The UN is raising concerns that Ukraine is failing to protect the rights of churches with Russian ties

The United Nations has expressed concerns about Ukraine’s treatment of religious rights, especially for churches linked to Russia, detailing restrictions and threats to the safety of religious communities in the country not only in Ukraine but also in Russian-occupied territories.

Tensions between the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and the Orthodox Church of Ukraine are growing, noted Ilze Brands Kehris, assistant secretary-general for human rights at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, at a UN Security Council meeting last week. according to a UN statement.

Since last February, OHCHR has documented 10 cases of physical violence and six of threatened violence between different Orthodox communities, Kehris said, criticizing Ukrainian laws for inadequate responses and failure to protect the members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Kehris also indicated the draft amendments of the Ukrainian Parliament that could dissolve religious organizations with ties to countries in armed conflict with Ukraine. She urged lawmakers to ensure that these measures are necessary, proportionate and in line with international human rights law.

In occupied territories, the Russian Federation reportedly applies its own laws, leading to restrictions on religious minorities and alleged torture of clergy. Kehris called for all parties to respect international human rights law and guarantee religious freedom.

Vakhtang Kipshidze, Vice President of the Synodal Department for Church Relations with Society and Mass Media, Moscow Patriarchate, accused Ukrainian authorities of aiming to destroy the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. He claimed that believers refusing to convert to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine face rights violations.

During a Security Council debate, the Russian representative claimed that Ukraine’s draft legislation would ban the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. He accused members of the Western Council of ignoring violence and threats against Orthodox Christians in Ukraine.

The US delegate hit back, accusing the Russian Federation of using the Council to spread disinformation and justify its invasion as a holy war. He emphasized the need to focus on religious repression in territories under Russian occupation.

The representative of Malta also criticized Russia for diverting attention from its aggression against Ukraine. France’s delegate agreed, urging Moscow to abide by international law, including Council resolution 2347 (2017), which states that attacking a religious site is a war crime.

The representative of Ukraine accused the Russian Orthodox Church of supporting Moscow’s aggression and participating in the occupation and annexation of Ukrainian territories. She defended the draft law of Ukraine as a measure to combat the use of religious organizations for aggression.

The UN has also noted nearly 10,000 civilian deaths and more than 18,000 wounded in Ukraine since Russia’s February 2022 invasion, warning that the humanitarian crisis is expected to worsen with the approaching winter.

In a recent interview with Tucker Carlson, Bob Amsterdam, representing the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, criticized the Ukrainian government’s treatment of the denomination, suggesting widespread suppression of truth. Amsterdam described the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as a historic Christian branch in Ukraine, existing for more than a millennium. He said five years ago, the Ukrainian government established an independent church, the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), intending to replace the Ukrainian Orthodox Church as the spiritual home for Ukrainians.

Amsterdam condemned the actions of the OCU, accusing it of property theft, intimidation and unjust imprisonment of clerics and forcing conscription on believers. He rejected claims of the church’s ties to Russian intelligence, suggesting a lack of evidence and pointing to greater Russian infiltration in other Ukrainian institutions.

Amsterdam also suggested political motives behind these actions, implicating Ukrainian politicians, possibly including President Volodymyr Zelensky, in leveraging the OCU for populist support. He expressed dismay at the severe impact on the leadership of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, including long prison sentences for elderly clerics.

In March, Ukrainian officials ordered the Ukrainian Orthodox Church to vacate the 980-year-old Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery complex in the embattled nation’s capital, according to. Reuters.


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