A delegation of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process together with H.E. Bishop Porfyrios of Neapolis, representing H.B. Archbishop Chrysostomos II and Dr Talip Atalay, Mufti of Cyprus concluded a successful trip to Geneva where on the 11th March 2016 the two religious leaders addressed the 31st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council at a side event on “Interreligious Communication, Freedom of Religion and Peacebuilding” together with Dr Heiner Bielefedt, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and Peter Weiderud, Director of the Swedish Institute, Alexandria.
“One could say that the Religious Track has changed the roles of the religious leaders from being part of the conflict, to being part of a negotiated solution for peace” stated Ambassador Veronika Bard of Sweden in her opening remarks to the side event which was hosted by the Permanent Mission of Sweden to the United Nations Office in Geneva and related organizations in Geneva.
Dr Heiner Bielefeldt in his concluding remarks said that he had “benefitted enormously” from the efforts of the Religious Track in Cyprus where he could “derive inspiration and hope”. The session concluded that the interreligious dialogue for human rights and peace in Cyprus must go on and should further broaden its ownership in Cyprus; the perspectives towards the region and self-understanding of diversity in Cyprus.
The religious leaders and the Office of the RTCYPP took the opportunity to publicly pay tribute to Prof. Dr Bielefeld, whose term as Special Rapporteur comes to an end this summer. The Special Rapporteur accompanied the work of the Religious Track since his country visit to Cyprus in 2012 with his encouragement, challenges and support together with the United Nations Office of the High Commission for Human Rights.
“We are here today not only because of him, to be with him but this year we are here for him” said Salpy Eskidjian, moderator of the side event in her introductory remarks. “In every sense he was part of the breakthroughs we achieved for religious freedom and human rights in Cyprus.”
On the 10th March, the delegation attended meetings and presentations with the diplomatic community, human rights defenders and victims marking the 30th Anniversary celebrations of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.
At the end of their trip, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, Rev Dr Olav Fyske Tveit, warmly received the religious leaders. “Politicians need religious leaders who help them see the right values and perspectives,” said the General Secretary. “I value what you are doing, particularly in today’s world.”
The facilitators of the RTCYPP had the opportunity to address the 53rd session of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs and give an update on the current situation in Cyprus and the efforts of the religious leaders in this regard.