Preliminary conclusions and observations by the Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights at the end of her visit to Cyprus, 24 May – 2 June 2016
Nicosia, 2 June 2016
I am pleased to share my preliminary observations at the end of the 10-day official visit I carried out in my capacity as UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, at the invitation of the government of the Republic of Cyprus. I requested invitations from a number of governments, especially those in countries where the issue of cultural heritage, one of my priority themes, is a critical one. I was pleased that one of the first responses I received was from Cyprus.
The purpose of my visit was to identify, in a spirit of co-operation and constructive dialogue, good practices in and possible obstacles to the promotion and protection of cultural rights in all areas of Cyprus. I addressed a number of key issues, in particular the rights of individuals and groups to participate in cultural life as guaranteed by international law, including the right to access and enjoy cultural heritage, the exercise of these rights without any discrimination including for women and members of minority groups, questions of identity, and issues related to governance in the cultural sphere.
During my visit, I sought to discuss with all stakeholders their views on the impact, positive and negative, as well as the potential of policies, programs and initiatives to promote and further protect the cultural rights of all. I looked both at best practices and areas of difficulty.
I will develop my assessment much further in a written report, in which I will also formulate more detailed recommendations. I will present this report at the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in March 2017 in Geneva.
Let me begin by thanking the Government of the Republic of Cyprus for responding to my request and inviting me to conduct this official visit. I would also like to thank all the persons and institutions I met for their time, warm hospitality, and the wealth of information they shared with me. I had the opportunity to hold meetings with a number of Government officials, at the national and municipal levels, including those in the areas of culture, cultural heritage, gender equality, human rights and education. I also met with the Turkish Cypriot authorities. Furthermore, I also held discussions with artists, academics, educators, representatives of civil society, religious leaders, women’s human rights defenders and cultural heritage defenders.
I extend my thanks to UNFICYP and UNDP for their assistance in facilitating the visit. I would like to make clear that, as a Special Rapporteur, I do not work for the United Nations. I am an independent expert appointed by and reporting to the UN Human Rights Council.
One main objective of my visit to Cyprus was to travel to various areas on the island to visit numerous sites, including churches, monasteries and mosques, but also sites of cultural and historical significance that are not of a religious nature, such as hammams, mosaics, city walls, monuments, towers, and abandoned villages. In particular, I visited the Apostolos Barnabas and Apostolos Andreas Monasteries, the Agia Sophia Mosque in Paphos and the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque in Larnaca. I also travelled to the Maronite village of Agia Marina currently under Turkish military control, to the world heritage site of Paphos and the walled city of Famagusta. It was important for me, throughout these visits, to meet people who have various close relations with these sites. In other words, I not only visited sites, but engaged with living cultural heritage and focused on the human rights of people with respect to this heritage. It may be for this reason that some of the examples mentioned in this statement bring to the front more prominently relations to religious sites. I intend to continue my research to better address the situation with regards to archeological sites.
I would like to stress in this regard, that while I have profound respect for technical expertise, my perspective is that of a human rights lawyer, not an archaeologist. My engagement with cultural heritage is from a human rights perspective, not a purely technical one.
I would also like to underscore that cultural rights are not a weapon to be used against one’s opponents, but rather a set of tools designed to help us all work universally to improve the enjoyment of human rights and make improvements in our own contexts, wherever we are. I consider myself a friend of Cyprus and all those who live here. Sometimes the best thing a friend can do is to tell us the truth as they see it. I hope that there will be something in my report with which most people can identify, and something which challenges everyone. I hope to be balanced and multidirectional, while avoiding false equivalences.
The entirety of this statement has to be considered together. No part should be taken out of context. I do not wish either for my statement today or for my final report for the Human Rights Council to be reduced to a part of a “blame game” which makes things worse, but rather to contribute to a way forward. My recommendations should be seen as a whole. They are also preliminary and necessarily the reflection of a 10-day research mission and what I was able to ascertain within those confines, beyond which I am unable to generalize.
