UKRAINE: New Registration Requirements - Who Benefits?

by Anna Vassilyeva, Keston News Service, 8 August 2001

A new draft Ukrainian the law on religion is in the final stages of discussion, Keston News Service has learned. The text, in the preparation of which the Ukrainian state Committee for Religious Affairs (CRA) took an active part, along with members of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches and experts introduces a number of new harsh provisions compared to the existing law, covering registration requirements and religious property, education & the religious activity of foreign citizens (see following KNS article).

The concept of the new law reveals the special role of the Ukrainian CRA chaired by Professor Victor Bondarenko who stressed, in an interview with Keston in late September 2000, that they "would not interfere into inner activity of religious organisations and help them in every possible way", but would not allow one to prevail over another. It is intended to introduce more rigid centralisation and control of religious organisation. It is unclear how religious organisations which do not register will be treated.

For the registration of religious congregations a new requirement is introduced. The support of 25 members (Article 15), as opposed to ten in the current legislation is required, and also "the confirmation of the canonical and organisational subordination indicated in the statute (articles of association)". In practice the change in the number of members required could mean changes in registration or the complete reregistration of religious congregations, in which case the second demand of written confirmation of the organisational or canonical subordination could come into effect. During discussion of the draft, in response to a question from the Association of Independent Charismatic Churches of Ukraine (Full Gospel) about the possibility of the registering autonomous congregations, it was stated that there are 1000 autonomous congregations of various denominations in Ukraine, and that for the statute of such a congregation to be registered "the relevant information is included in the statute". However, it remains unclear how this provision will be applied to autonomous congregations should it become necessary for them to register amendments or to reregister their statutes, although "amendments and complementation to statutes ... are proceeded in the same order and according to the same terms as registration of statutes" (Art.15, 8).

 In instances where a congregation refuses to register the draft law provides for the "obligatory notification" to the local and executive authorities of the establishment of the congregation (Article 9, paragraph 3), a provision which is absent from the current law.

At the same time as requiring confirmation from a central religious body at the time of registration, Article 10, paragraph 3 of the draft introduces a provision allowing regulation of relations with central bodies (including those located abroad) which have not been defined in the law "in accordance with agreements between the appropriate central bodies of executive authority and religious administrations and central bodies". In the text of the current law the wording is "state bodies". In this context the original text of the draft included a provision that "associations of religious organisations are not legal entities and are represented by their administrations or central bodies", which was later reworded in accordance with a suggestion of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (Moscow Patriarchate) (Article 7, paragraph 1).

The first reading of the draft law was rejected by deputies of the Supreme Rada on May 29, so the latest draft was discussed on 17 July by the members of the All-Ukrainian Council of Churches, which was formed some years ago with assistance of the CRA, and brings together representatives of the main religious organisations. Though a majority of religious organisations in the Council confirmed to Keston on August 3 that they had taken part in the discussion, none stated whether any changes were proposed to the draft, as the responsible persons were unavailable. It is remains unclear when the next reading of the law in the Supreme Rada will take place. (END)