GENEVA: 22 December 2023
Orthodox Christian hierarchs announce the creation of an International Human Rights Association at the Geneva Press Club

On December 19, 2023, a number of hierarchs and clergymen of the Local Orthodox Churches, together with non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the UN ECOSOC "Public Advocacy," "VSI Zmogaus teisiu apsauga," the European Institute for Religion and Law, signed an agreement on the establishment of the International Human Rights Association "Church Against Xenophobia and Religious Discrimination."

The new human rights association was a response to violations of the rights of believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Ukraine.

The Coordinating Council of the International Association includes:

Metropolitan Theodosius Snigirev, human rights activist, ruling bishop of the Diocese of Cherkasy and Kaniv (Ukrainian Orthodox Church);

Metropolitan Jonathan Yeletsky, Ruling Bishop of the Diocese of Tulchin and Bratslav (Ukrainian Orthodox Church);

Metropolitan Timothy Margaritis of Vostra, Exarch of the Most Holy Sepulchre on the island of Cyprus (Orthodox Church of Jerusalem);

Archbishop Theodosius Hanna of Sebastia (Orthodox Church of Jerusalem);

Metropolitan Mark Arndt of Berlin and Germany (First Vice President of the ROCOR Synod of Bishops);

Metropolitan Gavriil Dinev of Lovcany (Bulgarian Orthodox Church);

Archpriest Dmytro Sidor, human rights activist, rector of Uzhgorod Cathedral of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Ukrainian Orthodox Church).

In addition to announcing the signing of the agreement, a release from the Geneva Press Club reads as follows:

Religious leaders and human rights activists called on the Ukrainian authorities and President Zelensky to stop violations of the rights of UOC believers and appealed to UN special mandate holders, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the UN Human Rights Council with statements about violations of the rights of this confession.

It should be noted that UN representatives have repeatedly drawn attention to the critical situation and violations of the rights of the UOC, in particular:

-On March 24, 2023, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report on freedom of religion in Ukraine for the period from August 1, 2022 to January 31, 2023, which indicates bills No. 8221, No. 8262 and No. 8371 (the so-called bills "on the prohibition of the UOC"), as well as concern about the use of so-called "security measures" by the SBU against the UOC. "The SBU conducted searches (some of them called 'security measures') in several monasteries, offices, educational institutions and other property of the UOC in Kyiv, Rivne, Zhytomyr, Ivano-Frankivsk, Chernivtsi, Dnipropetrovsk, Khmelnytskyi, Cherkasy, Volyn, Kherson, Ternopil, Poltava and Zakarpattia regions," the report says. It is noted that some clergymen of the UOC were interrogated with the help of a polygraph and at least three suspicions were issued against them, including for "violation of the equality of citizens on the grounds of nationality, religion, encroachment on the territorial integrity and inviolability of Ukraine..." According to the department's conclusions: "OHCHR is concerned that the state's actions against the UOC may be discriminatory. OHCHR also recalls the need to ensure that all persons facing criminal charges enjoy the full range of fair trial rights," the document says.

– in the report "Review of the human rights situation in Ukraine" for the period 01 February – 30 April 2023, the UN OHCHR recorded a surge in "hate speech" and violence against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, the document notes that "During April 2023, the city and regional councils of Khmelnytskyi, Rivne and Volyn regions banned the activities of the UOC in their respective territories after as the regional councils of Lviv, Zhytomyr, Vinnytsia and Ternopil regions did, even though such a ban is beyond the powers of local councils. Many local councils have also petitioned for the termination of utility property lease agreements with the UOC." In addition, the UN listed other "measures against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church": searches in places of worship and other objects of the UOC, reports of suspicion to clergy and house arrest of some of them, the situation with the eviction of monks from the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra. HRMMU expressed concern that "the cumulative impact of the government's actions against the UOC may be discriminatory."

– On November 17, 2023, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Ilse Brands Karis, expressed critical remarks on the adoption of bill 8371 in the first reading by the Verkhovna Rada.

