Asean countries should hold interfaith talks to resolve issues

Interfaith talks

A consultation group on religious freedom has recommended that Asean countries initiate interfaith dialogues to enhance understanding and appreciation of the diverse traditions of its people and to resolve critical issues.

The group also said Asean should enlist the help of the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and invite him to visit these countries, especially Myanmar and Malaysia.

These were among the key recommendations made during a two-day meeting on religious freedom in the Asean region held earlier this month.


The meeting, hosted by the Global Movement of Moderates (GMM) and the Association for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham), reviewed the guidelines prepared by the Indonesian Human Rights Working Group entitled “How to promote and protect the freedom of religion or belief in the Asean region?”

In a joint press statement, GMM chief executive Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah and Proham secretary-general Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria said the other recommendations included a suggestion for Asean to establish a high-level taskforce on religious freedom which will review and address major grievances and violations.

“It was felt that the principles of mutual respect, moderation and greater appreciation of human rights are a potential way forward,” they said.

The group also recommended that Asean establish a human rights court.

Among the observations made during the meeting was that Asean countries have been witnessing many difficult periods of conflicts between communities over religious freedom.

The group also noted that there have been reports of suffering and violations experienced by the Rohingya community in Myanmar, and of issues confronting Muslim women and unresolved concerns of religious minorities in Malaysia.

The group noted that Asean had formulated a human rights declaration which included the protection of religious freedom, and the elimination of intolerance, discrimination and incitement of hatred based on religion and belief.

“This provides a consensus decision on the promotion and protection of religious freedom or belief in the Asean region,” Saifuddin and Denison said in a statement.

The UN Special Rapporteur for freedom of religion or belief Heiner Bielefeldt had recently voiced his concern over the ban on the use of the word Allah in Malaysia.

He sent a letter to Putrajaya last year expressing his concerns but has yet to receive a response.

“I am still waiting for a response, and hope this can’t be the final word of the government,” Bielefeldt told to The Malaysian Insider recently.

Civil society groups have criticised Putrajaya over the lack of response, saying the government was being disrespectful to the UN Special Rapporteur.

The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) has also weighed in on the issue, saying that as a UN member state, it was important for the Malaysian government to respond to the concerns raised by the Special Rapporteur.

“As much as we understand the sensitivity of the issue, we are also concerned that the issue on the use of the word Allah among non-Muslims has led to severe criticisms by the international community which may reflect negatively on Malaysia’s human rights record,” Suhakam said in a statement.

Suhakam also said that there was an urgent need for the government to facilitate inter-faith dialogues among relevant stakeholders particularly community leaders, religious scholars, the relevant state and federal authorities and the public on the use of the word. – July 10, 2014.

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