Consortium of:

A Report on International Conference on Religion and Human Rights 2022

  August 1st 2022


Written by Jekonia Tarigan  

Freedom of religion has become an important aspect of human rights as declared in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948.[[i]] However, the challenge of freedom of religion or belief has been rolling throughout the history of human life and to this day is often still a problem. The challenges are now are greater and more pressing than before. The challenges at hand cover important sectors of modern life, from culture and civic society, politics and identity, security, and conflict.[[ii]] This is in line with the remarks delivered at the opening of the International Conference on Religion and Human Rights on 18 July 2022 by Prof. Djagal Wiseso, the Vice Rector for Education, Learning and Student Affairs, Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM). Wiseso noted that religion and human rights is a timely issue; therefore, he really appreciates this conference. Prof. Siti Malkhamah, the Dean of the Graduate School of UGM, also delivered a welcoming speech to participants, speakers, and paper presenters.

After the initial remarks from the Vice Rector and Dean, the conference was officially opened by Dr. M. Iqbal Ahnaf as the conference coordinator. According to Ahnaf, there has been abundant literature investigating the relationship between religion and human rights. It ranges from exploring the tensions between or the convergence of the two enterprises, attempts to construct religious justification of human rights principles, or exploration of the many dimensions of the right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB). A consensus on these matters is not the main issue, but a continuous discussion. Yet promotion of human rights partly depends on addressing those issues satisfactorily and the ability to contextualize human rights within the diverse, lived experience of religious communities. he noted that universities teach human rights, law, and religion, but the intersection between them as well as specific issues of religious freedom are rarely covered in the teaching curriculum.

The conference was held in Yogyakarta and was scheduled for three days, 18-20 July 2022 as a combination of online and on-site events. The events were organized by several institutions: the Center for Religious and Cross-cultural Studies (CRCS) and the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) Universitas Gadjah Mada (Universitas Gadjah Mada, Duta Wacana Christian University, Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University); SEPAHAM (Association of Human Rights Lecturers); Center for Human Rights, Multiculturalism, and Migration, Universitas Jember; Indonesia Jentera School of Law; Yayasan Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Indonesia; Center for Religion and Contemporary Issues Studies (PuSAIK), Graduate School, UIN Sunan Kalijaga Yogyakarta; with the support of the Oslo Coalition for Freedom of Religion or Belief (University of Norway) and the International Center for Law and Religion Studies (Brigham Young University). The theme of this conference was “Religion and Human Rights: Pedagogical Opportunities and Challenges in Higher Education in Indonesia.” The conference was attended by Indonesian human rights scholars and practitioners and alumni of the Freedom of Religion or Belief Fellowship from various universities in Indonesia.

The discussion on the first day began with a reflection on religion and human rights in higher education delivered by Dr. Lena Larsen, Director of Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Dr. Syamsul Arifin from Universitas Muhammadiyah Malang.

Larsen in her presentation argued that promoting freedom of religion and belief (FoRB) is the responsibility of all parties: religious leaders, government officials, politicians, diplomats, and of course academicians. For Larsen, FoRB is not about religion, but it is about the right of people to have conviction of their religion. Therefore, according to Larsen, it is important to build knowledge about FoRB and here the role of academician is needed, because academia does not deal with truth claims but with analysis. If FoRB knowledge is developed well, it can influence policy making and the implementation of FoRB. Meanwhile, according to Arifin, Islamic responses to the international human rights (IHR) discourse are varied: Islam is compatible with IHR, human rights can only be fully realized under Islamic law, human rights are an imperialist agenda that must be rejected, Islam is incompatible with human rights, and human rights have hidden antireligious agenda. For Arifin, the previous argument from Larsen found its place, that it is pivotal to develop knowledge about FoRB.

The discussion on the first day was followed by exploring the newly published bilingual resource book, Shari'a and Human Rights (HAM dan Syariat, Penerbit Mizan, 2022). The book was a result of the programs conducted by the Center for the Study of Religion and Multiculturalism, Universitas Muhammadiyah Malang since 2011. Plenary sessions based on the book’s topics were conducted: Shari'a and Human Rights, Dr. Haidar Bagir from the Mizan Publisher, and Ahmad Nur Fuad from the State Islamic University, Sunan Ampel Surabaya; Human Rights: History, Concepts and Its Future, Prof. Cole-Durham from Brigham Young University and Tore Lindholm, emeritus professor (philosophy) at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo, board member of the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and Cekli Setya Pertiwi from Universitas Muhammadiyah Malang. Moreover, the session on FoRB and Other Rights attended Prof. Brett Scharffs from Brigham Young Universitas, Provo, Utah, Dr. Lena Larsen (Oslo Coalition), and Dr. Zainal Abidin Bagir, Director of ICRS. The last session of Day 1 was a presentation from Prof. Heiner Bielefeldt, former U.N. Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Religion or Belief, who conveyed his thoughts on the contribution of FoRB to societal peace.

