Religious Conflict Hosts ICF Human Rights Workshop in Indonesia
Bruce Van Voorhis
Imam Nafi explains the teachings
that underpin human rights.
Interfaith Cooperation Forum (ICF) held a human
rights workshop in Indonesia from Feb. 17 to 23, 2013, in Solo, Central
Java. This was the second workshop that ICF has conducted to train some
members of its regional network who have attended its School of Peace
(SOP) to be resource people in the area of human rights. The first
workshop took place in September last year in Jakarta.
Pastor Paulus Hartono, the local organizer, explained that Solo was a
good choice to hold a human rights workshop as his city has periodically
experienced violence over the years that has been perpetrated by radical
Muslims against the Christian community. It is for this reason, he said,
that he and Imam Mohammad Dian Nafi, the leader of a local pesantren, or
Islamic boarding school, have worked together for more than 10 years to
build relationships between the two faith communities in Solo and to
defuse any violence when it occurs. Both religious leaders took part in
ICF’s mini-SOP that was held for two weeks in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in July
SOP alumni Hor Hen and Keo Vichith from Cambodia and Ebenezer Dharshan
from Sri Lanka—all participants of SOP in 2007—attended the program as
well as five other participants from Solo and the surrounding area.
Because of a variety of reasons, four other SOP alumni from Indonesia
and the Philippines who had taken part in the Jakarta workshop and who
had been invited to be part of the program in Solo could not attend.
During the first workshop in Jakarta, a major emphasis was put on
discussing human rights from a legal perspective as reflected in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and several other key U.N.
human rights covenants and conventions, such as the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the International
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment (CAT).
This emphasis continued in the Solo workshop with the participants
examining the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of
the Child (CRC). These conventions were chosen because they affect a
large proportion of the population in any society and because many SOP
alumni work on issues affecting women and children and hence would have
interest in a human rights workshop focusing on CEDAW and the CRC that
is led by those attending this program in Solo. As part of this segment
of the workshop, each participant was asked to prepare a presentation
about CEDAW for a specific audience that the participant chose.
As part of their field trip, the
participants visited a mosque and a
church founded by two brothers, one a Muslim and one a
that stand next to each other in the Indonesian community of
in Central Java—an uncommon sight in the country.
Another perspective on human rights, however, was
also introduced during the Solo workshop: human rights from a moral or
faith-based perspective. Vichith and Hor Hen shared about the teachings
of Buddhism related to human rights; Dharshan, Pastor Paulus and ICF
staff person Bruce Van Voorhis presented the perspective of Christianity
on the topic; and Imam Nafi offered the human rights principles
contained in Islam along with SOP alumni Henny Ulva from Aceh who,
although she could not attend the program, provided a PowerPoint
presentation about Islam and human rights.
In explaining the relationship between Buddhism and human rights,
Vichith first noted how the faith’s Four Nobel Truths—(1) suffering, (2)
the cause of suffering, (3) the cessation of suffering and (4) the path
leading to the end of suffering—are linked to human rights, i.e.,
suffering equates with human rights violations, the cause of suffering
is injustice, the cessation of suffering results in peace and the path
to the end of suffering can be found through respect for universal human
rights. He added that the portions of the Eightfold Path of Buddhism
concerned with one’s ethical conduct—right speech, right action and
right livelihood—and the Five Precepts that form the code of ethics of
Buddhism reflect the faith’s deep reverence for life that is a
cornerstone of human rights. He remarked as well that the roots of the
discrimination, exploitation and violence that underlie the abuse of
people’s rights and respect for their human dignity are selfishness,
greed and hatred, all of which a practicing Buddhist seeks to eliminate
from their life.
Hor Hen added to the content of Vichith’s presentation by further
amplifying the teachings of Buddhism and outlining the history and role
of Buddhism in his country of Cambodia as well as sharing the portions
of the Cambodian Constitution specifically related to human rights.
As for Christianity and human rights, Pastor Paulus noted that “the most
basic human rights are granted by God, not by man or any country, such
as the right to life.”
