AUSTRIA. Head of UOC Representation to International European Organisations takes part in OSCE meeting in Vienna (+video)

With the blessing of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufriy of Kyiv and All Ukraine, Head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Representation to the International European Organisations (UOC IEO) His Grace Bishop Victor of Baryshivka took part in the OSCE Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting (SHDM) which was held on 22–23 June in Vienna, and which was dedicated to the principles of  Freedom of Religion and Beliefs. His Grace was accompanied by the Deputy Chairman of the UOC Department for External Church Relations Archpriest Mykolay Danylevych. Also taking part in the work of the meeting were representatives of OSCE member countries, diplomats, human rights activists, representatives of religious confessions and religious organizations.

Within the framework of the Forum, Bishop Victor delivered a statement in which he discussed the discrimination, human rights abuses and illegal actions perpetrated against UOC religious communities and faithful. In particular, His Grace mentioned Draft Bills Nos. 4128, 4511 and 5309, which propose that: a ‘special status’ be imposed upon the UOC, a forced name change be enacted, special agreements be signed with State authorities, and State appointed priests be accepted etc. Meanwhile, these proposals are not being forced upon any other denomination. Concerns about the possibility of the adoption of these Draft bills have been expressed by: the World Council of Churches (WCC), a number of Local Orthodox Churches, and the Vatican Secretariat of State.

Also mentioned in the speech made by His Grace was the non-registration of UOC Statutes by the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine, which forced the Church to go to court. Also discussed was the attempted seizure of the UOC Holy Annunciation Church in the town of Kolomyia, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast. The incitement to religious hatred against the Church by major mass media outlets in Ukraine was also mentioned.

In the text of the speech, the full version of which was transmitted to the Secretariat of the OSCE, it was stressed that in International Law and  in positions taken by authoritative international organizations, ultimate responsibility for all the violations of believers’ rights and all discriminatory actions committed even by non-State actors, lies with the Government. Consequently, the report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, 2014, explicitly stated that:

Human rights violations are possible not only from the side of the State; quite often they are perpetrated by non-State actors. However, the responsibility for such acts shall be the State, as they may indicate the imperfection of the human rights protection system“.

The representative of The Church emphasised that the incitement of religious intolerance, and the ongoing violations of freedom of religion and interference in the religious activities of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church are all continuing to be ignored. Furthermore, the absence of proper investigations and adequate public condemnation of the violations of believers’ rights, will inevitably lead to a weakening of Legislative Supremacy and Rule of Law in Ukraine.

However, His Grace also noted certain positive rulings made by the organs of the judicial system such as at Boryspil Court, Kyiv Oblast where on  22.02.2017 it was decided to cancel the illegal decision made by the Boryspil City Council to ban the All-Ukrainian Cross Procession from passing  through the city of Boryspil (Kyiv Oblast).

During a side event, the Church representatives engaged in dialogue with various participants of the Meeting, among them being with the representative of the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the International Organisations in Vienna Fr. Fredrik Hansen.

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