1) Toward a new framework for cultural rights in Cyprus: beyond bi-communalism
One central fact I observed during my stay is that the often-used bi-communal framework, though a positive nod to reconciliation between the two largest groups on the island, is insufficient today to characterize the complexity of this diverse society. In addition to Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, this society also includes a mosaic of historic minorities and more newly arrived persons, such as Ahmadis, Alevis, Armenians, Buddhists, Copts, ethnic Greeks from the Black Sea region, Kurds, Latins, Maronites, Roma, Turkish nationals, and those people of mixed identities, and those who chose to identify in some other fashion altogether. As one woman told me, “many of us do not identify fully with any of these identities.” Today, the population also includes migrants, including expatriates, and migrant workers, refugees and asylum-seekers from many nationalities, including Africans, Arabs, Asians and Europeans. (It is perhaps worth recalling that some Cypriots were forced to seek refuge elsewhere during difficult decades of the past.) In fact, I am given to understand that according to some estimates, as much as one fourth of the population of the south is not Greek Cypriot, and that this is rarely adequately reflected in policies. There are also many other identities which are cross-cutting, including women, LGBT persons, persons with disabilities, secularists and others.
I note that different people may indeed have different historic relationships with the island of Cyprus, which must be acknowledged and respected. They must enjoy their cultural rights without discrimination. The limited categories recognized in the Constitution of 1960 are insufficient. No one should have to shoe horn themselves into a privileged constitutional identity category created to reflect the identities of others. Many people would like to be recognized in a way that reflects their own understanding. The ongoing peace talks offer an opportunity for discussing how to open spaces for recognition of this diversity and for participation of all in the society without discrimination.
Another way in which these diversities need to be recognized is through the regular use of multiple languages, promotion of language teaching, and use and availability of both Greek and Turkish in all official contexts. I reiterate the frequent recommendations that have been made by UN human rights treaty bodies and other mechanisms in this regard. I am grateful to those officials among the education and culture authorities and elsewhere on both sides of the island who have recognized “the language barrier” and support them in the effort to obtain the necessary political support and funding to overcome it. For example, I was very pleased to learn of a project in the south to translate Turkish Cypriot authors into Greek, and Greek Cypriot authors into Turkish and publish their works together, which is a positive model.
Some have characterized the Cypriot framework as “inter-communal,” rather than bi-communal. As expressed in my thematic report to the 31st Human Rights Council, it is important to query the precise meaning of terms like “community” which are frequently employed without definition, including here in Cyprus. A key challenge I see, beyond international norms, is the routine presumption of the primordial nature of community identities, and I encountered this in Cyprus.
What may be considered as “central” in terms of identity from the point of view of “community” leaders or outsiders may not coincide with individuals’ choices and realities. The term “community” is too often assumed to suggest homogeneity, exclusivity, structure and formality. This can threaten the idea of citizenship. While finding myself required to reference the term “community” to discuss the Cyprus situation, I do so critically, and I recognize the diversity and divergent interests and power which structure any such groups.
We must not forget that one of the most important communities to which we all belong is “the human family.” This must be reflected in changes in the educational systems, which reportedly promote ethnocentric views and fail to acknowledge the harm others have suffered. A shared Cypriot identity fully reflective of the diverse people can only be achieved through ensuring the enjoyment of cultural rights for all. This is key to finding a solution to the “Cyprus problem.”
2) The impact of the Cyprus situation on cultural rights.
The current political situation in Cyprus creates many obstacles to the enjoyment of cultural rights, and in particular to their enjoyment without discrimination. I was particularly struck by the administrative obstacles the division of Cyprus poses for individuals, whether in terms of accessing cultural heritage, visiting cemeteries where loved ones are buried, registering marriages or even insuring their vehicles. The division leads to mistrust, a mistrust which is magnified by the resultant logistical obstacles. For example, some children from the north are reported to have difficulty entering the buffer zone for cultural or educational activities. People of Turkish nationality, including youth who may be born on the island, cannot travel to the south for cultural events or to visit religious sites without special intervention. Academics, intellectuals and cultural heritage professionals from all parts of the island who would like to collaborate find themselves unable to despite the desperate need and the good will to do so. Each of these limitations results from the lack of a political solution, but also creates barriers to the realization of such a solution.
I recognize the seriousness of the multiple legacies of communal violence, armed conflict, human rights abuses and discrimination, and the legitimacy of multiple narratives and sometimes conflicting claims about the past, which I understand as complementary and part of the complex fabric of the Cypriot experience, a part which must be respected. Nevertheless, I believe every effort must be made, pending a solution, to resolve these difficulties in the area of cultural rights facing ordinary people who are not responsible for the political situation in which they are living, or for history.
