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UN condemns Ukraine’s crackdown on largest Christian church

Banning the Ukrainian Orthodox Church might violate human rights, the intergovernmental organization has said

Kiev’s push to outlaw the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) would violate freedom of religion, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk said on Tuesday.

Turk spoke at the meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland. He addressed the persecution of the UOC in the context of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

“I note also my concerns regarding freedom of religion and belief in Ukraine, given continuing action by the authorities against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church,” Turk said during the meeting. He pointed to a proposed law that would allow Kiev to ban any religious organization suspected of having ties to Russia.

“These proposed restrictions to the right of freedom of religion do not appear to comply with international human rights law,” Turk said.

Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, advanced the bill in October. It is still being amended in committee, however, and is expected to be adopted early next year, according to speaker Ruslan Stefanchuk.

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President Vladimir Zelensky’s government has accused the UOC of having ties with the Russian Orthodox Church. He also claimed that dozens of its clergy are acting as “spies” for Russia, even though the UOC officially severed ties with Moscow in March 2022.

Earlier this year, Zelensky ordered the UOC’s clergy to leave the Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, a monastery almost 1,000 years old. The monks were told they could stay if they switched their allegiance to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), a rival organization created by the Ukrainian government in 2018. Since then, half a dozen regions of Ukraine have outlawed the UOC, seizing its properties and turning them over to the OCU. 

When the UN Human Rights Council criticized these actions as discriminatory, Kiev criticized the body for making “unbalanced political assessments” and claimed its crackdown was justified on national security grounds.

On Tuesday, Turk also urged Kiev to build a society where all communities would be included and the rights of all minorities protected, “including the right to use every language spoken in Ukraine.”

A proposed ban on the Russian language by the government in Kiev following the February 2014 US-backed coup was among the events that triggered Crimea’s decision to rejoin Russia and the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk to declare themselves independent people’s republics. 

December 20, 2023 at 12:04AM

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