Between 2015 and 2016, the UN Office on Genocide Prevention organised a series of consultations with religious leaders, faith-based and secular organisations, and other experts, in order to better understand, articulate and encourage the potential of religious leaders to prevent religious incitement and violence. This ‘Fez process’ led to the adoption of a ‘Plan of action for religious leaders and actors to prevent incitement to violence that could lead to atrocity crimes.’ Although the consultations were organised specifically in the context of preventing atrocity crimes, it was recognised that the principles and actions set out through the ‘Fez process’ are relevant for all efforts to address religious intolerance, incitement and violence.
During the meeting in The Hague, a participant in the European consultation of the Fez process, Reverend Bonnie Evans Hills, an Anglican priest and member of the ‘Churches Together Inter Faith Theological Advisory Group,’ presented the meeting’s conclusions and outcomes. She explained that three particular areas of concern had been identified: radicalisation, rising levels of hate speech, and a lack of humanity in responses to the plight of refugees. On the issue of hate speech, the European consultation had confirmed the crucial importance of religious leaders in speaking out against acts of intolerance and in setting the tone for respectful public discourse. In that regard, it had drawn particular attention to the importance of female members of the clergy also (not just men) being empowered to speak out, especially considering that the victims of hate speech and hate crimes could just as easily be women as men. Unfortunately, female religious leaders were often silenced by their male counterparts.
Reverend Evans-Hills also spoke of the important role of religious leaders in reassuring targeted populations after incidences of discrimination or intolerance. At such times, targeted communities could often feel marginalised, neglected and at-risk; and community leaders, working with government authorities and the police, should necessarily play an important role in offering comfort and reassurance.