SUBMITTED BY PUBLIC ORGANIZATION PUBLIC ADVOCACY -
non-governmental organizations in special UN ECOSOC consultative status
(supported by: VSI Zmogaus teisiu apsauga, Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary, dioceses, religious communities of Ukrainian Orthodox Church)
Warsaw Human Dimension Conference
2 October 2023 - 13 October 2023
Thursday, 5 October Plenary Session III: Tolerance and Non-Discrimination I Addressing racism, xenophobia, discrimination and intolerance
ON VIOLATIONS OF RIGHTS OF THE UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
1.ON CRIMINAL CASES AGAINST THE EPISCOPATE OF THE UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH, STATE DECISIONS ON OUTLAWING THE CHURCH AND MASS WITHDRAWAL OF LAND PLOTS
(The full statement, as well as additional materials, are available at: www.protiktor.com/uoccases)
In our deep conviction, the international community, which genuinely upholds human rights, needs urgently express concern over the policies pursued by the state of Ukraine towards the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
In our opinion, particular attention should be paid to the following situations:
1. Negative political attitude towards the UOC on the part of state authorities in Ukraine.
Since 2015, representatives of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church have been reporting violations of their rights, including at the international level. According to our observations, confirmed, among other things, by the conclusions of international organizations, seizures of churches, violence against UOC believers, unlawful conversions (re-registration) of legal entities of the UOC into other confessions, discriminatory bills, decisions to terminate rights to land plots, prohibitions on registration actions of believers of the UOC stem from a consistent discriminatory policy implemented by both state and non-state actors on the territory of Ukraine.
The incessant information campaign in the media to incite hatred towards the UOC alongside the dissemination in the media of narratives about the “affiliation of the UOC to Moscow” led to the entrenched negative policy towards believers of this denomination at various government levels and among the population.
Such incitement of hostility resulted in the adoption of numerous decisions by state authorities to “ban the UOC” and “terminate land use rights”, even though religious buildings have already been built on these lands in many cases.
Such decisions were worded as appeals to the President of Ukraine and the parliament to “ban the UOC” as a denomination throughout Ukraine, purportedly due to its alleged “pro-Moscow activities and support for the Russian Federation”, as well as its “association with the Russian Orthodox Church”.
Considering the situation at hand, the OHCHR in its periodic report (A/HRC/51/CRP.1) noted:
124. During the reporting period, local authorities in at least seven territorial communities in Kyiv, Sumy and Lviv regions temporarily suspended the activities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (often unofficially referred to as the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate) for the duration of martial law. Local authorities, for instance the City Council of the Brovary District in Kyiv region, also prohibited meetings, rallies, marches, as well as other mass events of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church for the duration of martial law, without providing a clear justification for the prohibition.
125. This suspension raises concerns as to its compliance with international human rights standards. Authorities did not explain the basis on which such measures were introduced, or how they were deemed necessary and proportional to protect public safety, order, health, morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others, as required by article 18(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Furthermore, as activities of other regional communities and organizations have not been suspended, this unfavourable treatment of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church may amount to a discriminatory measure on the ground of religion or affiliation with a particular religious group.
We draw your attention to the fact that following the publication of the quoted OHCHR’s report, the situation has significantly worsened. State authorities, including at the level of regional councils and city mayor’s offices, not only continued to make decisions “to ban the UOC” but also began to make decisions to terminate the land use rights of specific UOC communities for land plots previously allocated to them in accordance with the legislation of Ukraine for the construction of churches.
On the one hand, the decisions “to ban the UOC” are definitely populist in nature, as confirmed by the mayors of the cities themselves who made such decisions. Certainly, these decisions have no legal force, since they are typically formulated as appeals to the parliament and the President and do not have legal consequences. However, they do have political, informational, and psychological implications, since they foster a politically hostile trend in society towards the UOC and send a real signal that temples and land plots can be taken away from UOC believers, and their rights can be violated with impunity through other means.
Currently, the situation continues to unfold in the worst scenario. Unlike the decisions “to ban the UOC”, the decisions of state bodies to terminate the rights of specific legal entities of the UOC to their owned land plots are nothing but a property confiscation, carried out in a flagrant open manner with clear discriminatory motives and in violation of the law.
