A legal framework to protect religious freedom is needed at the regional level, said Indonesia’s NGO Coalition for International Human Rights Advocacy (HRWG).

“South East Asia is home to diversity in terms of language, religion and ethnicity. We may be similar in our skin colour and features but are dealing with different sets of problems,” said HRWG senior adviser on ASEAN and Human Rights Yuyun Wahyuningrum at a dialogue with local civil society leaders, here.

Jointly-organised by the Global Movement of Moderates Foundation (GMMF) and the Association for the Promotion of Human Rights (Proham), the dialogue is aimed at gathering inputs on matters pertaining to religion, freedom in Malaysia.

“ASEAN as a regional entity has been silent on the diversity and the potential conflict that may arise, if we didn’t do anything, especially in religion,” said Yuyun, adding that there is no existing framework to tackle religious issues that ASEAN countries have faced in recent years.

For the record, HRWG has established a set of guidelines on the Promotion & Protection of Religious Freedom in ASEAN, which will be circulated among Asean countries for review and input which will be presented in stages in other ASEAN countries.

“After this, we will gather input from other countries and submit the findings to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. The process (to set it as government guideline) will take a bit long as it will need the consensus from all ten countries,” said Yuyun.

She hopes that Malaysia’s chairmanship of ASEAN next year will help expedite the process of pushing the guideline into implementation by all member states.

“With the Malaysia’s leadership, perhaps we can move it a bit faster, especially since the Malaysian government has put moderation as one of its important agenda during its chairmanship of ASEAN.”

The call for greater protection of religion freedom, according to Yuyun, is due to rising religious and ethnic conflicts, especially between majority and minority communities.

She added in Indonesia, minority groups have been subjected to increasing intolerance and perpetrators have been allowed to get away with impunity.

“There are attacks against Ahmadiyah, Shiite and Christian communities. There are cases of churches being sealed. The government has done little against these kinds of violations.”

“We also discussed on a state preference towards a religion. If you practice religion A and do something wrong, you get away more easily compared to the person who practices religion B, just because the state has a preference for the Religion A. That is unfair. It’s a reflection of the absence of rule of law. That is dangerous.”

Although cases of violation against religious freedom have been brought forward to the ASEAN level, it does not have a mandate yet to deal with such issues effectively.

“We believe that ASEAN community 2015 is not going to happen if the basic freedom on individuals, like the freedom of religion, will not be guaranteed.”