Indonesia must set example for ASEAN as ‘epicentrum of harmony’, starting with interfaith marriage, Southeast Asian MPs say


Indonesia must set example for ASEAN as ‘epicentrum of harmony’, starting with interfaith marriage, Southeast Asian MPs say

JAKARTA – Parliamentarians from Southeast Asia commend Indonesia’s efforts as ASEAN chair to organize the bloc’s first major interreligious dialogue conference, an important step in advancing freedom of religion or belief in the region. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) also call on the Indonesian government to follow up this conference by setting an example for its fellow ASEAN member states in ending all forms of religious discrimination, including obstacles for interfaith marriage.

The first ASEAN Intercultural and Interreligious Dialogue Conference was held in Jakarta on Monday, 7 August. Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo opened the conference with a speech saying that ASEAN should not just be an epicentrum of growth, but also “an epicentrum of harmony, that safeguards the stability of the region as well as world peace.” He also said that ASEAN countries, including Indonesia, “have succeeded in maintaining a strong tradition of tolerance.”

We share President Jokowi’s admirable sentiments about making ASEAN a bastion of religious tolerance and harmony,” APHR Board Member and former member of the Indonesian House of Representatives Eva Kusuma Sundari said today. “However, in order to achieve this, Indonesia as ASEAN chair must keep up the momentum from this conference by taking concrete actions.”

Article 22 of the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration states: “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.” Unfortunately, this article has yet to be fully implemented in many of ASEAN’s member countries. Research conducted by APHR last year found that many laws that inhibit, restrict, and repress religious freedoms remain on the books and are enforced throughout Southeast Asia.

Even Indonesia, despite its reputation for religious tolerance and diversity, has several improvements to make on this front. Only last month, Indonesia’s Supreme Court issued a circular that forbids judges from approving requests for the recognition of interfaith marriages. The circular makes interfaith marriage, which was already difficult due to differing interpretations of the 1974 Marriage Law, nearly impossible without resorting to complicated legal maneuvering.

The Supreme Court circular banning the recognition of interfaith marriage is a grave violation of the freedom of religion or belief in Indonesia. It is undeniably discriminatory and stands in flagrant violation of the principle of equality before the law enshrined in the 1945 Constitution as well as internationally recognized legal instruments ratified by Indonesia, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. What’s more, secular courts do not have the authority to say what marriages are religiously allowed or not,” said Eva. “How can we claim to be an example of tolerance when we deprive our citizens of the right to marry the person they love, simply because they have different beliefs?”

The Supreme Court must demonstrate their commitment to upholding the national constitution and international human rights law by canceling the circular,” said Eva. “We also call on the Indonesian House of Representatives to amend the 1974 Marriage Law to promote non-discrimination and safeguard the freedom of religion or belief, allowing all citizens to exercise their rights and choices in marriage without hindrance. Without this, we cannot move forward on President Jokowi’s ambition to become an ‘epicentrum of harmony’.”

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ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) was founded in June 2013 with the objective of promoting democracy and human rights across Southeast Asia. Our founding members include many of the region's most progressive Members of Parliament (MPs), with a proven track record of human rights advocacy work.

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