Thus, the decisions to “ban the UOC” and deprive specific legal entities of this denomination of land use rights were adopted by various state bodies:
- Kyiv Regional Council – June 9, 2023;
- Zhytomyr Regional Council – April 27, 2023 (concurrently with the cancellation of the 2017 decision to allocate a land plot for the UOC Monastery of the Athonite Icon of the Mother of God);
- Sumy City Council – April 26, 2023;
- Brovary City Council, which on April 27, 2023 deprived the UOC of the right to use 4 land plots, on which 5 temples of the UOC are located;
- Khmelnytsky City Council, by a decision of April 4, 2023, decided to terminate the land use rights of 12 religious organizations of the UOC, including those that already owned property on these land plots.
Similar decisions were made in Chernivtsi, Volyn, Rivne, Khmelnytsky, Zakarpattia, Vinnytsia, Ternopil, and Cherkasy regions.
By informing the public about these decisions, mayors and other politicians are effectively conducting an aggressive information campaign against the UOC, disregarding whatever legal arguments that there are no legitimate grounds for depriving land use rights or for “banning the activities” of a legal entity lawfully registered in Ukraine as a religious organization.
As an illustration of such a media campaign against the UOC, consider a post on the Facebook page of a state authority – the Kamyanets-Podilskyi City Council: “NO TO THE ENEMY CHURCH”:
“Deputies of the Kamyanets-Podilskyi City Council have unanimously adopted three appeals regarding:
- BAN on the Moscow Patriarchate across Ukraine;
- WITHDRAWAL of the Kamyanets-Podilskyi Eparchy of the UOC-MP from the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church;
- RUPTURE OF THE CONTRACTS for the lease or use by the UOC (MP) of state-owned church buildings.
We also voted ‘for’ 19 projects on the TERMINATION of land use by the Moscow church and one – on the CANCELLATION of the lease.
Mayor Mykhailo Positko”
Thus, the ongoing seizure of UOC churches, unlawful transfers of UOC communities to other religious denominations, as well as acts of violence against believers of this denomination are a result of an exaggerated information campaign that casts a segment of Ukrainian citizens as an “internal enemy” within a belligerent country. This campaign aims to pressure the episcopate and believers of the UOC to change their religious affiliation and join the “Orthodox Church of Ukraine”, created by the Ecumenical Patriarchate with the support of former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko
2. Draft laws discriminating against the UOC and criminal proceedings against the episcopate and clergy of the UOC.
A continuation of the process described above are the ongoing attempts to pass bills aimed at a complete ban on the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. More detailed information about these bills was presented in our previous statements at the UN HRC sessions: A/HRC/52/NGO/44, A/HRC/52/NGO/157.
Equally significant points of tension are the criminal cases initiated against the episcopate, clergy, and believers of the UOC.
For example, according to the official commentary of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), "based on the SBU's materials, 65 criminal proceedings are being investigated against clergymen, in particular, against bishops of the UOC (MP). So far, the court has already handed down 15 guilty verdicts."
On August 7, 2023, the Vinnytsia City Court issued a verdict against Metropolitan Jonathan of the UOC, sentencing him to 5 years of imprisonment with property confiscation.
Metropolitan Pavel (Lebed), the abbot of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, has been recently released on bail from prison. His case will soon be returned to court for a new verdict .
An analysis of the materials available from open sources leads to the conclusion that the main charges against these bishops are based on their statements, including those obtained through the interception of their private telephone conversations by security agencies.
In our view, there is a high risk of courts rendering unjust decisions in such cases, driven by a political agenda to persecute the UOC and its leaders, staging "show" trials to intimidate other believers and coerce them into renouncing their religious beliefs.
Due to these concerns, we call on international organizations, the OSCE UN OHCHR, UN special mandate holders, and the UN HRC to monitor these criminal proceedings and the verdicts issued in these cases.
2.ON THE SEIZURE OF KYIV-PECHERSK LAVRA TEMPLES, DEPRIVATION OF BREAD AND WATER, ARRESTS OF ACTIVISTS OF THE UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
Our human rights organization draws the attention of the OSCE, special mandate holders, diplomatic missions of the OSCE member states to the critical situation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (hereinafter referred to as the “UOC”) in the territory controlled by Ukraine.
As was previously reported, the Holy Dormition Monastery of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church has long been in possession of the buildings of the churches and the living quarters of the monks within the complex of properties managed on behalf of the state by the governmental entity National Reserve "Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra".
