Religious and political leaders come together for the first time in support of peace in Cyprus
NICOSIA, 10 September 2015 - Religious and political leaders came together for the first time in support of peace in Cyprus. The religious leaders of Cyprus have come a long way since the Religious Track of the Cyprus Peace Process under the auspices of the Embassy of Sweden brought them together in 2009. At that time, the religious leaders had not talked to each other, only about each other and their communities, since the conflict started in 1963.
The Cyprus conflict has never been a religious conflict. But religion and freedom of religion have become victims of the conflict, as many other human rights principles, and being important for community identity, religion have sometimes been used to fuel the conflict.
“The religious leaders of Cyprus have learned that it is very difficult to reach results in a situation of conflict, if they only address their own needs and in a national context. However, when they talk together, and address principle concerns and in line with human rights and international law, they can count on international support for their claims. And when they stand up for the needs of each other, they are able to use the political trust within their own communities to enhance the Human Rights agenda and contribute to peace building” says Peter Weiderud, Director of the Swedish Institute in Alexandria and Moderator of the Religious Track.
Freedom of religion and belief, as part of human rights, includes freedom to as well as freedom from and freedom to choose religion, which is treating every human being with the same respect. As religion has been part of the division, the Cyprus conflict has hampered the development of a full and modern understanding of freedom of religion in both communities.
“The willingness of both political leaders to meet with the religious leaders in Ledra Palace Hotel in the UN controlled buffer zone today gives great hope, not only for the advancement of the common agenda for freedom of religion and belief, but also how religion and the dialogue of the religious leaders can better contribute to sustainable peace on the island”, says Peter Weiderud.
In the meeting the religious leaders reiterated their principle request to have free access for worship, upkeep, renovations and restorations of their respective religious monuments on both sides of the green line. They also reiterated their support, with words, deeds and prayers, to the work of the community leaders to reach a negotiated solution. All agreed to continue to meet with regularity to better understand and support each other.
The two community leaders expressed their gratitude to the religious leaders for their support and commended their peace building efforts in Cyprus.