What's In Blue

Posted Thu 11 May 2023

Ukraine: Arria-formula Meeting

Tomorrow (12 May), Russia will convene an Arria-formula meeting titled “Situation with freedom of religion and belief in Ukraine: persecution of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church”. Briefings are expected from Mira Terada, Director of the Foundation to Battle Injustice, as well as from two members of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP): Archpriest Andrey Pavlenko and Bishop Gedeon. The meeting is open to representatives of all UN member states, permanent observers, UN entities, civil society organisations, and members of the press.

Tomorrow’s meeting, which will begin at 10 am EST and take place in Conference Room 11, will not be broadcast on UNTV. In a concept note prepared for the meeting, Russia said that it does not intend to seek approval from Security Council members on webcasting the meeting on UNTV “given predictable censorship demands from the UK and other Western delegations”. The UK objected to webcasting Russia’s 5 April Arria-formula meeting, which focused on the situation of children in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. Russia, in turn, opposed the webcasting of the 28 April Arria-formula meeting organised by Albania, France, and the US, together with non-Council member Ukraine, on the issue of abduction and deportation of children during armed conflict. (For more information, see our 4 April and 28 April What’s in Blue stories.)

According to the concept note, the objective of tomorrow’s meeting is to provide information on the situation of freedom of religion and belief in Ukraine “in light of the escalation of repressive policy of Kyiv against the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP)”. The concept note claims that “a large-scale campaign is underway to seize churches of the UOC and forcibly and illegally eliminate their communities”.

The UOC-MP was established in 1990 as a self-governing church within the canonical authority of the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC), also known as the Moscow Patriarchate. In 1992, clergy seeking independence from the ROC set up the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate (UOC-KP). Religious divisions in Ukraine deepened after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March 2014, given the historical ties of the UOC-MP to Moscow. After Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the UOC-MP sought to distance itself from Moscow, declaring complete independence from the Moscow Patriarchate on 27 March 2022. Nonetheless, Ukrainian authorities have accused some in the UOC-MP of maintaining close ties to Moscow.

Since October 2022, Ukrainian authorities have conducted numerous raids of churches and monasteries, launched dozens of criminal cases against UOC-MP clergy, and sanctioned members of the clergy in Crimea and the Donbas region. On 10 March, Ukraine’s Ministry of Culture and Information Policy ordered the UOC-MP to leave the Pechersk Lavra monastery in Kyiv by 29 March, accusing the UOC-MP of violating “the terms of the agreement regarding the use of state property”. On 1 April, a court in Kyiv ordered the abbot of the Pechersk Lavra monastery, Metropolitan Pavel, to be put under house arrest for allegedly justifying Russia’s aggression.

Tomorrow’s Arria-formula meeting will be the second meeting convened by Russia on the issue of religious freedom in Ukraine. At Russia’s request, the Security Council held a briefing on 17 January under the “Threats to international peace and security” agenda item, which focused on Moscow’s allegations that Ukraine was attempting to “destroy” the UOC. The Council was briefed at that meeting by Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights and head of the UN Human Rights Office in New York Ilze Brands Kehris and Metropolitan of Volokolamsk Anthony, Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the ROC.

At that meeting, Brands Kehris noted that “the armed attack by [Russia] against Ukraine and the ensuing hostilities have brought the most severe forms of human rights and international humanitarian law violations into the everyday lives of people in Ukraine”. She also expressed concern over restrictions on the freedom of religion and the freedom of association across Ukraine, citing “worrisome” developments such as draft legislation that “could undermine the right to freedom of religion or belief”. Brands Kehris urged the Ukrainian authorities to ensure that searches in premises and places of worship fully comply with international law.

Ukraine, for its part, has denied Russia’s accusations but expressed its openness to engaging in discussions on human rights issues at the Security Council. At the 17 January meeting, Ukraine said that “if Russia is so interested in discussing the issue of human rights in the Security Council…perhaps the time has come to return human rights to the Council’s agenda and thoroughly address the Secretary-General’s reports on the human rights situation in occupied Crimea, Ukraine, and the report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine”, including through a “Council meeting to address the implications of the Russian war of aggression on the human rights situation in Ukraine”.

At tomorrow’s meeting, most Council members are expected to emphasise the importance of upholding and safeguarding the freedom of religion, in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Some members are likely to denounce the politicisation of religion, underscoring the importance of religious tolerance and its positive contribution towards peacebuilding.

Several members are expected to condemn attacks on religious sites in Ukraine. These members may refer to the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, which explicitly prohibits attacks on places of worship. Some may also mention Security Council resolution 2347 of 24 March 2017, which condemns the unlawful destruction of religious sites and artefacts and affirms that such attacks may constitute war crimes. As at 10 May, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had verified damage to 110 religious sites resulting from the war in Ukraine.

Several members may criticise Russia for what they consider a misuse of the Arria-formula meeting format to disseminate false narratives and disinformation. These members apparently view tomorrow’s meeting as a cynical attempt by Russia to justify its invasion of Ukraine and as part of Moscow’s broader strategy to divert the international community’s attention from Russia’s violations of the UN Charter.

The original idea behind the Arria-formula meeting format was for Council members to receive crucial information that might not otherwise be available to them, particularly through civil society briefers, to help enhance their awareness of complex problems and inform their decision-making. In this regard, Arria-formula meetings were envisioned as closed meetings conducive to a frank exchange of ideas. In recent years, however, members have often chosen to convene Arria-formula meetings in an open format, which provides organisers with a platform to amplify messages on issues of importance to them. These meetings have occasionally served as a battleground for alternative narratives promoted by Security Council members. Tomorrow’s meeting will be the ninth Arria-formula meeting on Ukraine convened since Russia’s invasion in February 2022. (For a full list of Arria-formula meetings held since 1992, please see our website. For more information on Council members’ use of the Arria-formula format, see our 30 April 2021 In Hindsight titled “Is There a Single Right Formula for the Arria Format?”.)

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