However, in 2023, state bodies and high-level politicians launched an information and legal campaign in Ukraine against the believers of the UOC, part of which involved widespread restrictions on the rights of religious organizations of the UOC (for more details, see
A/HRC/52/NGO/44, A/HRC /52/NGO/157) and limitations on the rights of UOC believers to freedom of religion. Specifically, the governmental entity National Reserve "Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra" took a series of actions aimed at terminating agreements granting the UOC monastery the use of Lavra buildings. The above state enterprise initiated legal proceedings to terminate such an agreement and on August 11, 2023, completely blocked access for UOC believers to the territory of the Lower Lavra – the most visited part of the monastery, where sacred sites for the worship by believers are located. Additionally, access to the territory of the Lavra was prohibited for students and teachers of the Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary, whose educational facilities are also part of the Lavra complex.
It should be noted that throughout this conflict, the authorities have repeatedly employed police and security forces to block the activities of believers and detained and arrested activists who were defending the Lavra.
For instance, the abbot of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, Metropolitan Pavel (Lebed), and human rights activist Viktoria Kokhanovska were arrested, placed in custody and subjected to house arrest. They are currently facing criminal charges, primarily related to their public and private statements and rhetoric. Investigations into their cases are ongoing, and they are isolated from any public activities.
Regarding the substance of the state’s claims to the monastery, it’s noteworthy that the UOC monastery received possession and use of the temples and other buildings of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra in the 1990s as part of the state’s program of Ukraine to return the ownership or permanent use of cult property to religious organizations, where such property had been confiscated by the communist authorities.
Unfortunately, the state did not fully honor these obligations, as it handed over the property to the UOC monastery without transferring the ownership title to the UOC. Instead, the state retained ownership, including over the temples and buildings where the monks reside. Undoubtedly, in a rule-of-law state, it would be impossible to retain ownership title for its state-owned enterprise while simultaneously conducting a restitution process and call such a transaction as "restitution" of the buildings previously owned by the faithful. It is clear that the state has played a “foul game” with the believers, akin to fraudulent schemes. Now that the political trend has changed, we witness both police and legal excesses within the formalized process, facilitated through the judicial system, of “evicting” believers from the buildings that they had repaired and restored, all under the pretext of the alleged state’s "ownership rights" to the temples and monastic facilities. Yes, the ownership title is indeed registered in the registry under the state’s reserve name, but is it fair and lawful?
Thus, considering the grounds for the state’s ownership rights over the buildings of the Lavra complex, attention should be directed to the fact that even though the state enjoys the status of title owner of the reserve’s buildings, it fundamentally should not have owned this real estate due to the fact that according to Ukrainian legislation, cult property previously confiscated by the Soviet authorities from religious organizations should have been returned to their ownership or transferred for free and perpetual use to the successor religious organizations.
The actions of the police authorities in this matter should cause separate claims from the international community, which is genuinely concerned about the fate of international law and the observance of human rights. It is evident that the Ukrainian state seeks to cloak its clearly unlawful attempts to seize the temples from the UOC under the guise of “legal proceedings” and “legal legitimacy”. However, at the same time, the police forces do not shy
away from actions such as breaking into buildings (still belonging to the UOC) and even blocking believers inside these buildings, depriving them of food and water.
So, according to media reports:
“In the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, the police prohibit delivering food and water to people who are inside a sealed building…
The second day of the Lavra’s complete blockade. We wanted to deliver bread and food to pilgrims who legally reside in their cells, but they are not allowed to bring any food, water, or medicine. A police officer standing behind me is preventing this, guarding so that no one enters there. I really don't know what to say. There are no words. I am proud of these defenders, Orthodox Christians who love the Orthodox Church, the Lavra, and the holy faith. Please, pray for them," said the KDAiS student.
On August 12, the Telegram channel "Lavra Now" published a video showing police officers preventing the delivery of bread to people located in one of the blocked buildings (Building No. 58). As noted by the UOC press service, some monks of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra are registered in this building as well.
“The actions of the police actually indicate that the organizers of the unlawful sealing of the Lavra buildings probably regard starvation as one of the means of expelling Orthodox monks and believers from the buildings that are sealed unlawfully by the Reserve,” comments the UOC press service.
