I accept this award on behalf of the Indonesian people."
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - Despite some controversies at home, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono finally accepted the World Statesman Award from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation (AoCF) in New York and dedicated the award to all Indonesian people.

"I accept this award on behalf of the Indonesian people. May this award provide momentum for us to continue our endeavor in the promotion of humanity and the common good of peoples. May the hard work and resolve of all Indonesians further encourage us to achieve the dreams of our founding fathers: a harmonious society bonded in peace and prosperity," President Yudhoyono said immediately after receiving the award on May 30, 2013.

Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, who was a recipient of the World Statement Award before, handed the award to President Yudhoyono.

Several world leaders such as US President Barack Obama, Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stolbenberg, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and former Timor Leste`s president Jose Ramos-Horta congratulated him for the award.

Barack Obama in his letter among other things expressed his appreciation to President Yudhoyono`s initiative in establishing the Bali Democracy Forum. Stoltenberg praised Yudhoyono`s leadership in the UN High-Level Panel for Post-2015 Development Agenda. David Cameron mentioned Indonesia`s big potential in promoting democracy and peace in the region.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier, the founder of the AoCF, in his speech said the award was given as a recognition to Yudhoyono`s achievement in helping maintain peace internationally.

The award is also expected to encourage the human rights protection, freedom of religion, and inter-faith cooperation, he added.

"You fully understand that the work is not complete. This is just a step in the right direction," the rabbi said.

Rabbi Arthur Schneier founded the Appeal of Conscience Foundation in 1965, as an interfaith partnership of corporate and spiritual leaders from all faiths to promote peace, tolerance and ethnic conflict resolution.

Following the act of September 11th, the AoCF has rallied religious leaders worldwide to take a stand against terrorism and to use their influence to halt violence and promote tolerance.

Previous World Statesman awardees include former British prime ministers Gordon Brown and Margaret Thatcher, French president Nicolas Sarkozy, and German chancellor Angela Merkel.

President Yudhoyono in his acceptance speech said statesmanship does not need to always be exercised by a single person, but it can be collective.

"And it is the collective statesmanship of Indonesians of all walks of life that makes Indonesia progress and prosper," he said.

Indonesia as a nation with a long history of tolerance will always be a strong voice for moderation, which is the best antidote for extremism, he stated.

Building a tolerant society is a matter of good statecraft and it requires a good mix of persuasion and law enforcement, the president said.

"When violence occurs, justice must prevail. However, based on our experiences in Indonesia, enforcing the law alone is not enough. Hearts and minds have to be won. Old stereotypes have to be broken. A culture of tolerance and an inclusive approach have to be constantly promoted," he said.

Having the world`s largest Muslim population, Indonesia will do its best to build more bridges between the Islamic and western worlds, according to him.

"As the world`s third largest democracy, we are setting a good example that democracy, Islam and modernity can go together in positive symbiosis," the head of state said.

Having a total population of over 245 million, Indonesia currently has over 255,000 mosques, more than 13,000 Hindu temples, some 2,000 Buddhist temples, over 1,300 Confucian temples, and more than 61.000 churches in Indonesia.

The number of churches in Indonesia is more than that in Great Britain or Germany, according to Yudhoyono.

The government will do all it can to preserve a nation where hundreds of ethnic groups and religious followers - Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Confucianists and other faiths - live as one in freedom and brotherhood, he stated.

As Indonesia is moving forward, the nation will not tolerate any act of senseless violence committed by any group in the name of religion, he added.

"We will not allow any desecration of places of worship of any religion for whatever reason. We will always protect our minorities and ensure that no one suffers from discrimination. We will make sure that those who violate the rights of others will face the arms of justice," the president stated.

He admitted, however, that Indonesia is still facing a number of problems on the ground.

"Pockets of intolerance persist. Communal conflicts occasionally flare up. Religious sensitivities sometimes give rise to disputes, with groups taking matters into their own hands. Radicalism still exists on the fringe. This, I believe, is a problem that is not exclusive to Indonesia alone, and may in fact be a global phenomenon.

To be sure, we have more work to do. We shall continue to advance Indonesia`s transformation, while tackling these problems," he stated on the occasion which was also attended by Indonesian First Lady Ani Yudhoyono, Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa, Minister/State Secretary Sudi Silalahi, and Indonesian Ambassador to the US Dino Patty Djalal.

Before leaving for New York, President Yudhoyono was criticized for to be awarded the World Statesman. Prominent Catholic Priest Franz Magnis Suseno, for instance, sent a letter to the AoCF objecting to its plan to bestow the award to Yudhoyono.

In his letter, Suseno among other things mentioned that hundreds of Ahmadis and Shiites have been expelled from their hometowns or killed because they were considered heretics, the Jakarta Post reported.

But, there were a number of Islamic prominent figures such as Ridho Baridwan representing the Al Irsyah Al Islamiyah, Tutty Alawiyah from Assyafiiyah, and Amidhan from the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), who expressed their support.

In a joint statement, they appreciated the AoCF for giving the award to Yudhoyono for his continuous efforts in building and developing harmonious relations among different religions in the country.

They also said that Muslims in the country have since independence been committed to building and implementing tolerance on other religious followers to develop religious, harmonious and peaceful statehood and nationhood within the Unitary State of Indonesia.

They also expressed regret over a number of people who had developed an opinion that Muslims as the majority population in the country had hindered development of houses of prayers.

In fact, they said, the number of Islamic houses of prayers over the past two decades has increased only by 64.22 percent while that of Christian 131 percent, Catholic 153 percent, Hindu 368.9 percent and Buddhist 475.25 percent.

Reporter: Fardah
Editor: Priyambodo RH
Copyright © ANTARA 2013