The Human Rights Campaign is calling on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to take time during his Russia visit to address the reported violence against gay men in the Russian republic of Chechnya.
Referring to reports that law enforcement officials have rounded up and tortured dozens of gay men in the republic, and killed at least three, HRC president Chad Griffin wrote to Tillerson last week, urging him “to make clear to your Russian counterparts that such lawless detentions, arrests, torture and murders are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Tillerson arrived in Russia today and met with President Vladimir Putin. It’s unclear if they discussed Chechnya, as Griffin urged. A New York Times article on the meeting makes no mention of the republic.
Russian media outlets first reported on the antigay violence about 10 days ago; reports had already been circulating among human rights activists. The State Department last week condemned the violence in a strongly worded statement, but American LGBT groups, including HRC and GLAAD, want to see the U.S. government do more.
“This is a crucial moment to make it clear that the U.S. will indeed ‘work aggressively to advance human rights for everyone,’ as you have said,” Griffin wrote to Tillerson. “The Chechen and Russian governments must transparently account for those who have been detained, condemn and investigate the attacks, and ensure that those targeted can flee to safety. I urge you to press them on these concerns and to put into practice the human rights goals you set for yourself and your Department in your confirmation process.”
Also, in an email to supporters today, Ty Cobb, director of HRC Global, called on them to press President Trump to address the violence as well. “We urge him to make it heard loud and clear around the world that violence towards LGBTQ people will never be tolerated,” Cobb wrote.
Chechen authorities have denied that gay people even exist in the region. “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” Alvi Karimov, a spokesman for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, told the Interfax news agency when the reports first came out, adding, “If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.”
The Russian government has told victims of violence to “file official complaints and go to court,” but they are unlikely to win any relief there, Griffin noted in his letter.