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Maintaining and Advocating for FoRB: Insights from the Danish-Indonesian Forum

In June 2024, at the Indonesian embassy in Denmark, leaders and advocates from Denmark and Indonesia convened to discuss and promote the crucial values of religious freedom and tolerance. The forum aimed to build a deeper understanding and address ongoing challenges in achieving these essential human rights.

The event, titled “Promoting Religious Freedom and Tolerance: A Discussion on the Danish Initiative in Indonesia” and held in June 2024 by the Indonesian Embassy in Denmark, underscored Denmark’s firm stance on making Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) a cornerstone of its foreign policy. Denmark has long been recognised for its proactive approach in integrating FoRB into its international engagements, including partnerships with Indonesia. This initiative has not only strengthened bilateral ties but has also fostered meaningful interreligious dialogues aimed at promoting universal FoRB principles.

The forum echoed the broader efforts championed by the International Partnership on Religion and Sustainable Development (PaRD), which advocates for leveraging the positive role of religion in advancing sustainable development and human rights, including FoRB. PaRD’s mission is closely linked to the co-operation between Denmark and Indonesia. Both countries are living examples of how governments and civil society can share experiences and collaborate effectively on FoRB initiatives that reflect the very principles that PaRD seeks to promote and support.

Perspectives on FoRB: A Catalyst for Human Rights

Karen Grønlund Rogne, Special Representative for Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB), Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, emphasised the importance of protecting FoRB, noting that it “is often used as a litmus test for human rights in society.” She articulated that FoRB serves as a foundational pillar that underpins societal harmony by facilitating respectful dialogue amid diverse beliefs and practices. Rogne highlighted the relevance of FoRB in contemporary global challenges such as conflicts, inequality, and discrimination, stressing its critical importance in fostering inclusive societies.

Speakers R. Terry Subagja, First Secretary of the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Denmark, and Filip Buff Pedersen, Center for Church-Based Development – CKU, in conversation with Nuria Isna Asyar, Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs, (on screen). Credits: Ole Ramsing/CKU

Filip Buff Pedersen, Political Adviser at the Center for Church-Based Development (CKU) and PaRD FoRB Workstream Lead, emphasised the transformative power of FoRB in fostering open dialogue among diverse viewpoints. Pedersen argued that FoRB creates a space for constructive dialogue among individuals with differing viewpoints, thereby fostering environments conducive to healthy debates and mutual understanding. He illustrated how CKU’s strategic shift towards FoRB has strengthened partnerships, including collaborations with Indonesia’s Communion of Churches (CCI/PGI), aimed at advocating for and maintaining FoRB in Indonesia.

Jimmy M.I. Sormin, Executive Secretary of the Community of Churches in Indonesia (PGI/CCI), provided a detailed overview of Indonesia’s efforts under the Indonesia-Denmark Bilateral Action Plan. He highlighted three successful outcomes:

  1. The Indonesian term “Sekber KBB,” which stands for FoRB, represents the coming together of national and local networks of human rights defenders from over 70 organizations. It has grown into a collaboration involving various sectors, aimed at supporting and advocating for FoRB.
  2. Another product of research is the book Politik Moderasi dan Kebebasan Beragama: Suatu Tinjauan Kritis (The Politics of Religious Moderation and Religious Freedom: A Critical Review). This book, authored by Sormin and Zainal Abidin Bagir from the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS), was published by ICSR and PGI/CCI. It stems from the religious moderation program launched by the Indonesian government to confront religious extremism, which has resulted in some polarisation amongst religious groups. The book aims to demonstrate how using different terminology could potentially lead to resolutions.
  3. A final outcome is an online platform called, which serves as a database of Indonesia’s collective memory. It incorporates two concepts: memoria passionis (memory of suffering) and memoria felicitas (memory of happiness). The former recounts interfaith engagements, and the latter rejoices in Indonesia’s positive and peaceful interfaith initiatives.

Nuria Isna Asyar, Special Staff for International Affairs to the Director General of Islamic Community Guidance at the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs and Member of PaRD’s Steering Board, discussed tangible outcomes of Indonesia’s commitment to FoRB, such as the establishment of Religious Moderation Villages. These villages serve as models for promoting tolerance and community harmony, reflecting Indonesia’s long-standing constitutional commitment to religious freedom.

Asyar highlighted that the Indonesian Ministry of Religious Affairs received a special mandate from President Joko Widodo to enhance Religious Moderation. To fulfil this mandate, the Ministry has been implementing various programs, including interfaith dialogues at both national and international levels. Additionally, it conducts annual research on the Index of Religious Harmony.

Challenges and Pathways Forward

Despite progress, challenges of discrimination persist, as noted by Ambassador Dewi Savitri Wahab. She urged proactive measures against intolerance and stated that “not doing anything to address intolerance is not an action.” She emphasized the imperative of capacity-building and stakeholder engagement in sustaining progress towards greater FoRB.

The forum concluded with a robust Q&A session, exploring diverse topics from mental health to community engagement. The dialogue highlighted the complexity of FoRB issues and renewed commitments to address them collaboratively. As stakeholders depart, they carry forward a renewed sense of purpose in advancing religious freedom and tolerance on both local and global fronts.