I am acutely aware of the financial challenges facing Cyprus, and the related international action that has exacerbated the impact of this crisis on human rights, including cultural rights. I could not issue these preliminary finding without calling on the international community to consider such impacts in all of its decision-making related to the economy of Cyprus. Nevertheless, existing resources must be distributed in such a way as to protect and promote cultural rights, in particular without discrimination.
Lack of funding was a complaint I heard across all areas of my research and in all parts of Cyprus, from the Department of Antiquities to the Ombudsman to Cultural Services to cultural authorities in the north. I call for cultural heritage and culture to be recognized as core, non-optional sectors, and for all of them to receive the greatest possible funding. As a Greek Cypriot official displaced from the north said, “Culture is one of the most precious human rights.” For example, I was dismayed to hear of the 45% budget cut to the Department of Cultural Services in the south since 2013, despite the importance of its work, which is reported to be a disproportionate cut. “They remember culture when they want to celebrate something,” one person told me. I was further dismayed to hear about obstacles to establishing public libraries everywhere, as well as to updating textbooks, recognized as necessary, in the north due to lack of funds.
The peace talks have allowed for the creation of a number of Technical Committees, tasked with building trust, facilitating cooperation between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots and creating a conducive environment for the talks. During my time here, I have had the chance to meet with some members of the Technical Committees on Cultural Heritage, on Education, on Culture and on Gender to get a sense of their work and was truly impressed by the professional quality, openness, positive spirit and engagement of the experts and the wide variety of activities and projects they are devising. I believe the Technical Committees have been a source of hope and inspiration to many and I call for them to receive all needed political and material support from both national authorities and the international community so as to realize their tremendous potential. They are a useful model to study by those working to overcome histories of conflict elsewhere. I salute the leadership of those authorities who have supported the Committees.
I wish the Committees the greatest possible success in their critical endeavor to ensure that cultural heritage is a common good to be shared by all, and to ensure that culture builds bridges rather than walls. I thank them, in particular the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage, for their efforts and the time given to assisting my work and stand ready to assist them in any manner possible.
As to constructive suggestions, made in light of my productive discussions with the Committees, I suggest that further procedures for consultation with a wide range of stakeholders be established so as to inform the broadest possible sectors of their important work, and to receive greater popular input in devising that work so as to even further increase popular buy-in to these processes. I also encourage the Committees to work together, and recommend that they be enabled to do so, especially those on cultural heritage and culture. All of the Committees should consider the issues raised by the Committee on Gender as they crosscut all other areas of work.
While the contours of a political solution are largely beyond my mandate, I note that, in keeping with Security Council Resolution 1325, no solution is possible, and certainly none that can guarantee equal cultural rights, if it does not integrate a range of women’s perspectives and participation from the very beginning. I was told by a range of voices that women face real challenges to their equal enjoyment of cultural right on both sides of the island.
I also urge international actors to do all they can to promote a solution, of which all Cypriots are so deserving, and to pay more attention to this situation which, while improving, has already lasted for far too long.
As underlined by many, the Cyprus conflict is not, per se, a religious conflict and the political tensions at the heart of the conflict did not chiefly stem from religious differences. I salute religious leaders who have chosen to try to be part of the solution rather than the problem through the Religious Track process and encourages them to continue their efforts. Concerns have been expressed to me from a variety of stakeholders however, about the cultural rights impact of any process which enhances the role of religious leaders vis-à-vis others, in particular because of the complete lack of women leaders, and the fact that in addition to religions, secularism is also an important part of Cypriot culture for many.
Hence, I suggest not only supporting the Religious Track, but also multiplying the tracks through which people of good will on different sides of the various divides can work together. For example, I would like to see the creation of consortia of academics and scholars from all regions of Cyprus, coming together to identify shared research agendas and take forward investigations of core issues, like the standards for excavation, the meanings of cultural heritage, historical narratives, and the history of communal relations. While I recognize that this is not currently possible at the institutional level, even though in my view this would be entirely separate from any question of recognition, I also believe that it cannot be carried out by individuals alone. Therefore, creative, intermediate, shared and widely accessible spaces, venues and engagements must be created to enable such exchanges. Those spaces that already exist such as the vital Home for Cooperation should be fully supported.
