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

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss called out abuses of the freedom of religion or belief in a speech to a UK-hosted conference (Rob Pinney/PA)
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss called out abuses of the freedom of religion or belief in a speech to a UK-hosted conference (Rob Pinney/PA)

Liz Truss has said religion is “collateral damage” in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as she also called out the persecution of religious minorities in China and Afghanistan.

The Foreign Secretary addressed a UK Government-hosted international conference on freedom of religion or belief in London on Tuesday, at which faith leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury called for the protection of people’s right to follow a religion.

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

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

“Innocent civilians are having to shelter from Russia’s indiscriminate bombardment in places of worship. Churches, synagogues and mosques have been reduced to rubble.

“Religion is proving to be collateral damage from Putin’s aggression.”

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

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

“In Afghanistan, many of those with a belief the Taliban does not condone are forced to follow this in secret or flee for their safety.”

Liz Truss
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss addresses the international ministerial conference on freedom of religion or belief in London (Sophie Wingate/PA)

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis also highlighted the persecution of Uighurs in China, as well as the “worrying increase of antisemitism right around the world”.

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

The Most Reverend Justin Welby used his speech to criticise political leaders who do not offer all people freedom, safety and opportunity.

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

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

The two-day event, which brings together 500 faith, belief, 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 disempowerment, darkness and division”.

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

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

The UK will pledge £200,000 to fund awareness campaigns and support people facing discrimination based on their religion or belief, and another £300,000 to provide British legal expertise to nations where these freedoms are under threat.

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