UN Special Rapporteur Issues Report on Freedom of Religion in Cyprus

The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) welcomes a report issued by UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, Mr. Heiner Bielefeldt, that reaffirms religious freedom violations in Turkish-occupied Cyprus.

“We commend the UN report for identifying religious freedom violations in Turkish-occupied Cyprus and documenting them for the record,” said AHI President Nick Larigakis. “We applaud Mr. Bielefeldt for performing a thorough analysis, even taking time to visit the enclaved to assess the restrictions of religion freedom placed upon them.  Unfortunately, the UN report reaffirms that suppression of religious freedom continues to exist in Turkish-occupied Cyprus which has resulted in the wanton destruction of Cyprus’ cultural and religious heritage as documented by other leading expert groups, including the Law Library of Congress and the U.S. Helsinki Commission.”

The UN special rapporteur’s report cites the existence of vandalism to religious monuments and cemeteries, the limited presence of priests, the intimidation provoked by “police officers” of the illegal Turkish Cypriot regime by taking photographs during religious services and the “restrictive and unfair handling of claims.” In addition, the UN special rapporteur also reaffirms all religious groups in Turkish-occupied Cyprus are under the “close surveillance” of “police officers” of the illegal Turkish Cypriot regime, and furthermore, he notes the effect upon the religious identity of Turkish Cypriots as a result of Turkey’s illegal colonization policy.

The UN special rapporteur’s report will be presented during a plenary session of the Human Rights Council on March 5, 2013.

AHI notes the report corroborates the 2012 annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, which found three main issues in Turkish-occupied Cyprus:

  1. The inability of Orthodox Christians, other religious communities, and clergy to access and hold services at their places of worship and cemeteries in the north, particularly those in Turkish military bases and zones;
  2. The disrepair of churches and cemeteries and issues relating to the preservation of religious heritage, such as iconography, mosaics, and other religious symbols; and
  3. The lack of schools and opportunities for young people in the north, which has led to an exodus of Greek Cypriots and other religious minorities.

The American Hellenic Institute is an independent non-profit Greek American public policy center that works to strengthen relations between the United States and Greece and Cyprus, and within the Greek American community.