The UN documents violations of the freedom of religion and belief in Ukraine, primararily targeting the UOC, and growing conflicts between the Orthodox.
The United Nations believes that the political situation in the country contributes to the exacerbation of inter-faith conflicts and is accompanied by a violation of basic human rights, including freedom of religion, says the UN Report “Civil Space and Fundamental Freedoms Ahead of the Presidential, Parliamentary and Local Elections in Ukraine”.
The report on the situation of human rights in Ukraine is made by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and covers the period from 16 November 2018 to 15 February. This represents an increase of documented violations compared with those documented during the previous reporting period.
The UN believes that the political situation in the country contributes to the aggravation of inter-faith conflicts, and this, in turn, violates the freedom of religion and belief. Human rights activists also fear that this may lead to violations of other human rights, for example, a freedom of opinion and expression, which is especially important on the eve of elections.
OHCHR continued to monitor developments related to granting autocephaly to the newly established church – the Orthodox Church in Ukraine. OHCHR documented incidents that could be perceived as acts of intimidation against members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, says the report.
It is noted that in November 2018, after the UOC refused to join the newly created OCU, “the SBU in several regions of Ukraine initiated four criminal investigations into incitement to religious enmity and hatred; one of these cases has an additional charge of high treason, without issuing notices of suspicion. The SBU conducted searches in the premises of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate and places of residence of clergymen, questioning some of them”.
“Many of those questioned regard these actions as pressure on them. Despite the absence of direct threats or intimidation, they consider these actions as attempts to influence their position regarding autocephaly,” the authors of the document write.
OHCHR mentions that the Parliament of Ukraine launched a process of mandatory renaming of religious organizations. “OHCHR is concerned that this process is primarily targeting Ukrainian Orthodox Church communities and may be discriminatory,” says the report.
OHCHR is also concerned that the Parliament warranted restrictions on access of the clergymen of such organizations to the premises of the Ukrainian Armed Forces on the basis of national security considerations, which contravenes article 18(3) of the the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This paragraph is to be strictly interpreted: restrictions are not allowed on grounds not specified there, even if they would be allowed as restrictions to other rights protected in the ICCPR, such as national security.
OHCHR stresses that it received reports that in a few cases the transfers to the newly-established church (OCU – Ed.) were not voluntary and were initiated by state or local authorities or even representatives of extreme right-wing groups, who were not members of those religious communities.
We recall that during the 37th, 38th, 39th, and 40th sessions of the UN Human Rights Council, the NGO “Public Advocacy” provided facts and information on cases of violation of the rights of believers, the episcopate and the priesthood of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
As the UOJ reported, in connection with numerous cases of human rights violations and the threat of escalation of religious conflicts, the head of the UOC Representative Office to European International Organizations Bishop Victor (Kotsaba) of Baryshevka appealed to officials of the UN, OSCE, EU and other countries to influence the situation in Ukraine.