle for Asean community building.
Eleven, we heard examples from Germany of the public school initiatives in religious education and the development of curriculum. In a similar way it is of utmost important that children and young people have some appreciation of the rich diverse religious and spiritual traditions so as to enable them to understand and respect other religions. There is a need to enhance greater inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic understanding of the rich diversity in Asean and how it religion and ethnic relate to each other.
Twelve, it was also proposed that there be specific youth based programs to enhance greater understanding and appreciation through inter-faith tours as well as good role modelling by mentors. This is not an attempt to create syncretistic religious followers but to enable young people to be strong in their respective religious traditions but relate in moderation and mutual respect for others.
Thirteen, it was felt that both judges and enforcement officials need greater exposure and training on matters pertaining to understanding and appreciation of religious traditions as well as the fundamental human rights instruments especially those that have be ratified by member states. It is important for all public officials including elected representative to note that their governments have an obligation domestically to abide by them. Developing training and educational modules is of utmost importance.
Fourteen, the role of UN Special Rapporteur for religious freedom was discussed. It was pointed out that Prof Dr Heiner Bielefeldt who is the current Special Rapporteur, has a UN mandate “to identify existing and emerging obstacles to the enjoyment of the right to freedom of religion or belief and present recommendations on ways and means to overcome such obstacles”. It was proposed that Asean member states should make use of this UN expert and enhance the promotion and protection of religious freedom.
It was specifically mentioned that Malaysia is unwilling to invite him or give permission to him to visit Malaysia. It was suggested that GMM and Proham host an event to invite the UN Special Rapporteur for a visit to Malaysia and seek the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to facilitate such a visit
Fifteen, it was also felt that Asean could also work partnerships with the European Union as there are also similar majority-minority inter religious and intra religions concerns.EU member states are coming to terms with minority religious or ideological groups and they have developed effective human rights instruments as well as community mediation initiatives. Malaysia too could draw some lessons from these to enhance greater inter faith understanding and cooperation. Both GMM and Proham could work with the EU office in Malaysia to enhance this cooperation and partnership
Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (CEO GMM) & Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria (Secretary-General,