The URG Team

On 18-19 November 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands with the support of the Universal Rights Group (URG) hosted the seventh meeting of the Istanbul Process. The meeting was entitled, ‘Combatting religious intolerance: building inclusive and resilient societies, and pushing back against incitement to hatred and violence.’

This was the first Istanbul Process meeting to be held after a hiatus of three years. The previous full meeting of the Process was held in Singapore in 2016. Earlier in 2019, Denmark and the European Union (EU), with the support of URG, convened a ‘stocktaking meeting’ in Geneva to reflect on the first six meetings of the Istanbul Process, and revitalise international efforts to combat religious intolerance.

The seventh meeting of the Istanbul Process sought to continue the practitioner-centric approach established at the sixth meeting in Singapore. It provided a platform for practitioners from a cross-regional group of States, as well as other relevant stakeholders, to share practical policy experiences, good practices and lessons learnt in the promotion of religious tolerance and strengthened resilience, in the spirit of the action plan set down in Human Rights Council resolution 16/18.

Participants included government officials, law enforcement officers, religious leaders, community leaders, museum directors, representatives of professional football clubs, academics, human rights civil society representatives, and – for this first time at an Istanbul Process meeting – representatives of the private sector (especially social media companies). The meeting enjoyed participation from all UN regions: Africa, Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the West.

After a high-level opening plenary, featuring a keynote address by H.E. Mr Stef Blok, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, participants were divided between four breakout groups for more in-depth discussions. This format was designed to allow for greater interaction and practical exchange between different stakeholders from different regions.

The breakout discussions addressed two main themes and four subthemes. The aim was to cover all parts of the UN action plan on combatting religious intolerance, as set down in Council resolution 16/18. The key themes and subthemes were:

  1. ‘Pro-active approach: building tolerant, inclusive and resilient societies’
    1. Building tolerant and inclusive societies through inter-religious dialogue, social integration and education (paragraphs 5a, and 5h of the 16/18 action plan) (break-out group 1).
    2. Preventing negative stereotyping and discrimination in areas such as health, housing, education and employment, including through training of government officials, promoting dialogue with and within communities, awareness-building and media education (paragraphs 5c, 5d, and 5g of the 16/18 action plan) (break-out group 2).
  2. ‘Incitement to religious hatred and violence: pushing back’
    1. Implementation of paragraphs 5e and 5f of resolution 16/18, and the Rabat Plan of Action (paragraphs 5e, and 5f of the 16/18 action plan) (break-out group 3).
    2. Working with the media and social media companies (paragraphs 5a, and 5g of the 16/18 action plan) (break-out group 4).

The gathering in The Hague also included (again a first for a meeting of the Istanbul Process) a gender session and a ‘marketplace’ where different organisations (including government agencies, police forces, museums, professional football clubs, NGOs and faith-based organisations, mainly – but not only – from The Netherlands), presented innovative projects designed to help combat religious intolerance, discrimination, stigmatisation, incitement to hatred and violence, and violence. The aim of the marketplace was to showcase practical case studies and good practices using interactive displays. It also strengthened the principle of ‘introspection’ in the Istanbul Process – i.e. the idea that participating States (especially hosts) should use meetings as an opportunity to reflect on their own challenges, as opposed to commenting on those of others.

This report seeks to summarise some of the key points made during each part of the meeting, and to collate some of the best practices shared in that context.

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