The agenda of the second day consisted of paper presentations based on a selection of invited speakers. The presentations addressed opportunities and challenges of human rights education in universities and collaboration between higher educational institutions, CSOs, and government in FoRB advocacy, either as theoretical discussions or based on teaching or advocacy experience. The presentations were divided into six panels. In the first panel, the topic was FoRB in Higher Education: Legal Framework and Experience. Valerianus Beatae Jehanu, from Universitas Parahyangan Bandung, was one of the speakers in this panel. He presented a paper entitled “Interpretation Contest of Religious Freedom in The Law-Making Process of The National Education System Law Draft”. Jehanu examined FoRB in the context of the national education system in Indonesia with respect to the Law Number 20 of the National Education System of 2003 especially Article 1 number 2 which regulates “National education is education based on Pancasila and the 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia. rooted in religious values, national culture and responsive to the demands of changing times.” According to Jehanu, the national education system, rooted in religious values, produces a less conducive learning environment. This is then considered a problem of religious intolerance, because in the academic text of the National Education System Law Draft that cites the research of UIN Syarif Hidayatullah (2017) for instance. Research shows that 62% of teachers and lecturers and 55% of students agree with the opinion that Muslims are in a state of oppression. Jehanu argue that there is an urgency to resolve this problem through changes in the law. 

The topic for the second panel FoRB was Local Contexts. In this panel there were two presenters from State Institute for Islamic Studies (IAIN) Bukittinggi, West Sumatra, who delivered presentations about FoRB in the context of West Sumatra. The first presenter was Zulfan Taufik who presented a paper entitled “Nagari Adat Bersyariat: Islamic Favoritism in Regional Development in West Sumatra” and the second was Nofri Andy with a paper entitled “Religious and Cultural Resistance to Implementation Freedom of Religions: The Ahmadiyah Experience in West Sumatera.” In his presentation Taufik explained that in the context of West Sumatra as a province with a majority Muslim community, Islam has become an inseparable part of the culture primarily through the popularity of the philosophy of adat basandi syarak, syarak basandi kitabullah (ABS-SBK). According to Taufik, ABS-SBK is an unwritten norm. However, this idea was later used to regulate and control the administration of government in West Sumatra. Interestingly, through his study, Taufik found that Nagari, based on ABS-SBK, has caused discrimination against non-Muslim minorities, both in the form of distinction, exclusion, restriction, and preference. Some of these discriminations can be seen in particular policies related to Islamic education programs (both formal and informal), financial subsidies that directly support Islamic institutions such as mosques, and applying Islamic-based individual and social piety standards. Meanwhile, Andy’s presentation focused on the Ahmaddiyyah community in West Sumatra which has long struggled with freedom of worship and the establishment of places of worship. Andy argued that this discrimination has a bad impact on society and creates a negative stereotype for the Ahmadiyyah congregation. He discussed how religion and culture should deal with FoRB, especially in terms of respecting the human rights of others. Andy argues that respect for human rights and FoRB as part of the implementation of human rights is the primary basis for realizing an ideal democracy

In the third panel, the topic was FoRB in Laws and Regulations. Ari Wirya Dinata from Universitas Bengkulu was one of the presenters in this panel. He presented a paper entitled “The Strong Rights vis a vis the Fragile People: Asking the Judiciary Power in Protecting FoRB rights in Indonesia”. In his presentation, Dinata contrasted the law and constitution in Indonesia which support FoRB with the implementation thereof, which is not in accordance with the law. Dinata noted that UUD 1945. Art 29 para (1) and (2) stipulated that the State is based on One God, but it indicates that Indonesia is not based on a particular religion but recognizes religion as part state administration. Therefore, the recognition of religion guarantees the independence of its inhabitants to embrace their respective religions and to worship. Furthermore, freedom to embrace religion or belief is an absolute right for everyone that regulated by ICCPR as well as in Article 28 I (1) of UUD 1945. Unfortunately, the fulfillment of FoRB is frequently undermined in Indonesia, for instance, the issue of the religion column in the Citizens Identity Card. Before the Constitutional Court’s verdict, the state only accommodated six recognized religions and negated others. Although this issue is now resolved, other FoRB related problems such as interfaith marriage and the issue of wearing hijab for non-Muslim students.

