Keeping the Faith: A study of freedom of thought, conscience and religion in ASEAN

By: Mr. Ban Bunheng, Deputy Director of the ASEAN Study Center and Assistant to the President

On Februrary 5th, 2016, Mr. Ban Bunheng, Deputy Director of the ASEAN Study Center and Assistant to the President, attended a workshop organized by Pananasastra University of Cambodia (PUC) and the Human Rights Resource Center (HRRC) under the topic, “Keeping the Faith: A Study of Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and Religion in ASEAN,” at PUC’s south campus in Phnom Penh.

Dr. Kol Pheng, Founder and President of PUC, said that everyone must have freedom of thought. Additionally, people should express their ideas and views on all matters concerning them, because human beings should not betray their own consciences.

Professor Harkristuti Harkrisnowo, Acting Executive Director of the HRRC, expressed that religion is an important component of the identities of ASEAN nations. However, there have been international concerns about human rights violations in this region. Rural violence is still quite high in ASEAN nations, and this figure is not caused simply by poverty and lack of education, it is linked to the types of violent religious extremism, like ISIL, that has been spreading throughout the Middle East and the world at large. Most recently, Jakarta, Indonesia, was attacked by ISIL, and 4 civilians were killed. It is important to use religion as an institution of peace and cooperation, rather than one of violence.

H.E. Philip Calvert, Ambassador of Canada to the Kingdom of Thailand, the Kingdom of Cambodia, and Lao PDR, said that in regards to human rights and religion, it is crucial to discuss the fundamentals of freedom, specifically the freedom of religion, and to avoid religious discrimination around the world, particularly in Southeast Asia. Therefore, Canada should work with ASEAN member states to promote the respect of human rights in the region.

After the keynote speeches by the three speakers mentioned above, the workshop opened table discussions on the religious issues in the Philippines, Thailand, and Cambodia as well. The discussion agreed that human rights violations sometimes happen because people hold immoral beliefs, but also because religious discrimination causes those affected to want to separate themselves from the state, which often results in violence and death.



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