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Launch of International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief

By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights  •  November 12, 2014

OSLO — APHR members joined together with fellow parliamentarians from across the world in Oslo this weekend to launch the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief, tasked with working towards eradicating belief-based persecution across the globe.

Religious persecution is one of many interlinking human rights issues facing Southeast Asia as the region prepares to launch into an Economic Community in 2015 and forms part of the focus of ASEAN Parliamentarian’s’ for Human Rights (APHR)’s work to engage legislators on key human rights issues.

“In Myanmar, this is one of the key issues that threatens to divide us as people and undermine our efforts to move towards, unity, democracy and greater rights and protections for all people,” Said U Shwe Maung, Myanmar member of parliament, Chair of APHR Myanmar Caucus and founding members of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief.

“I am Rohingya, I am Muslim, but I am also able to become a member of Parliament – this is the way it was and should be, but most of my fellow Rohingya are facing persecution, starvation, violence and death. Their religion, Islam, is being used as one of the driving factors for this persecution and it goes against centuries of good interreligious relations.”

“But it isn’t just the Muslims; Christians and followers of other faiths are also persecuted and prevented from practicing their religions. This is a problem in other ASEAN states also, such as Vietnam and Indonesia, and we hope that through the work of APHR and this new international panel, we can get parliamentarians involved in solving these problems and defending people’s rights to practice their beliefs free from persecution.”

Over 100,000 Rohingya Muslims are thought to have fled persecution in Myanmar in the past year. The vast majority of those that remain are living in desperate conditions and are faced with a series of pitiful choices ahead of them.

“The Myanmar government’s policy towards the Rohingya is clearly discriminatory and illegal under international human rights law. The so-called “Rakhine Action Plan”, which forces the Rohingya to deny their ethnic heritage in return for flimsy semi-citizenship status goes against basic principles of decency and humanity. It should be opposed by all right-thinking persons and the government urged to make an immediate U-turn that ends the desperate plight of the Rohingya,” said APHR President and Malaysian Member of Parliament Charles Santiago.

“Ignoring this creeping march towards ethnic cleansing and genocide will be the shame of our region and the world. We can, must and will do what we can to end this unfolding tragedy now, not later.”

APHR members U Shwe Maung and Kasthuri Patho, from Malaysia, joined parliamentarians from across the world in Oslo from November 7–9, including MPs from: Brazil, Canada, Germany, Nepal, Norway, South Africa, Dominican Republic, Burma, Pakistan, Malaysia, Turkey, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Argentina, Costa Rica, Sri Lanka and Italy.

The panel’s first action was to sign a charter reaffirming their commitment to freedom of religion or belief as outlined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The official signing of the charter, which took place on Saturday 8th November at the Nobel Peace Centre, Oslo, can be viewed here.

The event was addressed by eminent speakers including Heiner Bielefeldt, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief; Baroness Berridge, Chair of the British All Party Parliamentary Group on International Freedom of Religion or Belief; and Katrina Lantos-Swett, who chairs the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Commenting on the creation of the panel, Baroness Berridge said:  “I believe that we will have maximum impact as legislators if we work together in a co-ordinated way — Parliamentarians from different countries, holding different religions and beliefs, and from different political parties. This will enable us to share knowledge and information, and challenge our governments about what they are doing to address the suffering of so many. I am extremely encouraged by the diversity of the group that met in Oslo and look forward to the group taking concrete action that will have real impact.”


In the face of rising violations of freedom of religion or belief worldwide, the British All Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom and the United States Commission on Religious Freedom met in 2013 to discuss what co-ordinated action could take place between Parliamentarians who are concerned about Article 18 rights. The result of this was an initiative to build an international network of legislators committed to advocating against religious persecution and supporting religious freedom for all.   

In June 2014 a small initial group gathered together in Oxford, consisting of MPs from a variety of countries and the European Parliament. An agreement was reached to begin to build a wider international coalition, and this plan became a reality in Oslo on 7th November.


ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) is a collective of lawmakers from Southeast Asia working to improve human rights responses and social justice in the region
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This post is in: Press Release

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