At the same time, in our opinion, the above-mentioned response remains insufficient. In particular, the following problems are of particular concern:

In 2023, criminal cases were opened in Ukraine against Metropolitans Theodosius (Snigirev) of Cherkasy and Kaniv, Metropolitan Jonathan (Yeletsky) of Tulchin and Bratslav, Metropolitan Pavlo (Lebed), and Metropolitan Longin (Zhar) of Banchensky.

These religious leaders have already been subjected to measures of restriction of freedom, such as detention and house arrest, and Metropolitan Jonathan (Yeletskikh) of Tulchin and Bratslav has already been sentenced by the court of first instance to a heavy punishment of imprisonment for a period of 5 years (the sentence is being reviewed by the Court of Appeal on January 22, 2024).

Having conducted a legal examination of the charges against these religious leaders, as well as the materials of these criminal cases, we came to the conclusion that these criminal cases and accusations are not justified and testify to organized discrimination against the UOC. In essence, these criminal cases are persecution for freedom of speech and for the protection of believers of the UOC, as well as for the expression of religious beliefs based on church canons and doctrine.

We draw attention to the fact that the above-mentioned criminal cases against the UOC metropolitans were opened on charges of allegedly spreading hate speech (Article 161 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine), but the state authorities refuse to prosecute persons who publicly called for the seizure of UOC churches and other acts of violence against believers of this confession. We are aware of hundreds of applications by UOC believers for protection from crimes committed against them, which were ignored by law enforcement agencies.

This is a clear evidence of double standards of justice and confirms the existence of a political order to deprive believers of the UOC, which has actually become a victim confession in Ukraine.

The Parliament of Ukraine adopted in the first reading draft law No. 8371, which provides for a complete ban and legal liquidation of all legal entities that are part of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. This law violates the norms of international law in an unprecedented manner and is an example of open discrimination against millions of believers of the UOC on religious grounds. If this law is adopted, the believers of the UOC will be finally deprived of their churches, land plots and prayer rooms, as well as the opportunity to practice their faith in the communities they have created.

Mass acts of violence against the UOC continue in Ukraine: churches are seized by force, believers are beaten with inaction, and sometimes with the direct participation of the police, the authorities make decisions to seize land plots from religious organizations of the UOC, the authorities initiate lawsuits to seize from the UOC churches previously transferred to it as restitution.
On January 22, 2024, a regular session of the Court of Appeal will be held in the criminal case sentenced by the court of first instance to 5 years in prison of Metropolitan Jonathan (Yeletsky) of Tulchin and Bratslav. Despite the attention of the UN mission in Ukraine to this case, there is a high risk of a political order for an unfair conviction in this case. If this happens, in our opinion, the Ukrainian authorities will show a complete inability to fulfill their international obligations to observe human rights in the field of religion.
The consideration of the criminal case against Metropolitan Theodosius (Snigirev) of Cherkasy and Kaniv for allegedly spreading the rhetoric of hatred towards representatives of another confession is ongoing. It should be noted that on October 09, 2023, Metropolitan Theodosius addressed the UN Human Rights Council during the consideration of the report of the UN High Commissioner on Ukraine during the 53rd session of the UN Human Rights Council. In his address, he, as the head of the Cherkasy and Kaniv eparchy of the UOC, announced the mass seizure of churches of his diocese and other human rights violations. Now the Ukrainian authorities are insistently demanding that his measure of restraint be changed from house arrest to detention, which, in our opinion, is a persecution of the UN human rights defender for his legitimate international activities to protect human rights.

Call for a free press: By issuing this press release, we hope for a sympathetic response from the international community and the free press, which continues to play an important role in influencing the Ukrainian authorities and can provide practical assistance in protecting human rights and reducing injustice and arbitrariness around the world.

We are interested in receiving your request for additional information, documents, evidence and testimonies on the above topics. Faithful victims and metropolitans of the UOC, including those under investigation, are ready to directly testify about their situation, including in the formats of interviews or other forms of communication chosen by you.

Plea to the Free Press: Representatives of the UN, human rights organizations, and religious leaders express concern over mass violations of the rights of the believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

Press service of the Cherkassy Diocese of the UOC


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