Religion is ‘collateral damage’ in Ukraine war, says Truss

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Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has denounced abuses of freedom of religion or belief in a speech at a conference in the UK (Rob Pinney/PA) (PA Wire)

Liz Truss said religion was “collateral damage” in the Russian invasion of Ukraine as she also denounced the persecution of religious minorities in China and Afghanistan.

The Foreign Secretary spoke at a UK government-sponsored international conference on freedom of religion or belief in London on Tuesday, where religious leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury called for the protection of the right of persons to follow a religion.

Ms Truss said: “(Russian President) Vladimir Poutine and its enablers claim that Russia is waging a holy war, but in truth they believe that nothing is sacred.

“We are seeing increasing evidence of heinous war crimes committed by Russian troops.

“Innocent civilians must take shelter from Russia’s indiscriminate bombardment of places of worship. Churches, synagogues and mosques were reduced to rubble.

“Religion turns out to be collateral damage of Putin’s aggression.”

Ms Truss told a Ukrainian delegation in the audience that ‘the UK will not rest until you prevail and your people are free to live, believe and prosper’.

The foreign minister condemned abuses in other countries, saying: “In Xinjiang, the evidence is clear of the extraordinary scale of China’s targeting of Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities, including severe restrictions to freedom of religion.

“In Afghanistan, many who believe the Taliban do not tolerate are forced to follow this in secret or flee for their safety.”

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss addresses the International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief in London (Sophie Wingate/PA) (PA Wire)

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss addresses the International Ministerial Conference on Freedom of Religion or Belief in London (Sophie Wingate/PA) (PA Wire)

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis also pointed to the persecution of Uyghurs in China, as well as “the disturbing rise in anti-Semitism around the world.”

“We saw how Holocaust denial and distortion was used by Russian leaders to justify the war in Ukraine,” he said.

The Very Reverend Justin Welby used his speech to criticize political leaders who fail to provide freedom, security and opportunity for all.

He said: “Leadership is hard work. You know. If you don’t offer people freedom, security and opportunity, or if you only offer this to some people and not to others, you are not really leading.

The archbishop recently condemned the government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, saying it “should put us to shame as a nation”.

The two-day event, which brings together 500 religious, religious, government and civil society representatives from 60 countries, began with a choir singing in Ukrainian.

The Prince of Wales opened the conference with a video message, in which he warned that “where there is discrimination, we know only too well there is powerlessness, darkness and division”.

Today, millions of people live in fear simply because they follow their religion or because of their beliefs.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson also addressed the forum via video, saying: “Today millions of people live in fear simply because they follow their religion or because of their beliefs, people who face to the humiliation and indignities of daily discrimination to the devastating attacks, mass murders and appalling atrocities.

“We ignore these voices at our peril, not only because of the inescapable link between this and many human rights that we cherish, but because free societies are stronger and more prosperous and advance the global cause. Peace.”

The UK will pledge £200,000 to fund awareness-raising campaigns and support for people who face discrimination based on their religion or beliefs, and a further £300,000 to provide UK legal expertise to countries where those freedoms are under threat.

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