I am concerned about the deleterious impact of the political situation on cultural rights on all sides, including efforts at “cultural engineering.” I heard regularly from Turkish Cypriots about their concerns regarding the perceived efforts by Turkey to transform their culture, to islamize their society in ways that do not reflect the current more secular and tolerant local cultural practices, including through the building of mosques not in keeping with their traditions of architecture, the creation of religious schools with textbooks produced elsewhere and the fear that this can have a long term negative impact on their culture. At the same time, I am concerned about widespread negative views expressed about those who have come from Turkey and their descendants, who are not responsible for their government or their parents’ government’s policies. Similarly, I heard from Greek Cypriots a concern about the impact of the way in which religious identity has been constructed in the context of the political situation. As one person said, “we have a militant culture left over from the past conflict.”
All sides expressed their concern about the phenomenon of various forms of extremism which remains peripheral but worrying, whether the rise of the far right and its entry into Parliament in small numbers, or sporadic neo-Nazi or far right attacks on cultural events, artists and sites. Various voices, including religious leaders, expressed the concern that religious fundamentalism, and even its attendant violence, could become an issue in the future and must be guarded against by proactive and thoughtful cultural policies. I am also dismayed to learn of discourses of exclusion or hatred, which are still reported to be purveyed in some quarters on all sides.
The voices of tolerance are present all over Cyprus. I believe them to reflect the views of a broad sector of all parts of society. But, to ensure the cultural rights of all, the voices of tolerance need to be reflected and magnified by the media, by authorities and others, so that they are louder than the voices of intolerance.
3) Access to Cultural Heritage
All of Cyprus is an archaeological site. The incredible cultural heritage of the island must be protected for all the people of Cyprus to be able to enjoy their human rights, from the right to access cultural heritage, to the right to education, including to learn their histories, and indeed for future generations. The historical destruction of cultural heritage that have happened in Cyprus over the last decades have created huge impediments to the exercise of the right to access and enjoy cultural heritage. Some of the heritage is not there to be accessed anymore. A documented history of what has been lost, elaborated by historians and experts in the relevant fields, might be something useful to consider in the future.
In Cyprus, some have embraced strictly Hellenic or “European” heritage, others have emphasized “Ottoman” heritage. While I understand that particular aspects of heritage have special resonance for and connections to specific groups within Cypriot society, it is critical to enhance the notion of the heritage of Cyprus as a whole, or cultural heritage as a shared common good important for all. It is also a key part of the cultural heritage of all humankind, and one which I was very honored to visit. The challenge before Cypriots is to acknowledge the universality of heritage, and to equally embrace the heritage of “the other”.
This spirit already exists in part, and there appears to be a commitment by many on all sides to the idea that preserving heritage is a worthwhile endeavor. Indeed relationships with heritage are syncretic, with some churches like Apostolos Andreas being not only Christian or Greek Cypriot sites with deep resonance, but also places where Muslims or Turkish Cypriots have also come to light candles over many years. Similarly, the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque in Larnaca is not only a very sacred site for Muslims, but contains a tomb where Christians have reportedly prayed to overcome infertility for many years. I also had the privilege of visiting a Maronite church in a military controlled area that included within its structure an “apse” where Muslims had reportedly prayed for many years when they did not have a mosque. Heritage is often a greater reflection of integration and the cultural rights of diverse groups than is commonly acknowledged.
It is interesting for me to witness how in Cyprus efforts are undertaken to ensure that cultural heritage, which is at the center of great tensions and could potentially undermine reconciliation, is considered as being part of the solution.
Understanding the link between cultural heritage and culture, social practices and interaction is critical to a human rights approach to the issue. Thanks to the opening of the crossings in Cyprus, people came back to visit their old villages and neighborhoods, their old churches, mosques and cemeteries. They started talking to each other again and knowing each other, re-humanizing each other.
This is what cultural rights are about: recognizing each other’s values, identities, and relationship to cultural heritage, including through narratives, uses and social practices. So the work undertaken is not only about restoring buildings, it is about allowing social interaction, sharing and acknowledging different histories and memories, caring for each other through cherishing each other’s cultural heritage, as part of the common cultural heritage. Of course, controversy does and will always arise about the meanings of cultural heritage, tangible and intangible. A common cultural heritage may still have various significances and resonances for specific individuals and groups of people, such as believers towards a church or a mosque, or the local inhabitants, which must be acknowledged and taken into consideration.
In the Apostolos Andreas Monastery, I particularly appreciated the spirit of the project, which explicitly aims at restoring the site to the closest possible recollection of people that used to visit it, and by the joint venture in place, with Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots architects, engineers and workers. I acknowledge the additional difficulties that such an endeavor represents and commend this as one of the good practices that should be promoted.
