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Special issue. Religious occupation: Oppression of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate

Crimea beyond rules. Special issue. Religious occupation: Oppression of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate

The principles of freedom of worship and religion declared by constitutions and international law become a token-money in the process of political and geopolitical confrontations as much as other political and civil rights. Intervention into the spiritual area is an indicator of level of political culture of warring parties.

In the situation of the occupation of Crimea the Russian Federation authorities confirmed the ideological weakness of their position oppressing the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate (UOC-KP). Before the occupation, the UOC-KP belonged to the religious minorities of the peninsula. After the occupation UOC-KP Crimean diocese has decreased quadruple: from more than 40 communities (at the beginning of 2014) only 11 acted in 2015. Also were fixed episodes of the seizure of churches and church property.

From the very beginning of the occupation of the Crimean peninsula, the UOC-KP rate negatively and condemned the occupiers. In March 2014, the UOC-KP Bishops’ Council in the name of church condemned the aggressor actions and supported the struggle of Ukrainians on preserving the territorial integrity and independence of the state. After signing the Agreement on the entry of Crimea into the Russian Federation, the legislation of the Russian Federation spread on the peninsula. This was the formal matter for making claims to the religious communities of the UOC-KP and limiting their functioning in Crimea.

The main obstacle faced the UOC-KP was the requirement to undergo re-registration for all religious organizations of the peninsula on March 1, 2015, namely:

1) to join the existing Russian centralized religious organization of the same direction;

or

2) to pass the state religious examination according to the Russian Federation legislation.

Religious organizations which haven’t fulfilled the requirements on re-registration are deprived of the right to act on the territory of the Russian Federation and must be eliminated. In fact, religious organizations which haven’t been re-registered were limited in legal personality. They cannot carry out business activities – but they can appeal to court to protect their violated rights.

In addition, the Law of the Russian Federation “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations” provides that clergyman must be a citizen of Russian Federation or stay legally on the Russian Federation territory to conduct worship services and other religious ceremonies.

In addition to the above direct leverages on UOC-KP religious organizations also uses indirect influence – the pressure on lessors and owners of premises where worships are held. Some owners left the peninsula, others using the formal pretext of re-registration refused to renew the rent. The seizure of churches are the most striking examples of the UOC-KP oppression in Crimea, for example, the Church of the Apostles Peter and Paul and St. Nicholas, the Archbishop of the Myra the Wonredworker in Sevastopol, the Church of the Intercession of Theotokos in the village of Perevalnoye, the Cathedral Church of the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Prince Vladimir and Olha in city of Simferopol.

In all three cases of temples’ seizure, the Crimean diocese of the UOC-KP made efforts to defend the right on access to premises and protection the church property in the “occupation courts”. But all appeals were rejected. Appeals against court decisions and actions of bailiffs also were failed. Thus the national remedies for the rights of the Crimean Diocese of the UOC-KP have already been exhausted. After that the Office of the Diocese has appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

International law in case of occupation by one state of another or part thereof provides for the protection of worshipers, places of worship and cultural properties. The Geneva Convention IV on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War guarantees protection against discrimination for protected persons from the occupied territory, also on religious basis. The policy of the Russian Federation led to a violent decrease of number of UOC-KP parishes in Crimea and seizure of church property. It can be qualified as discrimination, because for Ukrainian Crimeans the UOC-KP appurtenance is the only way to preserve Ukrainian identity.

It must be noted that the Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions prohibits using the places of worship for supporting the military. In this case it should be mentioned that the Church of the Apostles Peter and Paul and St. Nicholas, the Archbishop of the Myra the Wonredworker in Sevastopol and the Church of the Intercession of Theotokos in the village of Perevalnoye were located on the territory of military unit. After the occupation of Crimea, these facilities “transferred” under the control of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. They were used for army or transferred to the UOC-MP. All these are a direct violation of the Additional Protocol requirements.

The International Law rules – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief, the European Convention on Human Rights – protect the rights of UOC-KP representatives:

– the right on worship and protection against discrimination;

– the religious practice without intervention of authorities;

– protection of temples and church property.

and parishioners:

– the right to practice religion and protection against discrimination;

– the participation in religious rites;

– demonstration of religious beliefs.

International jurisprudence has examples of disputes resolution regarding the protection of religious freedom in the European Court of Human Rights, for example, the Church of the Bessarabian Metropolis and Others VS. Moldova and Manussakis and Others VS Greece.

To be fair, it should be noted that the UOC-KP is undergoing persecution on the territory of the Crimean peninsula, and also on the continental part of the Russian Federation. On this issue we have the precedent for the demolition of the Holy Trinity Church in Noginsk city. Other religious organizations of Russian Federation are also ousted. For example, the temples of Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church in Vladimir region were transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church MP. It was carried out judicially by the Territorial Administration of the Federal Agency for State Property Management. Thus, the occupation authorities ignore the international legal standards and flagrantly violate human rights in the field of freedom of conscience and religion. So, the religious minorities are purposefully infringed. As a result of this policy, the UOC-KP ceased to exist on the territory of the occupied peninsula.

Read the full version of thematic review “Crimea beyond rules. Religious occupation: Oppression of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate”.

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