Delivered by Ambassador Ihor Prokopchuk, Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the International Organizations in Vienna, at the meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council on 17 December 2015
In connection with the statement of the Russian delegation, the delegation of Ukraine would like to make the following remarks in response.
We note at the beginning the impressive skill of the distinguished Russian representative to call for constructiveness and then immediately make an utterly false claim, which was addressed under a previous current issue.
Ukraine is fully committed to protecting and fostering the fundamental freedom of religion or belief, guaranteed by the Constitution of Ukraine, in compliance with the OSCE commitments and international standards.
According to the independent reports of the OSCE, the UN and the Council of Europe representatives and missions, which visited my country throughout the year amidst ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine, the overwhelming majority of religious communities in Ukraine describe harmonious inter-faith relations and conditions of non-discrimination allowing everyone to profess and practice, alone or in community with others, the religion or belief of his or her choice, as well as having the right not to profess any religion. The Government of Ukraine continues to closely cooperate with international organizations to further strengthen the environment conducive to religious freedoms.
There were no serious incidents on religious grounds in Ukraine. The incidents that happened are investigated. Some registered cases had а provocative nature and were used for anti-Ukrainian propaganda purposes. The unfounded allegations about religious discrimination in Ukraine were artificially fueled by the Russian propaganda and the Russian media aiming at intentionally twist the reality and inciting inter-religious enmity.
Today’s allegations by the Russian delegation about the so-called persecutions of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate are unfounded and follow the same pattern. Given the comments of some leaders of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate on the Russian actions in Crimea and Donbas, it is hardly surprising that the Moscow Patriarchate Church is increasingly seen in the Ukrainian society as an advocate of the Russian propaganda, which motivates parishioners to flock to other churches of their own free will and choice.
The Russian authorities can make an enormous contribution to the credibility of the Moscow Patriarchate Church by stopping the aggression against Ukraine, withdrawing troops, fighters and weapons from Donbas and reversing the illegal occupation of Crimea.
In sharp contrast to territories, controlled by legitimate authorities of Ukraine, the freedom of religion or belief has been targeted by systemic violations in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, illegally occupied and annexed by the Russian Federation, as well as in certain areas of Donbas, occupied by Russia’s military and Russia-supported illegal armed formations.
In Crimea, the occupying authorities resorted to attacks on and expulsion of the priests of the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate, intimidation and surveillance over Crimean Tatars in mosques, labelling different religions as extremist. While the searches have largely concentrated on mosques and Islamic religious schools, there have also been reports of raids on sites belonging to other religious denominations.
Only 53 religious communities remained operational under the Russian occupying authorities in contrast to 1,400 religious communities before the illegal annexation of the peninsula by Russia. These figures speak for themselves. This situation reflects the effective ban on religious activities of Ukrainian churches and religious organizations in Crimea and their subsequent elimination.
In the occupied areas of Donbas, all faith traditions, except for the Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, are targeted by the Russia-backed militants through the persecution, abduction, illegal detention, torture and ill-treatment and even killings of clergy members and believers, as well as the seizure of church property.
The targeted faiths and denominations include the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and Roman Catholic Church; Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Kyiv Patriarchate; Protestant and Evangelical Churches; Synagogues; the Donetsk Council of Churches, which comprised some 60 churches of different Christian denominations; “Hare Krishna” followers and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Amongst thousands of Russian terrorist fighters who crossed into Donbas, there are the so-called “Russian Orthodox Army” and the “Most Glorious Legion of Don”, both fighting under religious-themed banners and proclaiming themselves as the defenders of Christianity and of the so-called “Russian world”. No one today needs further explanation of the misery and sufferings this “Russian world” brings to people regardless of religion or belief.
In this regard it remains critical that the OSCE Institutions continue close monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in the occupied Crimea and certain areas of Donbas and consistent efforts are taken to help restore the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in the affected regions.
As the Russian delegation focused today on alleged shortcomings of Ukraine, we presume it must do so in awareness of a very disturbing tendency inside Russia in relation to human rights and fundamental freedoms, including religious freedoms.
Presently, manifestations of religious-bias violence, discrimination and crimes are on the rise in Russia. The Russian “SOVA Center” reported about at least 42 acts of vandalism in 25 regions of Russia in the first half of 2015.
For years, a restrictive registration system was used as an instrument for limiting religious freedom in Russia. In the last few years, the so-called “anti-extremist” legislation, which the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and other organizations recognized as such that does not conform to international human rights standards, remains a major source of threats to religious freedom in Russia. While representatives of different religions are unjustly prosecuted under the provisions of this legislation, Muslims and Jehovah's Witnesses are targeted more often than others.
The religious literature, mostly Muslim, is regularly prohibited by the Russian courts. For instance, in August 2015 the Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk City Court recognized as extremist a collection of the Koran verses with commentaries. Such cases convincingly capture the overall attitude of the Russian authorities towards religious texts.
In many Russian regions, primarily in Moscow, the construction of churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship is very often accompanied by conflicts as the Russian orthodox church enjoys exclusively preferential treatment by authorities issuing construction permits.
As there are numerous fact-based reports of significant shortcomings in observance of religious freedom in Russia, it is essential to establish close contact between the ODIHR and the Russian authorities to assist them in reversing the current worrying trends and moving towards compliance with the OSCE commitments and international obligations on freedom of religion or belief.
We recall in this connection that in 2014 the three personal representatives of the OSCE Chairperson-in-Office on tolerance and non-discrimination undertook their joint visit to Russia. Their report following the visit was supposed to include recommendations for action and identify areas of possible support to Russia by the ODIHR. As the Delegation of Ukraine encountered difficulties in finding this report in the OSCE documentation system, we would appreciate the facilitation of access to the document by the Chairmanship or the Secretariat and ask for appropriate assistance.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.