Written by Krisharyanto Umbu Deta – CRCS UGM Student
Translated by Athanasia Safitri – ICRS Doctoral Student
Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), as part of the Human Rights (HR) value, is often seen as an advocacy tool oriented for the minority groups. However, this view tends to depreciate FoRB significance for a broader community, not just any particular group. In the Public Lecture International Conference on Religion and Human Rights, July 18, 2022, entitled “The Contribution of Freedom of Religion or Belief to Societal Peace”, Heiner Bielefeldt – who had served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief 2010-2016 – raised one interesting perspective on FoRB which has a potential contribution in bringing societal peace into life. This point of view is vital to review the interconnection between issues of peace and freedom which often do not go hand in hand. In the name of peace, harmony and order, violations of human rights and freedoms of the citizens may occur. For this reason, the paper re-examines Bielefeldt’s main ideas regarding the contribution of the FoRB to peace-building projects that are oriented towards genuine peace that is “noisy” instead of “tranquil”.
Incarnating Human Rights and Peace Based on Trust
The preamble of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) clearly states that human rights are the foundation for freedom, justice and peace in the world. Bielefeldt begins his review by reaffirming the position that human rights (HR) are not merely a norm. HR requires the establishment of a culture of respect. This culture must be manifested in the transparency and accountability of public institutions—especially government institutions, as well as non-governmental organisations. It can be achieved through a checks and balances system, along with supervision. All public institutions must be equally accountable to all citizens who are HR subjects. Thus, these institutions show a culture of respect for citizens, and vice versa become institutions that are upheld by the citizens.
In turn, this culture of respect is closely related to trust being. Here, Bielefeldt starts from the phenomenon of a trust crisis in public institutions due to rampant cases such as corruption and oligarchic politics which indicate the lack of transparency and accountability of the institutions. This problematic situation at a certain point even leads to the assumption that there is no single institution that can be trusted or deserves to be called a “public” institution. IN the end, the trust crisis often leads to conspiracies and even incitement to hatred. Bielefeldt continued that the culture of respect desired by HR is to facilitate the building of trust, which is the key word for peace, and antidote to a collective narrow-mindness, hatred and conspiracy.
In this case, the trust we are talking about is not blind trust, but a critical trust which indicates the context of an inclusive and democratic society. The attitude implies the freedom of expression by the citizens and to be critical, not to merely obey and be submissive blindly. It is in line with the HR framework which affirms the inherent dignity of all human beings equally. It is at this level that Bielefeldt sees the potential of human rights in building a trust-based peace.
Further Examining Diversity within the FoRB Framework
As a central part of the discourse on FoRB and peace, the concept of “diversity” received serious attention in Bielefeldt’s presentation. In line with the basic principles of HR, he emphasised that diversity must be understood very broadly in order to protect human diversity itself. In this context, religious diversity cannot be limited narrowly to the official religion listed by the government, typically found in several countries including Indonesia.
Having thought so, the diversity issue we are facing is not only related to inter-religious but also an intra-religious one. It happens since each religion has an upscale plurality. Christianity and Islam, for example, have denominations that hold different interpretations of the sacred texts and religious practices. This very kind of diversity in religions also often leads to religious conflicts, one of which is caused by the dominant group.
Therefore, one of the fundamental issues to be clarified regarding FoRB is that it protects human beings as subjects of HR, not religion. FoRB touches up religion indirectly. Clarification on the matter is important since the misunderstanding of the statement to FoRB “protects religion” will lead to problematic regulations such as blasphemy law. The law is contradictory to the principles of FoRB if religion gets protection from blasphemy. Meanwhile religion itself can be defined and discussed in a very diverse manner. In the HR framework, instead of protecting a particular religion, religious diversity must be the direction to protect freedom of religion or belief, as well as protecting those who hold no religion or belief. Bielefeldt notes what people need is an anti-hatred offence, not blasphemy offences.
If we review the HR principles in general and FoRB in particular, which protects humans instead of religion per se, human diversity also needs to be taken into account. Many vulnerable groups such as women, young people, critics or those who choose not to be religious are excluded from this diversity narrative. In this regard, Bielefeldt emphasises the importance of including human diversity in their identities, backgrounds and experiences. For this purpose, the government can play a productive role to convene interreligious communication so religious communities can come together in the spirit of respect toward human dignity. Interreligious communication based on respect is the fundamental principle in FORB.
By adhering to the principle of such broad diversity, FoRB can be an inclusion tool which also protects people from incitement to hatred based on differences or diversity. It is important to facilitate religious diversity. Religion can indeed be the basis of conflict, however it can also have the potential to bring out peace. For this matter, FoRB is a vital part of the peace-building project which focuses on religious diversity. FoRB in this case facilitates an interfaith communication space based on respect, both towards other religions and all human beings.
Bielefeldt firmly concludes that peace must be distinguished from tranquillity, referring to Immanuel Kant who noted that peace must be different from the tranquillity in the graveyard. He states that facilitating social peace can be done by building critical trust that is “noisy” and has voice but indicates freedom, instead of blind trust that is “tranquil” and does not indicate genuine peace. It should be separated from the concept of harmony since it tends to be a tool of silencing people. It means that what is represented by HR and FoRB should not be a peace project that is “too harmonious” in a way of tranquillity but a peace where various voices are heard.
*Perpetual peace can only be found in the graveyard (Kant, I)
This article is a translation of the original article published on CRCS UGM Website.