THE TANDEM PROJECT
UNITED NATIONS, HUMAN RIGHTS,
FREEDOM OF RELIGION OR BELIEF
Separation of Religion or Belief & State
EXTREMISM SPREADS ACROSS INDONESIAN PENAL CODE
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Issue: Violation of International Human Rights Law based on Freedom of Religion or Belief.
For: United Nations, Governments, Religions or Beliefs, Academia, NGOs, Media, Civil Society
Review: Extremism Spreads Across
Indonesian Penal Code, by
Article 18: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.1981 U.N. Declaration: Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have a religion or whatever belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practices and teaching.
No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have a religion or belief of his choice.
Freedom to manifest one’s religion or belief may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia — Under Islamic law, or Shariah, the religious police have administered public canings for such things as gambling, prostitution and illicit affairs. But under a new Islamic criminal code that goes into effect this month, the Shariah police will be wielding a new and more potent threat: death by stoning for adulterers.
Though extreme, Aceh is
not an isolated case. In recent years, as part of a decentralization of power
away from the capital,
Most experts and human rights advocates believe the regulations discriminate against non-Muslim minorities and contravene the country’s Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion. But the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono — a moderate former general whose Muslim credentials have often been questioned by political opponents — has not challenged them. In fact, Mr. Yudhoyono has backed morality-based laws that pleased Muslim conservative allies but angered advocates of human rights.
The president has yet to comment on the stoning provision, leaving it to his aides to quietly criticize it and clearly hoping that the Aceh Parliament will repeal it. Aceh’s governor has said he will refuse to carry out any stonings and even supporters acknowledge that the punishment will be extremely hard to apply for practical and theological reasons. Nevertheless, because the governor lacks veto power, stoning could remain on the books.
That would be an
embarrassment for Mr. Yudhoyono, who has sought to raise
Just before prayers one recent Friday — a
mandatory session for men — the Shariah police’s all-female brigade hopped onto
“Dear followers of Islam,
people of Banda Aceh,” blared a loudspeaker on the
Aceh has long been know as
“Mecca’s veranda,” because Indonesians used to travel here to board ships bound
for Islam’s holiest city on their hajj, or pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, the
birthplace of Islam. Aceh’s self-identity, if rooted in Islam, was always
somewhat apart from the rest of
So as Aceh separatists and the central government forged a peace agreement in the last decade, Aceh won semiautonomy and the right to Shariah. The authorities began putting Shariah into practice in 2001, widening and reinforcing it every few years with legal revisions. The Shariah police, officially known as “wilayatul hisbah,” or the vice and virtue patrol, began operating in 2005 with 13 officers and now has 62, including 14 women.
As Aceh’s provincial Parliament began considering a more comprehensive Islamic criminal code earlier this year, politicians and clerics at first agreed to defer the issue of stoning, which they generally agree is a punishment specified in the Koran for adultery.
But some lawmakers, apparently allied with radical clerics pushed for its inclusion at the last minute, former and current lawmakers said. Afraid of being branded bad Muslims, even lawmakers with reservations endorsed the law, lawmakers said. Six of the seven parties represented in Parliament voted for the law. The holdout — the Democratic Party, which is also President Yudhoyono’s — merely abstained.
“We never openly said that we were opposed to stoning,” said Yusrizal Ibrahim, 49, a Democratic Party member who served as a lawmaker until last month. “Stoning is part of Shariah, and by voting ‘No,’ it would have made it look as though we were against Islam.”
But even the local
members’ abstention drew a rebuke from a high-ranking party official in
He added he believed that “stoning was against human rights.” But he said he would have never “dared to say so explicitly in Parliament” for fear of being labeled an “infidel.”
Muhamad Nazar, Aceh’s deputy governor, said he hoped that a newly installed Parliament — made up of more moderates — would revise the criminal code.
But new lawmakers interviewed said they were reluctant to broach the delicate topic. Adnan Beuransah, 50, of the moderate Aceh Party, now Parliament’s dominant party, said the issue was a “time bomb.”
“We won’t say whether we oppose stoning or not,” Mr. Beuransah said. “We’ll just focus instead on education, health and more important issues.”
Indeed, now that stoning has become part of Shariah here, even religious leaders fear that opposing it would raise doubts among their followers.
“We can’t tell them to follow Shariah, except this part about stoning,” said Faisal Ali, a cleric who is secretary general of Himpunan Ulama Dayah Aceh, an organization representing 672 Islamic schools, and who believed that Aceh was not ready for stoning yet. “If the people feel that we are not supporting Shariah, they would feel that we are not part of them anymore. That would be an even greater loss because then they wouldn’t listen to us anymore.”
People in Aceh’s rural areas were said to be Shariah’s staunchest supporters, though even most people interviewed here in the provincial capital said they backed the stoning of adulterers.
“If people are caught, they should be given a warning the first time,” said Fati Ibrahim, 43, a mother of four who was buying dustpans at a large store here. “But if they’re caught a second or third time, they should be stoned.
“Otherwise, they’ll give Aceh a bad image. They’ll embarrass us outside Aceh, that we’re not practicing Islam as it should be.”
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, at the Alliance of Civilizations Madrid Forum said; “never in our lifetime has there been a more desperate need for constructive and committed dialogue, among individuals, among communities, among cultures, among and between nations.”
Genuine dialogue on human rights and freedom of religion or belief calls for respectful discourse, discussion of taboos and clarity by persons of diverse beliefs. Inclusive dialogue includes people of theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief. The warning signs are clear, unless there is genuine dialogue ranging from religious fundamentalism to secular dogmatism; conflicts in the future will probably be even more deadly.
In 1968 the UN deferred work on an International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Religious Intolerance because of its complexity and sensitivity. In forty years violence, suffering and discrimination based on religion or belief has dramatically increased. It is time for a UN Working Group to draft what they deferred in 1968, a comprehensive core international human rights treaty- a United Nations Convention on Freedom of Religion or Belief: United Nations History – Freedom of Religion or Belief
The challenge to religions or beliefs at all levels is awareness, understanding and acceptance of international human rights standards on freedom of religion or belief. Leaders, teachers and followers of all religions or beliefs, with governments, are keys to test the viability of inclusive and genuine dialogue in response to the UN Secretary General’s urgent call for constructive and committed dialogue.
The Tandem Project title, Separation of Religion or Belief and State (SOROBAS), reflects the far-reaching scope of UN General Comment 22 on Article 18, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Human Rights Committee (CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.4). The General Comment on Article 18 is a guide to international human rights law for peaceful cooperation, respectful competition and resolution of conflicts:
Surely one of the best hopes for humankind is to embrace a culture in which religions and other beliefs accept one another, in which wars and violence are not tolerated in the name of an exclusive right to truth, in which children are raised to solve conflicts with mediation, compassion and understanding.
We welcome ideas on how this can be accomplished; email@example.com.
The Tandem Project is a non-governmental organization (NGO) founded in 1986 to build understanding, tolerance and respect for diversity, and to prevent discrimination in matters relating to freedom of religion or belief. The Tandem Project has sponsored multiple conferences, curricula, reference materials and programs on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion - and 1981 United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief.
The Tandem Project is a UN NGO in Special Consultative Status with the
Economic and Social Council of the United Nations