The Republic of Cyprus, on the occasion of the recent release of a report by UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Heiner Bielefeldt, on his mission to Cyprus from 29 March to 5 April 2012, “reaffirms its full respect for the fundamental human right of freedom of religion or belief.”

In a press release, it is noted that “the Special Rapporteur`s Report and his recommendations will be thoroughly evaluated by the competent authorities of the Republic of Cyprus.”

“The Republic of Cyprus agrees with the observation of the Special Rapporteur that the Cyprus problem does not originate from religious differences, as well as with his support for the commendable work of the Bicommunal Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage, which should be strengthened,” it says.

It adds that, regarding the religious freedom of the enclaved, whom the Special Rapporteur visited, “the Report refers, inter alia, to the vandalism of religious monuments and cemeteries, the limited presence of priests, the intimidation provoked by the so-called `police` taking photographs during religious services and the `restrictive and unfair handling of inheritance claims`.”

“A reference is also made to the unacceptable placing of the Bishop of Karpasia on a `stop list` since January 2012,” it says.

The press release adds that “the Special Rapporteur calls for the respect of the fundamental human right of religious freedom, of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, and the Third Vienna Agreement of 1975” and “also recommends that `the de-facto authorities` should respect the right of religious leaders to visit their communities without undue restrictions.”

“Specific reference is also made to the religious sites of the Maronites, to which they do not have regular access since they are located in `military compounds` and to the far from satisfactory condition of their cemeteries. The Special Rapporteur also refers to the very poor condition of the Armenian Monastery in Halefka, which he visited, and he strongly recommends the future use by the Armenians of the Armenian Church in occupied Nicosia, which was recently restored,” it notes.

It adds that “the Special Rapporteur also reaffirms the close surveillance to which the so-called `police` subjects religious groups in the occupied part of Cyprus” and that “the reference in paragraph 49 that a plain clothes `police officer` tried to observe a meeting of the Special Rapporteur with the Maronite villagers is indicative.”

“The Report also makes particular reference to the impact of the illegal colonization in the occupied areas to the religious identity of the Turkish Cypriots, as well as to the imposition of mandatory religious instruction in the occupied areas. The oppressive regime in occupied Cyprus is also exposed by the non-acceptance of the right to conscientious objection to military service,” it says.

The press release notes that, “regarding the references to the Muslim sites in the Government-controlled areas, it should be stressed that the Republic of Cyprus systematically restores all such places of worship and cemeteries in the Government-controlled areas.”

“Moreover, the lack of `minimum infrastructure` to some of the Muslim cemeteries in the Government-controlled areas can be attributed, to an extent, to the restriction of movement to the Government-controlled areas, imposed by the Turkish occupation regime, to the Turkish Cypriots for decades,” it says.

It notes that “the Republic of Cyprus fully respects the religious rights of the Turkish Cypriots and facilitates their visits to the places of worship in the Government-controlled areas.”

“Foreign pilgrims are also welcome to exercise their religious rights provided that they have entered the territory of the Republic of Cyprus legally. However, the colonization of the occupied areas of Cyprus violates the 4th Geneva Convention and constitutes a `war crime` according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. In this regard, while the Government does not disagree with the general approach of the Special Rapporteur that religious freedom should not depend on `citizenship`, however the issue of illegal colonization has a serious particularity which cannot be overlooked or minimized,” it says.

The Report will be presented during a plenary session of the Human Rights Council on March 5, 2013.

 

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