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Letter to UN commissioner and special rapporteur

Letter by WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit to to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navanethem Pillay and to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Mr Heiner Bielefeldt, concerning freedom of religion and belief in the northern, occupied part of the Republic of Cyprus.

28 January 2011

An identical letter was sent to Heiner Bielefeldt, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, United Nations Human Rights Council.

Geneva, 28 January 2011

Your Excellency,

The World Council of Churches would like to express its deepest concern and indignation concerning the events that took place on Christmas day in the village of Rizokarpaso, in the area of the Republic of Cyprus under the control of Turkish troops and administered by Turkish Cypriot authorities. Turkish Cypriot police entered the Church of Saint Sinesios and demanded that the worship activities cease. Following this they forced the congregation out and sealed the church.  Their argument was that the local Turkish Cypriot authorities had not granted the congregation permission for the service, an accusation that the Church of Cyprus strongly denies. It should be noted that the church is one of seven religious sites in the area which is governed by a special status under which religious services can be performed on a regular basis without receiving advanced permission.  Furthermore, the local Turkish Cypriot authorities refused to give permission for the performance of the Holy Service to the Gialousa Saint Trinity Church (Agia Triada) in occupied Karpasia.

We strongly denounce these actions as we believe that they constitute a flagrant violation of fundamental freedoms and human rights, mainly the right to freedom of religion and belief, as guaranteed in a number of international human rights instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the Third Vienna Agreement of 1975, concerning among others the safeguard of the right to education and religious freedom of the enclaved Greek Cypriots, living in the northern occupied part of the Republic of Cyprus.

One of the main elements of religious freedom is the right to be able to manifest one’s religion or belief in practice and worship. Such actions, as those that occurred on Christmas day, are in direct offence to the core elements of the right to religious freedom and a worrying sign of religious intolerance which can only hamper efforts to bring peace to the divided island. As the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family are the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

Having full confidence in the work of the United Nations for the respect, protection and promotion of human rights around the world, we urge you, your Excellency, to use your good offices to ensure that the human rights, especially freedom of religion and belief of the enclaved Greek-Cypriots, are fully respected by the Turkish Cypriot authorities.

Yours sincerely,

Rev. Dr Olav Tveit
General secretary
World Council of Churches