The Rabat Plan of Action (RPoA) emphasises the interdependence of human rights and the critical role human rights organisations play in “creating an environment in which a constructive discussion about religious matters could be held”. It also notes that open discussions are “the soundest way to probe whether religious interpretations adhere to, or rather distort, the original values that undermine religious belief”. The plan of action provides recommendations for States in terms of legislation, jurisprudence, and policy to achieve this desired space for free and open discussions that promote inclusion and respect diversity.
The RPoA outlines several recommendations to the UN and other stakeholders, including civil society organisations, to “create and support mechanisms and dialogues to foster intercultural and inter-religious understanding and learning”.
At an earlier Asia Consultation in June 2017, in which the Internet Democracy Project also participated, participants agreed that the RPoA provides a wide canvas for states and non-state actors such as CSOs to engage on critical aspects of FoE&R. Many participants also thought that the RPoA is a key international marker in categorically rejecting several ideas and narratives that undermine fundamental rights. It was questioned, however, whether the Rabat Process has already stalled and whether it still has any space for Asia civil society to meaningfully engage. It would be significant to deliberate on practical implementation on the ground and following up with the States vis-à-vis RPoA and its implementation.
The current consultation follows up on these recommendations. It aims to bring together civil society organisations from over 11 Asian countries and Special Procedure mechanisms on Freedom of Expression; Freedom of Religion or Belief; Freedom of Association and Assembly; Violence Against Women; and Human Rights Defenders. It will allow to take stock of the current situation and to understand how CSOs can play a role towards strengthening fundamental rights to ensure freedom of expression and religion in the Asian region drawing on he RPoA.
Exploring ways for the practical implementation of the Rabat Plan of Action on the ground
Initiating an active interface between relevant Asian CSOs and Rabat Plan of Action process;
Exploring strategic and consistent UN advocacy of Asian civil society on the issues related to Expression, Opinion and Religious Freedom in Asia;
Identifying forums to engage for better protection of Freedom of Expression, religion and belief (including regional human rights mechanisms ASEAN, SAARC, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), National Human Rights Institutions and OIC); and
Exploring the feasibility of a regional network to advocate on the implementation of the Rabat Action Plan.