I heard the frustration though of people regretting the slow pace of the restorations. Many of the cultural heritage sites I visited had been restored or were undergoing restoration works, but I also visited and was informed about sites that were in terrible conditions, as is the case for abandoned churches and mosques is many small villages, neglected and left exposed to vandalism. I also visited other sites that need further protection such as the archeological site of Agia Trias Basilica. For a long time left without any care and exposed to damage from goats and sheeps grazing on and around it, the site is now guarded and there are projects to better protect the mosaics and remaining structures of this 5th century site.
I heard many times that cultural heritage cannot wait. Let me add that what collapses with the walls and the physical structures is also the support on which interaction and peaceful relationships can be built. The younger generations, who have not experienced past social interactions, are used to the status quo and are exposed to a narrative of mistrust, including through the educational system, which jeopardizes the possibilities a peaceful future.
I am also encouraged by the fact that in all the places I visited, I met people, from all backgrounds, who deeply cared for cultural heritage, including of those who had left, for example in the walled city of Famagusta. The strong relationship of the residents of the city and their will to maintain and protect their cultural heritage should be capitalized on as a factor key to the sustainability and legitimacy of the works being conducted in the area.
Visiting, accessing and using sites, however, is not easy.
Although crossing of the buffer zone to visit sites on an individual basis is reportedly possible at any time and in both directions for all Cypriots, as long as they have their documents, collective visits with the intention to use sites in the north for religious purposes is subject to a lengthy and tedious process of approval, that discourages such use and is felt as a humiliation by some.
During my visit, a lot of debate arose in relation to further restrictions imposed by the Turkish Cypriot authorities on use of religious premises in the north, proposing to grant only one permission per year per site, except for three sites. Such restrictions raise serious concerns not only for the enjoyment of the rights of people to access and maintain places of worship, but also about how these places will be living cultural heritage if people are not permitted to use them. They represent a potentially serious step backwards from previous already restrictive arrangements, authorizing access on special dates, for sites that are safe and are located outside a military zone, and are not already used for another purpose. The pain, suffering and alarm caused to ordinary people from such additional restrictions is difficult to undo.
The Turkish Cypriot authorities explained their concerns that requests to organize religious services in the north should not be “abusive,” meaning that they should not be used to promote a political agenda. They further explained that some Turkish Cypriots were reluctant to have Greek Cypriots organizing religious ceremonies in their villages.
As for all human rights, limitations to cultural rights should be a last resort only and be in accordance with certain conditions. As stated in article 4 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, such limitations must pursue a legitimate aim, be compatible with the nature of this right and be strictly necessary for the promotion of general welfare in a democratic society. Furthermore, freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others (article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). Any limitations must be proportionate, meaning that the least restrictive measures must be taken when several types of limitations may be imposed.
Therefore, great efforts should be undertaken to facilitate mutual understanding and confidence-building between villagers and those wishing to exercise their rights to freedom of religion and to enjoy and access cultural heritage. I also encourage those seeking to enjoy their cultural rights to do so thoughtfully and with regard for the rights and fears of others, if and when these arise.
I am encouraged however, by the announcement that the additional restrictions would not be implemented, although confusion and uncertainty remain in the way pre-existing arrangements will be interpreted in the future.
I encourage the Turkish Cypriot authorities to revise existing restrictions in the northern part on the accessibility of religious buildings, sites or cemeteries and the holding of religious services so that they will be in strict compliance with international standards protecting the right to freedom of religion and belief and the right to enjoy and access cultural heritage, as already recommended by the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief in his 2012 mission report.
I also urge the Government of the Republic of Cyprus to abstain from any retaliatory measure. Human rights of people to freedom of religion or belief, and to enjoy and access cultural heritage shall not be considered as a bargaining chip.
Although there is a tendency to consider that issues of access only arise in the north, I would like to stress that there are also issues in the south thought they are distinct, of a different nature and magnitude.
One recurring question when I visited sites in the south was the following: “Where is the key?” Who has the key?” On various occasions, officials stressed that there was no restriction concerning access. However, a lot of confusion exists concerning the conditions and procedures to follow in order to gain access.
This is particular striking for ancient monuments that are the shared responsibility of the Department of Antiquities (protecting them as monuments), and of their private owners, such as Evkaf Foundation or the Church of Cyprus (wishing to use them for religious purposes). Due to the current situation in Cyprus, Evkaf cannot administer and manage its properties located in the south. The Ministry of interior, acting as the guardian of Turkish Cypriot properties, assumes this part of the responsibility, including in terms of financial contribution for restoration works to be undertaken (Law n° 139 of 1991).