We cannot overlook such a blatant fact as the eviction of the premises occupied by the Theological Academy and the Seminary of the UOC:
“The administration of the National Reserve "Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra" disallowed access to the territory of the monastery for students, teachers and other employees of the Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary. This is said in the letter of acting Director General of the Reserve Maksym Ostapenko, addressed to the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy. A photocopy of the letter was published by the Lavra live Telegram channel.
Ostapenko writes that "due to the repeated obstruction of the work of the commission for sealing the buildings", the reserve, from August 11, 2023, by a special order closed the territory of the Lower Lavra for visitors, and also "determined the procedure for access to the territory of the Lower Lavra only for priests, monks, and attendants" of the monastery and the arrival/departure of its vehicles.
"The Reserve and the Theological Academy do not have contractual relations regarding the activities of the Theological Academy on the territory and in the buildings of the Lower Lavra, as well as regarding the stay of its students, teachers, and employees there," the letter says. "In view of the foregoing, the Reserve cannot give permission to students, teachers, and employees of the Theological Academy, since they are considered visitors, whose access to the territory of the Lower Lavra is closed according to the order of the Reserve.’”
In the context under consideration, it is important to understand the methods that the authorities can employ to “persuade” UOC believers about which church they should go to and which they should not. For instance, on August 19, 2023, the police blocked entrances to the UOC Cathedral in Kamyanets-Podilskyi and began allowing pilgrims to leave through an
exit, near which military recruitment officials were stationed, handing out conscription notices requiring all male believers of the UOC to report to the mobilization points.
Concurrently, the mayor of this city declared that the authorities “would do everything to prevent the UOC procession from leaving the city,” and police checkpoints blocked buses with UOC pilgrims.
We call on the OSCE and international organizations to respond to the presented facts and take measures to protect the rights of UOC believers.
3.ON THE APPEAL OF THE KYIV THEOLOGICAL ACADEMY AND SEMINARY OF THE UKRAINIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH TO THE OSCE, UN SPECIAL MANDATE HOLDERS, INTERNATIONAL ORGANISATIONS IN CONNECTION WITH VIOLATIONS OF THEIR RIGHTS IN UKRAINE
Our human rights organization urges the OSCE, UN Human Rights Council, UN and EU special mandate holders, representatives of missions of OSCE and UN Member States and international organisations to take note of the violations of the rights of millions of believers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church. In this part of ourstatement, we publish an open appeal of the Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary of the UOC – the oldest educational institutions, which are disallowed by the state authorities of Ukraine to continue their peaceful educational and enlightening activities:
From a statement by Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary addressed to the UN Human Rights Council, UN OHCHR special mandate holders and international organisations, full text available at www.protiktor.com/uoccases:
“1. About the existence, number of students and teachers.
The Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary (hereinafter referred to as the Academy) is an autonomous educational institution and operates as a higher theological educational institution directly subordinated to the Primate of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, which provides higher spiritual education specializing in "Orthodox theology".
In the 20th century The Kyiv Theological Academy and Seminary were closed twice by the Soviet authorities. After the celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia in 1988, when the Soviet government relaxed its atheistic policy, the premises on the territory of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra were partially transferred to the use of the Church. This was allowed in 1989 to restore the Kyiv Theological Seminary here. And in 1992, the Kyiv Theological Academy was revived. So, since 1989, the Academy has been located on the territory of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.
Today, more than 250 students’ study at the Academy at the bachelor's, master's and postgraduate level. More than 500 students’ study in the correspondence sector. About 100 teachers and employees work at the Academy. Several tens of thousands of copies of books from various fields of science are kept in the library of the Academy. Education, accommodation and food at the Academy are free for residential students. At the same time, the Academy provides food for students. Therefore, the Academy has a kitchen, dining room, and food warehouses.
2. About the grounds for obtaining use and ownership of premises.
In 1988, when the Soviet Union was inevitably coming to an end, the state transferred some of the Lavra churches and buildings for use by the Church. The monks began to gradually return to the monastery. In 1989, the revival of the Kyiv Theological Seminary began, which was also located on the territory of the Lavra. In 1992, the revived Kyiv Theological Academy started working here.
Fulfilling restitutionaly obligations, starting from 1990, the state, through various state bodies and enterprises, made such a return, as a result of which the Academy began its activities on the territory of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra.
The mass media repeatedly reported that the Academy is illegally located on the territory of the Lavra, as the 2013 contract contains a clause that prohibits the monastery from subleasing any premises to other organizations. But the Academy was located on the territory of the Lavra long before 2013. And during the conclusion of the lease agreement between the Reserve and the Lavra in 2013, this fact was taken into account.
