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07/24/2023 Ukraine (International Christian Concern) — The United Nations Human Rights Office for the High Commissioner and the Russian Orthodox Church’s representative body for external church relations have released statements on the brutal persecution by the Ukrainian government of members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

In June, the United Nations Human Rights Office for the High Commissioner released a three-month update (February – April 2023) on the human rights situation in Ukraine. The report stated that “incidents of violence against members and supporters of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church increased during the reporting period. Moreover, several regional councils banned the activities of the UOC.”

The report further said that “during the reporting period, the [Ukrainian] Government and local authorities took several measures targeting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church: [… they] notably searched places of worship and other UOC facilities, [issued] 12 notices of suspicions against clergymen, and placed several of them under house arrest” – most notably, Metropolitan Pavlo, under accusations of glorifying the Russian invasion.

The report further stated that several rental agreements have been cut short, including the state-owned Kyiv Perchersk Lavra, also known as the “Kyiv Monastery of the Caves” by the Ministry of Culture. The UOC challenged this in a court by applying for an injunction halting the eviction – a request that was denied by the Kyiv Commercial Court in March 2023.

In April, several city and regional councils – Khmelnytskiyi, Rivne, and Volyn – banned the “activities of the UOC” in their respective jurisdictions, after councils in Lviv, Zhytomyr, Vinnytsia and Ternopil had done the same – bans all beyond their local authority, according to the document. The Ukrainian government and law enforcement reportedly “did not effectively address incidents of hate speech during the reporting period.”

Ilze Brands Kehris, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, expressed concern in January about restrictions to freedom of religion in Ukraine. The UN official described Ukrainian Orthodox Church premises by Ukrainian Security Service searches as “worrying developments,” citing that at least three clergy are now facing criminal charges – a number that has since increased.

She reminded the council that “we urge the Ukrainian authorities to ensure that any such searches in premises and places of worship are in full compliance with international law” and furthermore, “that fair trial rights are given to those facing criminal charges, and that any criminal sanctions are compatible with the rights of freedom of opinion, expression and religion.”

Brands Kehris cited the concerns of the UN Rights Office that questioned two draft laws, recently tabled in the Ukrainian parliament that could undermine the right to freedom of religion or belief, as enshrined in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – as well as potentially against Article 25 of the Ukrainian Constitution.

The Security Council on Jan. 17, 2023, was also addressed by Metropolitan Anthony of Volokolamsk, chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department of External Church Relations who reiterated the “grave concerns about the flagrant violation of human and constitutional rights of Orthodox Christians in Ukraine [by] the Ukrainian authorities attempts to destroy the UOC which is not a political, but religious organization uniting over 12,000 communities and millions of Ukrainian citizens.” This includes one of the aforementioned drafted bills “on the impossibility of activities in Ukraine of religious organizations affiliated with centers of influence in Russia” and to increase counterintelligence measures in relation to the UOC.

Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky affirmed the decision to evict the occupants of the Kyiv monastery and later included a list of sanctioned bishops of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to which Ukrainian media reported that some bishops have been deprived of citizenship by the decree – contrary to Article 25 of the Ukrainian Constitution.

Anthony further stated that “since October 2022, the Ukraine’s Security Service has carried out mass searches in monasteries and communities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, {and] as in the years of atheistic persecutions in the Soviet Union, they are unreasonably accused of anti-state activities.”

According to Anthony, “in 2018, the so-called Orthodox Church of Ukraine was created with “active anti-constitutional interference of the state apparatus and Ukrainian special services with gross violation of the Orthodox canon law […] further actions are aimed at forcing the communities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to join the new religious organization” – a creation of the Ukrainian state. He concluded his address by appealing to the Council to recognize the unlawful actions of the Ukrainian state authorities; laws guaranteed by the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief; the International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, “and many other international documents that guarantee the inalienable right of religious freedom to every human being.”