While the authorities are convinced that access is easy upon simple request to the Department of Antiquities, people are not always aware of the procedures to follow. For example, I heard of Turkish Cypriots driving all the way to Paphos to access an important historical cemetery, finding the doors closed with no information on how to be granted access, and returning home.
In Larnaca, entering the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque is much easier: there are opening hours and access by Muslims as well as others is facilitated. However, I was told that the Department of Antiquities does not consult the Imam before setting opening hours, which do not always coincide with the needs of the believers, although special efforts are made to open the Mosque for longer hours during Ramadan period.
Lack of consultation in relation to sites seems to be an important issue in many areas of the island, regarding their meaning, restoration work, destination and future use. For example, while the Agia Sophia Mosque in Paphos has been partly restored, the plan so far does not seem to include water and sanitary installations, which would have been required had the believers been consulted and future use of the building as a mosque considered. I am happy however to note that this might be considered in the future. The Armenian Church Complex in the Arabahmet district also was restored without adequate consultation of the religious leaders and members of the community, about their needs or their recollection of the place. I was also informed that the Department of Antiquities applied to include the Hala Sultan Tekke Mosque ant its surrounding environment (Salt Lakes) on the UNESCO World Heritage List. While I understand the good intentions of the project, I am also surprised that people having a particular link with the site were not informed nor consulted about the implications of such a project, which may significantly affect access and maintenance of the site.
Beyond mere physical access, what counts is access is dignity. I note with concern reports at the presence of police officers or guides monitoring access to sites by people. For example, there are accounts of Armenians being monitored and videoed when accessing the Sourp Magar Monastery in the north. I also was informed about the unavailability of toilets for people visiting in great number, including old women, the Agia Sophia Mosque in Paphos.
Keys are also of a symbolic nature: understanding the importance of the site, its meaning for various people, the diversity of narratives attached to it, and discussing what the site will become in the future are crucial. I appreciate in this regard that the mandate of the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage also includes the development of attitudes of respect for cultural heritage through the development of educational projects.
This implies ensuring adequate information on the sites explaining the various layers of history and the multiple narratives about them. Some of the sites I have seen during my stay afford only incomplete or selective information, a practice that feeds the frustration of people whose relationship to these sites and narratives are actively ignored. On the other hand, in other places such as Paphos, I was happy to witness efforts by the municipality to keep as it was the Mouttalos area, where Turkish Cypriots used to live, with the names of the streets still in place.
Place names are a part of intangible heritage. I am deeply concerned to see that these names have all been significantly altered in the north, changing the symbolic, historic and cultural landscape. Many Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots both reject the use of the new names. I consider this to be an important issue that I will address in more details in my report. However, I am concerned that the 2013 Law on the Procedure for Standardization of Geographical Names of the Republic, which criminalizes the publication and circulation of material containing place names in the Republic that are different from those specified in official documents, appears to be incompatible with the right to freedom of expression and creates obstacles to those wishing to travel in the north and discuss cultural heritage related issues.
Neither ordinary people nor cultural heritage professionals should be punished for this and they should not face legal penalties for using names which others have tried to apply.
Another important issue, which I intend to look into in a more detailed manner in the report, concerns the looting of movable heritage, including sacred objects, icons and frescos removed illegally from the abandoned Churches and sold on the international collectors market. The legal difficulties, administrative challenges and costs linked with locating and repatriating these artifacts to restore them to the Cypriots as part of their heritage are huge and deserve far more attention.
I have the greatest respect for the cultural heritage professionals of Cyprus. They need to collectively receive the resources necessary to complete their work and to have their rights respected. I was concerned to hear that one of the Greek Cypriot members of the Technical Committee on cultural heritage had reportedly been labelled a Turk in a political cartoon in the media because of his work. Cultural heritage defenders defend the heritage and rights of all, and their rights must be respected. Every effort must be made to enhance technical skills, available education, and promotion of the value of cultural heritage among young people.
I salute the expertise of cultural heritage professionals I met, and creative efforts to safeguard cultural heritage. I also acknowledge the Government of the Republic of Cyprus for its commitment at the international level to cultural heritage issues, including its ratification of core conventions, and its participation in the core group which produced the joint statement on cultural heritage at the 31st session of the Human Rights Council, joined by an unprecedented coalition of states now numbering 146. Yet, the key outstanding challenge now is to implement these commitments, here and around the world.
