Cyprus is a religious “model” for the broader region of the Middle East since huge progress has been achieved on the island to build trust between the different religious communities, said UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion Heiner Bielefeldt.
Speaking at a press conference on Thursday, at the Home for Cooperation, which was attended by religious leaders, said “Communication helps to overcome prejudices, prevent negative stereotypes and rebuild trust in societies.”
Bielefeldt is in Cyprus where he participated in a regional conference, attended by delegates from the Middle East and North Africa, who discussed ways to strengthen cooperation in cross-boundary communication to prevent religious violence.
“Violence committed in the name of religion can be prevented through cross-boundary communications”, the human rights expert stressed, adding that “Cyprus has really seen enormous progress in building trust between the various religious communities. The time is ripe to continue with this work in Cyprus, as it is part of the Middle East.”
He said that the Middle East is in need of a message of hope, an area that has been disturbed by violent conflicts in the name of religion.
“Cyprus has not been torn by violence recently but when I was here in 2012 it was still a country in which there were bitter memories, people have not communicated across boundaries, there was lack of communication even between various religious groups. Religious leaders created an atmosphere of suspicion or mistrust. I feel it is very different now”, he noted.
In these three and a half years since 2012, he said, “enormous progress has been achieved and praise must be given to those who did it and this includes the religious communities and their religious leaders as Archbishop Chrysostomos, the Mufti, the Archbishop of the Maronites, the leaders of Latin and Armenians.”
He also praised the Embassy of Sweden which offered, as he said, an encouraging environment for the achievement of this goal.
The UN rapporteur stressed the role played by the Cyprus Inter-religious Platform for the religious leaders of the island to enter into a dialogue.