The Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) held a roundtable meeting in Vienna on Wednesday, March 4, 2009 on the subject of “Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians”.
In addition to the representatives of the OSCE member states, invitees and participants included specialists on and researchers into the subject as well as representatives of Non-Government Organizations (NGOs), Research Centres, and religious communities and organizations.
Greece holds the OSCE chairmanship for the current year. It is noteworthy that this was the first time that the OSCE had organized a meeting of this kind.
The Church of Cyprus was represented at the meeting by His Eminence Bishop Porphyrios of Neapolis who drew attention, among other things, to:
a) The unacceptable 35-year-long occupation by Turkish troops of 37% of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus.
b) The violation of the human rights and religious freedoms of the Christian population of the island (Greek Cypriots, Maronites, Armenians, Latins) by the occupation forces.
c) The continuing desecration and destruction of Christian monuments, churches and cemeteries, and Turkey’s refusal to allow their maintenance and use by their rightful owners.
d) The continuing oppression of some 500 enclaved Greek Cypriots in the Karpass Peninsula and in Maronite communities, and the ban on senior clerics of the Church of Cyprus conducting services in churches in the occupied areas.
e) Attempts by the ‘pseudostate’ to alter the demographic character of the occupied areas through the introduction of thousands of settlers from Anatolia. The Turkish Cypriots are now a minority in the north of the island, numbering only 87,900 compared to more than 160,000 settlers.
Reference to the violation of religious freedoms on the part of Turkey was also made by the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch, Gary Vachicouvas, who spoke of the country’s refusal to allow the re-opening of the Theological School of Halki and to permit the Ecumenical Patriarch to own immovable property, as well as the restrictions imposed by the Turkish state on the election of the Ecumenical Patriarch.
Among the conclusions of the meetings were the following:
a) Discrimination against Christians takes place in a variety of ways in OSCE member countries.
b) Such discrimination does not only occur in places where Christians comprise a minority but also where they are a majority.
c) Various aspects of the problem were discussed, including attacks on individuals, property and places of worship, and the denial of the right to religious freedom and to faith.
d) It was noted that the media play a significant role in the creation of mistaken impressions and prejudice against Christian values and the Christian identity.
e) The need for interreligious dialogue was emphasized, given that many of the challenges facing Christians are also faced by other religious communities in OSCE member states.
f) It was requested that an archive of hate crimes against Christians be created.
g) It is extremely important that young people be properly educated to have respect for the religious freedom of all people.