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ASEAN parliamentarians urge Indonesia to tackle rising intolerance and protect freedom of religion or belief

08/05/2018

ASEAN parliamentarians urge Indonesia to tackle rising intolerance and protect freedom of religion or belief

YOGYAKARTA (Indonesia) — At the conclusion of a four-day fact-finding mission, members of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) today called on stakeholders in Indonesia to tackle growing intolerance and ensure that freedom of religion or belief is afforded to all.

“All sectors of society must work together to push back against the rising tide of intolerance in Yogyakarta and across all of Indonesia. We need to put human rights at the center of efforts to address religious hatred and vigilantism,” said APHR Board Member Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of the Indonesian House of Representatives, who led the delegation.

“As parliamentarians, we have a role to play not only to ensure that strong laws are in place, but also to provide proper oversight of the implementation of those laws,” Sundari added.

During their visit, current and former lawmakers from Indonesia, Thailand, and Myanmar, who have formed a regional parliamentarian working group on freedom of religion or belief, met with civil society organizations, academics, and faith leaders to discuss the situation for religious tolerance in Yogyakarta. The delegation also met with communities targeted by vigilantism to hear their perspectives and recommendations, as well as with lawmakers from the Regional House of Representatives and top officials from the regional police department.

Despite having a reputation as a city of tolerance, Yogyakarta has seen an increasing number of incidents in the past several years, in which religious minorities, LGBT people, and other vulnerable groups have been targeted by vigilantes with intimidation and violence. Stakeholders that the delegation met with described a complex set of drivers behind these events, many of which were political, rather than religious or ideological. They also expressed concerns that perpetrators had not been held accountable in a number of cases.

“The authorities must ensure that all faith communities are afforded equal protection and the freedom to worship and practice their religions. This includes ensuring accountability for vigilante attacks and instituting preventive measures to protect vulnerable communities from attacks before they happen,” Sundari said.

Parliamentarians also raised concerns about the legal framework and its impact on the rights of religious minorities in Indonesia. Of chief concern was a joint ministerial decree promulgated in 2006, which mandates that minority religious communities obtain approval from local authorities in order to construct, renovate, or expand houses of worship.

“We heard stories of how difficult it is for religious minorities to obtain necessary approval for their houses of worship. The burdensome process and unclear requirements create unnecessary barriers to religious practice for too many, and it is clear that this decree should be amended,” said Rachada Dhnadirek, an APHR member and former MP from Thailand.

During the mission, the delegation also heard about promising initiatives to promote tolerance in civic and religious education, as well as efforts to counter hateful narratives online through positive messaging. Parliamentarians called for the strengthening of such initiatives, as part of a comprehensive approach to mitigating religious tensions and ensuring equal protection for all communities and individuals. They also urged law enforcement to increase their own efforts to mainstream human rights into their operating procedures in order to ensure that all members of the public would feel comfortable reporting threats and other incidents.

“Human rights training and sensitization are critical for law enforcement officials at all levels, from national down to local. Police must understand their role is to protect rights for all,” Eva Sundari said.

Parliamentarians emphasized the need for a swift response to the situation in light of the potential for further politicization of these issues, particularly in advance of local and national elections this year and next.

“The specter of growing intolerance and vigilantism threatens Indonesia’s democratic success. We cannot allow the spirit of democracy, human rights, and Pancasila to be undermined by these dark forces,” Sundari concluded.

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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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