Also, a document from 1990 is preserved in the archives of the Kyiv Theological Academy. This is an act of transferring some objects on the territory of the Lavra to the Church. This act states that the General Director of the Reserve, in compliance with the Resolution of the Council of Ministers of the Ukrainian SSR dated April 28, 1990 No. 99 "On the transfer of certain objects of the museum association "Kyiv-Pechersk State Historical and Cultural Reserve" to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church», transfers buildings for use by the Church. The then rector of the Archpriest Kyiv Theological Seminary accepted these corpuses from the Reserve. Currently, these buildings house the administrative part and classrooms of the Academy (building No. 64) and the Library of the Academy (building No. 63). Thus, the Kyiv Theological Schools received the use of these buildings directly from the Reserve, and not from the Lavra.
Since 1990, the Academy has openly and continuously owned buildings 55, 60, 63, 64, together with them, the state did not give up the title of owner of these premises in favor of the religious organizations of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, despite the numerous requests of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
3. About restoration of premises and improvements.
The buildings in which the Academy's classrooms are now located (buildings 63 and 64) were handed over to the Church in a state of emergency. The Academy carried out a general reconstruction of these buildings at its own expense. In addition, two dormitories (buildings 55 and 60) were equipped at the expense of the Academy. Since 2008, the Church and Archeological Museum has also been created in the Academy, which contains many valuable exhibits. The Academy maintains all these buildings at its own expense.
It should be noted that the efforts of the Academy carried out a major restoration of the Lavra Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God (which is an academic church). All restoration works of this monument were carried out at the expense of the educational institution and in accordance with the permits and recommendations of the institutions of the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine.
4. About restricting access to buildings.
Since 1992, the Kyiv Theological Academy, has been located on the territory of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra monastery. However, on March 10, 2023, the National Historical and Cultural
Reserve "Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra" sent a letter to the monastery of Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, in which it announced that from March 29, 2023, the lease agreement for the premises of the "Nizhnaya Lavra" will be terminated, and accordingly, all buildings currently used by the Church should be vacated .
The Reserve's decision to terminate the lease agreement was motivated by violations found in the use of the buildings transferred to the monastery. At the same time, the Academy did not receive any documents indicating that any violations were detected in educational and residential buildings No. 63, No. 64, No. 55 and No. 60. If such violations are detected, we are ready to eliminate them in cooperation with representatives of UNESCO and the National Historical and Cultural Reserve "Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra".
5. About the non-admission of students, teachers and the actual blocking of the Academy's activities.
We draw attention to the fact that the Academy openly owned the premises of the educational buildings for a long time, while all these years the state did not have any claims to the existence of our educational institution on the territory of the Lavra, and we considered the fact of transferring these premises to us as a comprehensive decision of the state to return all property Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra to its historical owner - the male Holy Assumption Monastery of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
Thus, the restitution decision on the return of property to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was executed by the state through the conclusion of contracts of various legal content between the National Historical and Cultural Reserve "Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra" and the legal entity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church - the men's monastery "Holy Assumption Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra", at therefore, the Academy was not a party to this contract, but was and remains a bona fide and open owner and user of the premises of buildings 55, 60, 63, 64.
Currently, legal proceedings are ongoing between the parties to the above-mentioned contract, but the Academy has not yet been involved in these legal disputes as an interested party, and there is also no court decision on the eviction of our educational institution from the premises belonging to us .
Meanwhile, without any court decision that has entered into legal force, the state has effectively deprived us of the opportunity to use the premises, and students can lose the opportunity to use places for living in dormitories at any time . Also, in connection with the decision of the Reserve, students, teachers and employees of the Academy are prohibited from entering the territory of the Lavra, which actually limits access to the premises and makes it impossible to start the academic year .
We ask the addressees of this appeal to pay attention to the conditions of our educational institution and to take measures to protect our rights, as well as to contribute to the elimination of the threat of further inter-religious confrontations in Ukraine”.
We earnestly implore the OSCE, UN HRC, UN Special Rapporteurs, and representatives of the diplomatic missions of OSCE and UN member states to respond to this statement in accordance with their mandates by taking specific actions and decisions.
The full statement, as well as additional materials, is available at: www.protiktor.com/uoccases