4) Governance in the cultural area
An important set of institutions exists to defend and promote culture and cultural heritage. The general structure of governance in these fields raises a series of challenges and could benefit from being rethought. The Department of Antiquities is under the Ministry of Transports, Communications and Works, whereas the Cultural Services are under the Ministry of Education and Culture. This is both a cause and a consequence of the definitions given to “culture” and to “cultural heritage” in the respective departments, as fields currently excluding each other. This divide is artificial. A tradition, an object or a place is not defined as forming part of heritage solely in terms of how old it is, but on how meaningful it is for individuals and groups who refer to it and wish to preserve and transmit it to others. Cultural rights, as fundamental rights and freedoms of all people and as framework in this discussion, should help identify ways to reconcile this.
I was informed that this division might remain in the case of a settlement, where each federal entity would preserve its cultural and education services and antiquities would remain at the federal level. This is problematic, for a national strategy on culture should include antiquities. There are a number of possible arrangements that should be carefully considered, such as creating a Ministry of Culture integrating the department of Antiquities and Museums, establishing a Ministry of Cultural Heritage or developing a coordination structure and mechanisms to improve the links between access, preservation and protection of cultural heritage and the right to exercise cultural activities, artistic expression and creativity in a dynamic cultural life.
I salute the high rate of ratification of international instruments by the Republic of Cyprus but today call on the authorities to also ratify without delay the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, so that those in Cyprus who believe that their cultural rights have been violated will have recourse to an international complaints mechanism, and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights can carry out investigations of any allegations of systematic violations of such rights. I also call on it to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Their Families. Because of the high rate of ratifications of core human rights instruments by Cyprus, these stand out as particular gaps.
Moreover, and without taking any position on issues of recognition entirely beyond my mandate, I believe it is long past time for the international community to assess ways of promoting human rights standards in the north, which is currently beyond the de facto control of the Government of the Republic of Cyprus. Ordinary people do not deserve to live in a lacuna without international human rights protection because leaders have not yet achieved a solution.
I have stood in a crumbling church in the north where animal excrement mingled with rubbish on the floor and children played outside under a dangerously weak arch. I have seen Qur’ans in a mosque in the south damaged by water used to put out the fire of an arson attack, reportedly carried out by extremists. In both cases, I have felt the heavy weight of such denials of cultural rights and the pain they cause and I have watched a woman cry in pain in front of me over such issues. But there are also as one person described it “islands of hope.” I have also heard Greek Cypriots tell me of weeping over the arson attack on a mosque in the south, and working to repair the damage done, and I have met Turkish Cypriots fighting for the rights of the Greek Cypriots formerly from their city to be able to freely access its religious sites and trying to repair as many sites as possible. Some Muslim and Christian religious leaders are courageously taking part in the religious services and occasions of others. These positive realities are also a critical part of the picture and one that gives me hope.
Carrying out politics via restrictions on cultural rights is entirely unacceptable. As one Turkish Cypriot cultural heritage defender told me, “we have to depoliticize the issue.” Reprisals in the area of cultural rights are not permitted. Cultural rights belong to all. They are, as the Human Rights Council has noted, universal, interdependent and indivisible.
I condemn unjustified restrictions on access to cultural heritage, including those that were announced and then seemingly withdrawn by the Turkish Cypriot authorities during my visit. The lack of clarity about these restrictions has done great harm. I also call on the Government of the Republic of Cyprus to make every effort to end de facto limitations on accessing cultural sites, including through clarifying opening hours, simplifying processes for accessing particular sites, and providing for essential facilities such as water and washrooms at some sites.
I call for any unjustified restrictions on accessing cultural heritage to be lifted, and for no new ones to be imposed. I recognize leaders, including religious figures and political leaders and civil society voices, who have understood this, and have championed access for all. I support them, and so should the international community as a whole.
Cyprus stands at the place where East meets West and North meets South. This is not an easy place, but it can be a beautiful one where one hears church bells with the sunrise and ithan with the sunset, and the Pride parade goes by in the afternoon. What Cypriots collectively and their authorities choose to do with these sometimes challenging but very fruitful intersections will shape the cultural rights of all those who inhabit the island for years to come. If positive, open and forward looking choices are made, as I am calling for today, they can contribute to a speedier solution, they can enhance human rights protection and they can even set an important example for the entire world in turbulent times.
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