Thank you, President, and thank you to our briefers.
I also thank the Russian delegation for bringing human rights issues to the Security Council. The United Kingdom has long believed in the link between human rights and matters of peace and security, and we are glad that the Russian delegation now appears to share this view. We look forward to further discussions on human rights in the Council.
The UK is committed to defending freedom of religion or belief for all around the world. We condemn all persecution on the grounds of religion or belief. Ukraine shares these values. It is a pluralist and multi-faith society, with the right to freedom of religion or belief enshrined in its constitution. Its lawmakers have sought the advice of experts on freedom of religion and belief as they respond to threats to Ukraine’s national security.
Russia does not share this commitment. Religious leaders are among those targeted by Russian forces and subjected to torture and enforced disappearances. Russian authorities are carrying out house searches and arbitrary arrests of Crimean Tatars, accusing them of extremism and terrorism just for peacefully practicing their faith.
Russian Orthodox priests have been disciplined for expressing opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine – even defrocked for praying for peace instead of victory. Over 100 religious sites have been damaged or destroyed since the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
This includes the devastating destruction to the Transfiguration Cathedral – Odesa’s largest Orthodox church – in July this year, previously destroyed under Stalin in 1936. Our Foreign Secretary saw the extent of the damage first hand during his visit to Odesa yesterday.
Colleagues, the Russian delegation is presenting itself today as the defender of the Orthodox Christian faith and its values.
But is it Christian to covet and steal your neighbour’s land?
Is it Christian to disrupt the global supply of food?
Is it Christian to kill civilians?
The Orthodox faith of course does not encourage these things. It does however encourage confession of sins, and repentance.
President, the best way to ensure that Ukrainians can enjoy their freedom of religion and belief – and all of their human rights – is for Russia to end its war of aggression, withdraw its forces and respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.