AICHR conducts the second forum on freedom of religion and beliefs in ASEAN


JAKARTA, 3 October 2022 – The ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) convened the Forum on Freedom of Religion and Beliefs in ASEAN 2022 on 29-30 September via videoconference.

In her remarks, the Indonesian representative to AICHR, Wahyuningrum explained that the forum is a follow-up activity from the previous event in 2019. She also stated that while freedom of religion and beliefs is guaranteed under the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration, the COVID-19 pandemic has undermined its implementation and the achievement of SDGs and gender equality.

Ambassador Chilman Arisman of the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted that the role of religious leaders is very crucial to cope with the restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. He also ensured that religious practices can be performed in the time of pandemic by adjusting to online worship or pastoral services.

The Regional Representative, Office of High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) for Southeast Asia, Cynthia Veliko, emphasised the importance of robust and meaningful engagement with civil society, human rights defenders, representatives of religious minorities, and national human rights institutions to address the complex issues of freedom of religion and beliefs and its intersections with SDGs.

The purposes of the forum were not only to share practices and experiences of ASEAN Member States (AMS) in implementing freedom of religion and beliefs but also to discuss responses to address the challenges to achieving sustainable development goals and gender equality while respecting and protecting the right of freedom of religion and beliefs in the post-pandemic era. The forum also discussed the concerns and efforts to counter hate speech, safeguarding freedom of religion and beliefs online, connection, limitations, and practices in the nexus between freedom of religion and beliefs and SDGs as well as gender equality and freedom of religion and beliefs.

Around 50 participants attended the forum from AICHR, the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children, the ASEAN Committee of Women, the Senior Officials Meeting Responsible for Information, OHCHR, UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, civil society organisations, universities, and ASEAN Studies Centre.

The forum came up with recommendations as below:

  • ASEAN to consider developing a regional action plan to combat hate speech and incitement as part of a comprehensive approach to ensuring human rights protection, promoting tolerance, and strengthening a culture of peace in the region.
  • While an early warning system to counter hate speech is needed, it should be contextualised, localised, and owned by state and non-state actors.
  • ASEAN and its Member States should prioritise raising awareness, digital literacy programmes, and capacity-building activities to tackle hate speech rather than penalising it.
  • As the implementation of freedom of religion and beliefs is key to achieving SDGs, hence, AMS should work on addressing religious-based discrimination and closing the gaps in inequality and gender parity in partnership with stakeholders.
  • AMS are encouraged to include the issue of freedom of religion and beliefs in their Voluntary National Reviews.

Cambodian Alternate Representative to AICHR, Long Sonita, expressed her hope that the forum can be a platform for relevant stakeholders to exchange good practices and different approaches in addressing challenges of ensuring freedom of religion and beliefs, and achieving SDGs.

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