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Freedom of conscience and religion in the context of US and Ukrainian foreign policy

In modern geopolitical discourse, such a concept as freedom of conscience, as well as its derivatives, in particular, freedom of religion and freedom of faith, are very important elements for development and working out of a policy of foreign relations. It should be noted that since the beginning of the 21st century, religion has been making a significant impact on foreign relations, and the policy of countries on freedom of conscience and religious minorities is an important and very sensitive element in establishing processes of economic, financial and even military-technical cooperation.
Freedom of conscience and religion in the context of US and Ukrainian foreign policy

The United States is a country that sets a global agenda in international policy on freedom of conscience and religion. But a kind of pitchfork – a document that sets the record straight and define the red lines through the lens of the Annual Report of the U.S. Commission on international religious freedom. This document is a powerful analytical material that is collected by independent experts outside the US government, based on an analysis of available sources. It summarizes, analyses and marks all those territories and countries of the world where, in the opinion of specialists and experts of the above-mentioned commission, there are serious problems with respect to freedom of conscience and religious minorities. The propositions that are prepared and submitted as part of the Report for the President, Secretary of State and the US Congress are becoming extremely important factors influencing the foreign policy of this country.

There are several reasons that this year's Report, published on the Commission's website (https://www.uscirf.gov/annual-reports), is significant for Ukraine.

First, for the second time in a row, such an independent think tank of international level, puts the Russian Federation on the list of the Countries Recommended for Designation as Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs). The reason for this is information on the violation of the rights to freedom of conscience and religion by the government bodies of the Russian Federation and the militant groups under their control in the occupied territories of Ukraine (Crimea and certain areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions).

Second, in the US Government's recommendations, the Commission notes the importance of cooperation between the United States and European partners on targeted sanctions pressure on Russia to release political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in occupied Crimea and to deploy an international monitoring presence on the occupied peninsula. An important part of this strategic plan is the adoption by the US Congress of the “Ukraine Religious Freedom Support Act”. The Commission emphasizes the importance of this Act, as it regularizes the position and attitude of the United States and all world democracies to RF, in the context of the occupation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and a number of areas of Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine. In particular, the document places responsibility on the Russian Federation for violence in Crimea and Donbas during the armed intervention, and states that this country is responsible for the creation of illegal military formations, organizational and logistical support of their activities. Also, the said Act, on the basis of the Geneva Convention, to which the Russian Federation is a signatory, imposes and makes the aggressor country (the Russian Federation) responsible for violation of freedom of conscience and religion in the occupied territories.

Thus, summarizing the above, we can say that Ukrainian diplomacy has achieved an important result. After all, the facts that were made public in the Report are clear evidence for the entire world community of constant violations of the right to freedom of conscience and religion committed by government bodies of Russia and affiliated units of illegal military formations in the occupied territories of Crimea and Donbas. We can congratulate Ukrainian diplomats on such an important victory in the confrontation with the aggressor country.

However, in our opinion, for further confrontation with the Russian Federation in this area, the information and human resources that the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry currently operates to monitor religious processes in the occupied territories may not be enough. Therefore, in order to strengthen the institutional and staffing capacity of public authorities on these issues, it is first of all necessary to take the following measures.

First, it is important to strengthen the institutional capacity of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to monitor religious processes in the occupied territories by creating a special unit that would deal with this topic and interact with certain government authorities and international state and non-governmental institutions on this issue.

Secondly, it is necessary to actively involve a wide range of public organizations in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which are professionally engaged in monitoring violations of the right to freedom of conscience and religion in the occupied territories of Crimea and Donbas. It is also important to actively cooperate on the above issues with individual believers and religious communities whose rights have been violated by the occupation authorities of the Russian Federation. Ukraine must show the world these people’s experience and position in defending their rights to freedom of conscience and religion.

Third, it is important to create a single nationwide coordination centre that would direct the work of all government bodies on monitoring the RF’s violation of right to freedom of conscience and religion in the occupied territories of Crimea and Donbas.

Veniamin Ivanov
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