Religious leaders in Cyprus say more is needed to be done for the protection of human rights

The religious leaders of Cyprus were honoured for their working together in an unprecedented initiative to uphold religious freedom in Cyprus, build bridges between the faith communities and eliminate violence and make a constructive contribution to peacebuilding.

In a ceremony at the House for Cooperation in the Buffer Zone, Chrysostomos II, Archbishop of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus, Dr. Talip Atalay, Mufti of Cyprus, Yousef Soueif, Archbishop of the Maronite Church of Cyprus, Khoren Toghramadjian, Archbishop of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church of Cyprus and Rev. Father Jerzy Kraj, Latin Patriarchal Vicar and Representative of the Apostolic Nunciature in Cyprus were honoured by the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process (RTCYPP) under the auspices of the Embassy of Sweden, with art work to mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of human Rights, by artitsts Elli Hadzimarkou and Ibrahim Latif Ince.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a milestone document, which underpins all international human rights law.

Salpy Eskidjian, Executive Director of the Office of RTCYPP, said to launch the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We are deeply honoured to demonstrate their (the religious leaders’) strong will to work together despite all the divisions on the island to uphold human rights, religious freedom and human dignity, making a continuous contribution to the peace process in Cyprus, he said.

In her remarks, Ambassador of Sweden Anna Olsson Vrang, said all human beings are born free and equal, in dignity and rights, so reads the 1st Article of the Universal declaration for human rights. The declaration was and is, she added, a stepping stone in human development and for efforts to ensure that human rights are to be universally protected.

However, 70 years on, she added, we see that human rights are increasingly challenged. There are increasing threats towards Human rights activists, civil society, journalists and others who strive to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms. In some cases, individuals who stand up to human rights, are silenced. She said human rights violations are also often the first sign of conflict and human rights are also often one of the first victim of conflict. Security and the respect of human rights go hand in hand. And this broad approach to security is something which Sweden in its capacity as a non-permanent member of the SC for the past two years, has strived to highlight.

Here in Cyprus, the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process, has been working tirelessly for nearly ten years.

Peter Weiderud, Special Envoy for Religion in Conflict and Peace Building at the Swedish ministry of Foreign Affairs and Moderator of the religious track in Cyprus, said that although the Cyprus conflict has never been a religious conflict, freedom of religion had become a conflict and political leaders on both sides had failed in their responsibilities towards fundamental human rights.

Disrespecting places of worship, violating the rights of faith communities to free access to administer, restore, renovate, worship as prescribed by their respective religious teachings remains an obstacle to peace building. It is also one of the thorns in he peace process with the divided communities of the island for decades now.

That was one of the reasons why Sweden initiated the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process shortly after the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration. It was also to support the religious leaders to work together to improve the situation and to contribute to a solution of the Cyprus conflict. He said ten years ago, Christian and Muslim leaders did not speak to each other while the right to access monuments for worship across the Green Line was at best extremely limited.

By working together and advocating everybody’s rights, he remarked we have seen significant progress, and gave as example, the fact that 35 churches which were closed since 1974 were opened for worship, the number of permissions for Christians to pray in their historic churches north of the Green line are now significantly higher and Apostolos Barnabas is accessible for worship on a regular basis. The Mufti can freely cross to oversee his mosques south of the Green Line and 1000 pilgrims of Turkish national can visit Hala Sultan Tekke at three Muslim holidays per year.

At the same time, he said, religious leaders and the Religious Track are frustrated, disappointed ad upset when their joint efforts on basic matters pertaining to religious freedom are ignored and religious freedom is disrespected, even violated.

Together with the religious leaders, we are proud but not satisfied, he said, noting the work will continue until the basic rights, freedom of worship for everyone overall the island, the return of all monuments and artifacts to the rightful owners and full respect for all religions all over the island, are met.

The Director of the Office of RTCYPP presented to the leaders art commissioned for this occasion illustrating Article 18 by the new RTCYPP initiative on Faith4rights and youth to the religious leaders. The art was unveiled and presented to the religious leaders of Cyprus as a sign of appreciation, respect and commitment to continue the struggle.

In his remarks, the Mufti, speaking through an interpreter said that we have an obligation to find peace through ourselves and within each other, we need to continue meeting to achieve this, to respect each other’s identity, without trying to impose anything on each other, to continue to try to achieve peace globally by respecting each other.

H.E. Khoren Toghramadjian, Archbishop of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church of Cyprus, said they are committed to facilitating and continuing the dialogue at the initiative of the RTCYPP.

Yousef Soueif, Archbishop of the Maronite Church of Cyprus said we don’t have problem with each other. Speaking about freedom, nobody can understand the meaning of freedom unless he is imprisoned. We are five religious leaders and I agree with the Mufti, we as the religious leaders, our voice is not heard as it should be. Leave us free, leave us the freedom and see what we can do, he added.

Accepting the art on behalf of Chrysostomos II, Archbishop of Nova Justiniana and All Cyprus, Father Savvas Hadzionas expressed gratitude to the Swedish embassy for the RTCYPP’s initiative and process in particular.

He wondered whether it is a feast, or celebration, after 70 years? He questioned if we can celebrate as 70 years on, we still have serious problems around us. In Cyprus, back in 1974, in the Middle East, in the whole world. Many things were achieved he said, but we still have a long way to go. The main question exists in the freedom of conscience which is the core of the religious leaders. We must review the concept of the freedom of religion, based on the freedom of conscience and this is the meaning of men and women free. He urged all powerful nations to stop selling arms.

Father Jerzy Kraj of the Latin community said thanked for the RTCYPP for the art and said we are here to recognize each other as brothers and sisters.

Source: Cyprus News Agency