|Draft Law # 10221: the end to religious freedom in Ukraine?|
|Tuesday, 27 November 2012 15:18|
This was the situation on October 16, 2012 when the Parliament of Ukraine adopted in its second reading a draft law # 10221 with serious amendments to the Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations tabled by the President’s Representative in the Parliament, MP Yuriy Miroshnychenko. At a meeting with the President Viktor Yanukovych the very next day heads of Churches and religious organizations expressed their unequivocal position that the law needs to be vetoed. They said that it had been adopted with flagrant infringements of parliamentary regulations and in breach of promises given by representatives of the government.
The main danger lies in the fact that the amendments can be interpreted in different ways. Haste and lack of thought over these amendments, if they come into force, will mean that officials will be enormously tempted to abuse the Law in favour of one or another denomination or to stifle free thinking or freedom of religion altogether. Corruption is also likely.
The draft law makes the procedure for registering religious organizations less clear-cut and more complicated. This is through the introduction of two uncoordinated procedures for gaining legal entity status. Nor is it clear which order this registration should take place.
The draft law not only rejects the principle proposed by the Ukrainian Council of Churches and Religious Organizations for a single instance registration, but introduces two which are totally unrelated to each other. But laws are supposed to regulate social relations, not create chaos.
The list of regulatory bodies is extended to include the Prosecutor’s Office, the central body on religious matters (the Ministry of Culture); other ministries and local authorities. This is an over step backwards towards Soviet total control over the activities of believers and religious organizations. The situation is even more worrying since the amendments do not clearly delineate competence of specific bodies and the permissible ways of exercising their regulatory powers. This creates the grounds for arbitrary behaviour from officialdom.
The problem is that those authorities which are authorized to provide administrative services to religious organizations are given regulatory powers despite the fact that they themselves often violate legislation in this sphere.
The new Law on Civic Organizations which takes effect in 2013 totally removes state control over NGO’s adherence to their founding charter. In the religious sphere, legislators have gone in the opposite direction.
Another issue is that the draft law retains a permission-based system for holding peaceful gatherings which is in direct breach of Article 39 of the Constitution of Ukraine. There is also a norm saying that the Ministry of Culture of Ukraine agrees the religious activities of foreign nationals. This adds discrepancies to the normative regulation of the work in Ukraine of foreign priests, teachers and students of religious establishments, volunteers, etc.
While there was clearly need for improvement to the current law, over the last 20 years the situation has made it possible to maintain balance. Any changes need to be made with care and with full discussion with all parties involved.
The deadline for the President’s decision on whether or not to veto the law is due. Some government structures are saying that the law can be reworked after it’s signed. It may be fraught with danger and yet more promises, and can only still further topple the already fragile peace between different faiths and denominations in Ukraine. The President’s failure to use his power of veto will demonstrate his indifferent to the views of religious organizations during their dialogue. This will have devastating consequences for the progress made over the last decade.
It is therefore vital that the President Yanukovych vetoes draft law # 10221.
Maksym VASIN – Executive Director of the Institute for Religious Freedom, Kyiv
Originally posted by Blog of Maksym Vasin
© 2012 The Institute for Religious Freedom – Kyiv, Ukraine
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