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Protecting religious rights in Indonesia

Religious groups, non-governmental organizations, and government officials discuss the challenges religious minorities face.

Hélène Viau chats with a community member at the Congress.

Three Indonesian mayors are awarded for their efforts to protect religious minorities in their communities.

Home to hundreds of ethnic groups, Indonesia is a country full of different cultures, languages, and religions.

This diversity makes for a rich multi-cultural society. The vibrant artistic and culinary scenes in the country display the strength that comes from diversity. In fact, Indonesia’s national motto, “Unity in Diversity” speaks to the inherent multiculturalism of the 16,000 island archipelago.

While diversity strengthens much of Indonesia’s society, it can also pose challenges. Accounts of discrimination towards minority religious groups have sparked growing concern in the country of diverse faiths and beliefs.

In West Java, the Ahmadiyah, a minority Muslim group, encounter challenges obtaining marriage certificates and national pieces of identification. Over 100 Ahmadiyah families on the island of Lombok have been displaced for more than 10 years without access to healthcare, education, or other government support.

For the Gafatar religious community, tensions are also high. Three of the group’s leaders were recently sentenced to three and five year imprisonments for practicing their faith.

In support of national efforts for religious inclusion, the Embassy of Canada to Indonesia supported the high-profile National Congress on Freedom of Religion and Belief. The conference aims to strengthen the commitment of local governments to respect and promote freedom of religion and belief.

The congress was part of a six-month Canada Fund for Local Initiatives project in partnership with the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) and Human Rights Working Group (HRWG), which builds local capacity to protect religious rights in Indonesia.

Religious rights are human rights

Representatives from the Ahmadiyah and Gafatar communities joined members of other religious minorities, including Shi'ite, HKBP Filadelphia, and a traditional belief group from North Sumatra, to speak out at the National Congress on Freedom of Religion and Belief.

Personal experiences and concerns were shared with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), government officials, and religious groups in attendance to highlight the lack of state protection and services for religious minorities.

The event was hosted by the Komnas HAM and the HRWG. Komnas HAM is Indonesia’s national human rights institution and while a portion of its funding comes from the government and its commissioners are ultimately approved by Parliament, it is largely an independent agency and one of the strongest critics of human rights abuses in the country. HRWG is a network of several NGOs that promote human rights in Indonesia.

“We will continue to promote inclusiveness, acceptance, and equality in Canada and around the globe, and will never stop working for a safer, more equal, and more respectful world.”

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

Local champions for religious freedom

Komnas HAM presented awards to three Indonesian mayors for their work in protecting religious minorities within their jurisdictions.

Mayor Rahmat, of Bekasi Rahmat Effendi, was awarded for his work supporting the construction of the Santa Clara Catholic Church, which had faced opposition for nearly 20 years amid fears it would lead to increased proselyting in the majority Muslim community

Ridwan Kamil is the mayor of the capital city in West Java Province and has earned praise for his efforts to make Bandung a "religious rights-friendly" city. He promotes interfaith activities, guarantees that all believers can exercise their rights, and protects houses of worship from being attacked by mobs.

In North Sulawesi, Vicky Lumentut campaigns for religious freedom and tolerance as the Mayor of Manado. He resolved a conflict between a Muslim group that wanted to build a mosque and local people who rejected its construction.

The Embassy of Canada to Indonesia continues to support initiatives that respect religious freedom, tolerance, and pluralism. Through the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CFLI), they provide funding for small projects developed and implemented primarily by local organizations in developing countries around the world. By responding directly to local needs, these modest contributions create a big impact in communities abroad.

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