“All people, both men and women, are created in the image of God by
God,” added Van Voorhis. “We are all children of God. As everyone is
created in the image of God, Christians are called to love their
neighbor as themselves, for love is at the heart of the faith.”
Human rights violations, he remarked, are, of course, not a reflection
of this love.
“When a person is shot and killed while waiting for a bus, when a woman
is beaten, when a child is sexually exploited, when a person loses their
land and home in the name of development, this is not loving one
another,” he said. “When a person disappears, when they are tortured,
when they are imprisoned unjustly for expressing themselves, when they
are denied an education or health care, it is an act done against a
child of God, a human being created in the image of God by God.”
At the conclusion of his presentation about Christianity and human
rights, Dharshan noted that there is no hierarchy of rights between
civil and political rights, on one hand, and economic, social and
cultural rights, on the other.
“This sacredness and equality of the human person and the concern for
others in the community as reflected in the laws, prophetic oracles and
Jesus’ ministry are two major pillars of the Biblical tradition upon
which one can base both political rights—freedom—and social
rights—bread,” he explained. “We need to maintain both civil liberty and
social justice as inseparable parts of human rights. As we cannot divide
spirit and flesh in our body, so freedom and bread are integral to each
other. If we lose one, we will distort all. The real issue is not of
counterposing these two sets of rights and making a choice between them
but of finding an acceptable working arrangement. The poor person needs
both bread and freedom.”
Regarding Islam and human rights, Imam Nafi said that in sharia law
Muslims are called to protect religion, protect the body and soul,
protect the mind, protect descent, protect property and, in the Sufi
tradition, protect human dignity. This set of protections that are
required of Muslims to uphold, said Imam Nafi, could be translated into
secular human rights language as, among others, freedom of religion, the
right to life, freedom of expression, reproductive rights and the
welfare of children.
Ulva augmented this understanding of Islam and human rights by sharing
in the PowerPoint presentation she provided that “the Qur’an upholds the
sanctity and absolute value of human life and points out, in essence,
that the life of each individual is comparable to that of an entire
community and therefore should be treated with the utmost care.”
She affirmed this reverence for life found in Islam by quoting from the
Qur’an in which it is said that “if anyone slays a human being . . . it
shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a
life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind.”
Justice is another important aspect of Islam, Ulva observed, in again
quoting from the Qur’an: “[A]nd never let hatred of anyone lead you into
the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: this is closest to being
In the Qur’an, Ulva added, “justice is a prerequisite for peace, and
peace is a prerequisite for development. In a just society, all . . .
human rights may be exercised without difficulty.”
Humankind, however, has sadly not created this just society, and
consequently, people in Asia and around the world experience the
negation of their human rights every day as well as other problems.
Pastor Paulus emphasized that there is consequently a need for people of
different faiths to cooperate to address and resolve these problems. He
said that in Solo Muslims and Christians are working together to improve
people’s economic conditions, to protect the environment, to respond to
natural disasters and, most importantly, to end violence.
Challenges though, of course, remain, and Imam Nafi highlighted the
threats to human rights in Indonesia as political actors—the
State—culture, a lack of education, insufficient information and
religious extremists. He explained that religious extremists usually
fall into two categories as either fundamentalists or radicals.
Fundamentalists, he said, are extremists in thinking while radicals are
extremists in action. The former are thinkers who provide the
intellectual explanations and motivation for violence while the latter
often have little education and actually perform the acts of violence.
As well as these inputs about human rights from legal and faith-based
perspectives, other workshop sessions dealt with practical aspects of
responding to human rights violations. Thus, after an input about the
importance of accurate documentation, the workshop participants
practiced using documentation by writing an urgent appeal based on a
specific human rights issue or case in their country.
The program also included field trips to Imam Nafi’s pesantren for girls
and boys, a local community in Solo where women shared about domestic
violence and trafficking, a tour of a Buddhist temple at which the group
planted several trees for peace and a meeting with the journalists of a
major Solo newspaper, Solo Pos, who said that they seek to report on
events in the city’s complex society objectively based on respect for
all people’s human rights.