Mr. Peter Weiderud, Director of the Swedish Institute Alexandria (SwedAlex) and a delegation of the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process concluded a successful trip to Geneva to take part in the 31st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council
On Friday March 11th, H.E. Bishop Porfyrios of Neapolis, representing H.B. Archbishop Chrysostomos II and Dr. Talip Atalay, Mufti of Cyprus addressed the UN 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. The event was hosted by the Swedish Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Mrs. Veronika Bard.
During the event, Mr. Weiderud highlighted four positive lessons from the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process, which he initiated in 2009 and still serve as a Moderator: “The successful work of the religious leaders in Cyprus can serve as an example to others in the Middle East what can be achieved through inter-religious dialogue.”
SwedAlex director explained that when the dialogue between the political leaders has been blocked, the religious leaders have offered hope to the people that dialogue is possible. But when the political leaders’ dialogue has worked, the claims of religious leaders for improved freedom of religions have been possible to meet. He added: “People with religious motives have the ability to change through dialogue”, he put forward as a second lesson, challenging the regular secular understanding that religious motives or more difficult to change than secular ones. “A person of faith is relating to something outside him or herself. This search involves a potential for change”, he continued and stressed that in the Middle East religion is too present to be ignored as an arena for dialogue.
“Interreligious dialogue is always an instrument to avoid conflicts to become violent”, he mentioned as the third aspect. Violent attacks on religious monuments cannot be avoided, but when there is a structure for dialogue, religious leaders have an instrument to de-escalate the tension. When such a structure is lacking, religious leaders have a tendency to rather put fuel on the fire, as these are the expectations from big parts of their constituencies.
“Freedom of Religion and Beliefs is not only an important principle of human rights, it is also an excellent platform for dialogue”, Mr. Weiderud shared as the fourth lesson. Freedom of Religions and Beliefs involves three perspectives, all equally important. Freedom to, freedom from and freedom to choose your faith. It is something in it for everyone, and all actors can benefit from dialogue.
In her opening remarks to the side event which was hosted by the Permanent Mission of Sweden to the United Nations Office in Geneva, Ambassador Veronika Bard of Sweden stated that: “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,” while 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 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.