The fourth panel covered human rights in Islamic and Catholic higher education. Achmad Faidi was one of the speakers who represented the State Institute for Islamic Studies (IAIN) Madura. His paper was entitled “Religious Moderation Movement in Islamic Higher Education: An Instrument for Developing Human Rights Values to Realize Social Harmony”. In his presentation, Faidi explored four main pillars that are carried out in the religious moderation movement of Islamic Higher Education (PTKI), namely commitment to nationality, commitment to harmony, nonviolent behavior, and deference to local wisdom. Faidi argued that these four pillars are expected to raise awareness of an inclusive, humanist, tolerant attitude and uphold human rights values in a multicultural Indonesian society. This is certainly a good step, but it still requires strategies and tactical steps to stem the movements of radicalism, extremism, and intolerant behavior that are contrary to human rights values and greatly disrupt social harmony. Thus, Faidi emphasized the strategic role of the Islamic higher education (PTKI) as an instrument to sow the values of humanism, inclusiveness, tolerance and human rights through dialogue, mentoring, and formulation of the concept of teaching materials included in curriculum construction, especially in the basic courses of Islamic Religious Higher Education in all faculties.

Subandri Simbolon, of the State Institute for Catholic Studies (STAKAT) Pontianak, presented a paper entitled ‘Understanding of Human Rights and the Response of Catholic Religious Higher Education Students to Sensitive Issues of Human Rights’. Simbolon examined the understanding of Catholic religion teacher candidates on the implementation of human rights in their relation to human rights issues such as gender, ideology, and religious minorities. Simbolon found that the students had an understanding of human rights and implemented that understanding in their relations with groups of different religions with an attitude of tolerance, acceptance of differences, and respect. However, with regard to sensitive issues such as LGBTQ, the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), and local religions, they still use the textual understanding that LGBTQ people are sinful because they are against nature, members of PKI are enemies of the state, and local religions are idol worshippers. The main reason is that they rarely come face to face with those who have this gender identity, ideology, or belief system. Another factor is their lack of understanding of the inclusive view of the Church on these issues. Therefore, Simbolon argued that it is necessary to accommodate meeting spaces to raise the spirit of humanity (through which principles of human rights, especially FoRB, are promoted) that is much more inclusive and offer more inclusive interpretations and attitudes of the Catholic Church toward these issues.

Panel five was about religion, freedom, and multiculturalism. Alimuddin Hassan of the State Islamic University Sultan Syarif Kasim Riau delivered an interesting presentation with a paper entitled “When Multicultural Awareness Begins to Fade: Symptoms of Intersectional Discrimination in Education.” Hassan argued that multicultural awareness in a person is relevant to efforts to eradicate discriminatory attitudes carried out by the state or group, or persons against other people. Hassan also emphasized that the better a person's multicultural awareness, the better the awareness of human rights, especially on intersectional discrimination. For Hassan multiculturalism awareness refers to the spirit and understanding of the existence of differences, including race, ethnicity, culture, gender, and religion. Meanwhile, intersectional discrimination refers to discrimination based on religion and ethnicity, gender, or social class in society. Thus, the world of education is an institution that is often the scene of human rights violations, including freedom of religion and belief. In post-colonial discourse, one of the schools in critical social theory calls it an unequal power relation between the powerful and the ruled.

Panel Six was on religion and the rights of vulnerable groups. Michael Jeffri Sidabutar from Universitas Bangka Belitung was one of the speakers in this panel. His paper was named “The Politics of Recognition and Inclusion: The Fulfillment of Citizens Rights of Spiritual Believers (Study on Indigenous Peoples of the Lom Tribe, Air Abik Village, Bangka Belitung Islands)”. He explained that the Lom tribe is the oldest tribes in Bangka Belitung. Sidabutar examined the struggle of the Lom to access public services, especially population administration, education, and marriage because this tribe still faces discrimination, as they are indigenous people. Sidabutar found that indigenous peoples like the Lom use an institutional approach, build networks with stakeholders at the local level, as well as through the Indonesian Supreme Council of Trustees (MLKI).

The final day of the conference included a scholar-practitioner networking session. This session was a continuance of several meetings in the past years which discussed ways to strengthen advocacy and research on FoRB. Those meetings, involving academics, activists, and representatives of governmental institutions emphasized the need to strengthen collaboration and communication between different actors. The last meeting in Puncak, Bogor, January 2022 (co-organized by PUSAD Paramadina, YLBHI, CRCS, and ICRS), produced a brief analyzing the agenda and gaps in knowledge building and advocacy for FoRB. This meeting discussed several ideas to go further and at the same time attempted to activate the network of FoRB fellows/lecturers. Several ideas that have emerged from preliminary discussions among organizers are: creating a roadmap of research and advocacy on FoRB, an association of university lecturers teaching FoRB, regular (annual) congress on FoRB, and the possibility of creating ‘legal clinics’ specializing on FoRB in universities.


[i] article 18

[ii] Tore Lindholm, Cole W Durham, and Bahia G Tahzib-Lie, Facilitating Freedom of Religion or Belief: A Deskbook (Martinus Nijhoff, 2004). p. xxvii,