MFA assures UNO there is no violation of believers’ rights in Ukraine
In response to a UN request on violation of UOC believers' rights, MFA stated that all transfers to OCU are legal, while "split” is caused by “military aggression”.
On May 20, 2019, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, through the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the UN Office and other international organizations in Geneva, responded to the request of the UN Special Rapporteurs on issues related to the violation of the UOC believers' rights in 2014-2018.
The response was sent with a delay of almost 5 months.
In answering the request, the Ukrainian authorities claim that the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, together with the regional state administrations and the Kiev city state administration, "regularly monitors the activities of religious organizations and the exercise of the rights to freedom of conscience".
“Based on the reports of regional state administrations, it can be stated that the public events that occurred in Ukraine in 2014–2015 had a significant impact on the religious association – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, affiliated with the Moscow Patriarchate,” officials affirm.
They cite military actions in the east of the country as a reason for the aggravation of sectarian conflicts: “The annexation of Crimea by Russia and its blatant military aggression in certain areas of Donetsk and Lugansk regions of Ukraine have contributed to ideological split among the believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. The signs of the schism are the extensive changes of religious communities that are part of this union, their own affiliation in canonical and organizational matters, the transition to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate (UOC KP) (lasted until December 2018) or, from 2019, to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), created by virtue of the Unification Council on December 15, 2018.”
Diplomats, as a commentary, explain that “the OCU includes the existing Ukrainian Orthodox jurisdictions: the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate (UOC KP), the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) and separate eparchies of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC MP )."
“The aforementioned practice (change of jurisdiction) complies with the legislation of Ukraine and Article 3 (1) and Article 8 (2) of the Law of Ukraine ‘On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations’”, and “the rights of members of a religious community, who do not agree with the majority’s decision to change subordination, are not violated in any way,” the document says.
According to diplomats, the Ukrainian authorities "are consistently taking measures to address the existing and prevent potential conflicts among Orthodox believers".
“For this purpose, on December 27, 2018, a one-day workshop was held for the heads of units of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, regional state administrations and the Kiev city state administration, responsible for state policy in the field of religion and interaction of state institutions with religious organizations,” specifies the MFA in its response.
Officials also note "manipulative rhetoric, which is used by several information resources to please foreign religious centers, distorting the reality of relations between state institutions and religious organizations in Ukraine."
According to officials, “such information centers promote the spirit of intolerance and exclusivity of individual religious organizations in the State's public space contrary to the state policy of multiconfessionalism and equality of all religious organizations before the law of Ukraine.”
The Foreign Ministry also explains that “there were no facts of persecution, including threats of death or persecution of the UOC priests, while regional authorities “in their activities take all the measures provided for by the current legislation to establish interfaith tolerance and ensure the rights and legitimate interests of religious organizations".
As the UOJ reported, the Ukrainian authorities delayed the response to the UN request for violations of the rights of believers of the UOC by almost half a year. The UOC Representation to European International Organizations considered this an attempt to hide the real situation with violation of the believers’ rights.
On September 30, 2018, a group of UN Special Rapporteurs appealed to the authorized state bodies of Ukraine with an information request on violations of the rights of believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In the information request to the state of Ukraine, questions were raised about a series of acts of violence that contradict the internationally recognized right to freedom of religion or belief. The request is about the following violations: “the attack and seizure of places of worship belonging to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), acts of intimidation and persecution, disruption of the All-Ukrainian religious procession, and violations against peaceful believers”.
The UN Special Rapporteurs expressed in their request “serious concerns about the statements of believers, who, when confirmed, constitute a model being officially sanctioned, by act or omission, of violations of the internationally recognized rights to human life and security, freedom of expression, peaceful assemblies, religious freedoms or beliefs, as provided for in Articles 6, 9, 18, 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).”
In turn, the head of the UOC Representative Office to European International Organizations, Bishop Victor (Kotsaba) of Baryshevka, sent an appeal to officials of the UN, OSCE, EU and other countries in connection with the facts of large-scale violations of human rights in Ukraine and the real threat of escalation of religious conflicts.