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Saturday, 5 July 2014

Calling Asean to strengthen Religious Freedom within the Asean region

Tan Sri Joseph Kurup & Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah at the Opening Ceremony of the Consultation
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.

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
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?”

Some Observations

First, the Consultation 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
Second, the Consultation 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.

Third, the Consultation noted that 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.
Fourth, 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.

Fifth, the Consultation recognised that Asean had formulated  and accepted the Asean Human Rights Declaration which has 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”. This provides a consensus decision on the promotion and protection of religious freedom or belief in the Asean region.

Some Recommendations

A number of key recommendations are proposed and these have implications for Asean member states including Malaysia.
First, that ASEAN should establish a High Level Taskforce on Religious Freedom which will review and address the major grievances and violations.

Second, that ASEAN should utilise the services of the UN Special Rapporteur for religious freedom namely Prof Dr Heiner Bielefeldt the current mandate holder in the region and enable him to make visits to Asean countries especially Myanmar & Malaysia
Third, that ASEAN should establish an inter-faith dialogue mechanism similar to the networks among governments, business community, civil society & academic institutions so as to enhance greater understanding and appreciation of the diverse traditions and seek to resolve the critical issues through dialogue and discussions.

Fourth, Asean should establish a grievance mechanism by ensuing the Asean Inter-governmental Human Rights Commission (AICHR) has a greater protection role including mediating conflict resolutions.
Fifth, that Asean should establish a 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.

Press Statement issued by:
Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah (CEO GMM) & Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria (Secretary-General, Proham)
July 5, 2014

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