Deputy Political Coordinator
New York, New York
May 12, 2023
The United States takes seriously allegations of violations of human rights, including the freedom of religion or belief.
We expect all countries to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
However, it is hard to take seriously Russia’s meeting today as a genuine expression of concern and demonstration of its commitment to religious freedom.
Russia’s flagrant and pervasive violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms, both in Russia itself and in Russia-occupied areas of Ukraine, makes us question its motive for calling today’s meeting. So do the tens of thousands of Russian troops on Ukraine’s soil and trail of atrocities, war crimes, and civilian casualties left in the wake of its invasion.
Reportedly, the Russian government continues to detain, physically abuse, torture, and imprison individuals on the basis of their religious beliefs or affiliations.
Russia continues to ban religious groups and wrongfully label them and organizations it associates with them as “extremist,” “terrorist,” or “undesirable.”
Russian authorities apply these unfounded designations to Jehovah’s Witnesses, members of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars, followers of Muslim theologian Said Nursi, multiple evangelical Protestant groups, and many others.
Russia claims to be concerned about religious freedom in Ukraine. If so, Russia should be honest about the consequences of its full-scale invasion in Ukraine, including on the ability of Ukrainians to practice their faith.
Russia’s damage to religious sites and places of worship in Ukraine is simply appalling. Ukraine’s Institute for Religious Freedom has catalogued that Russia’s invasion destroyed, damaged, or led to the looting of 494 religious sites in Ukraine. The official UNESCO count is 109 religious sites.
We remain concerned about the safety of members of all religious communities in Ukraine, particularly those living in areas under Russia’s control or occupation, including members of the independent Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Crimean Tatar Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Ukrainian Greek Catholics, Evangelicals, Baptists, and members of other religious groups.
Since 2014, Russia’s authorities have harassed, intimidated, prosecuted or imprisoned dozens of Crimean Tatars on charges that independent observers characterize as baseless. If Russia truly cared about religious freedom in Ukraine, it would immediately cease its senseless war, withdraw its forces, and respect the human rights of all and the safety of the civilian population of Ukraine, including of members of all religious communities.