The Trump administration is finally doing something substantive about the abuse of LGBTQ people, especially gay and bisexual men, in Chechnya.
The U.S. is among 16 member countries in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that have set up a fact-finding committee to investigate the situation, in which many gay and bi men have been arrested and tortured in what amount to concentration camps. Some have been killed, and others, released to the custody of their homophobic families, may face death at the hands of their relatives.
The OSCE invoked a measure called the "Moscow mechanism" to establish the committee, the Washington Blade reports. The mechanism allows member nations to send expert missions to deal with human rights issues.
Officials with the countries setting up the investigation noted that they had made inquiries to the Russian delegation in August about the reports of widespread anti-LGBTQ violence in Chechnya, which is a semi-autonomous republic within Russia. They did not receive a satisfactory reply, they said.
"This has only deepened our concern that the Russian Federation is unwilling or unable to address the reports of serious human rights violations and abuses, which contributes to a climate of impunity for authorities in Chechnya," the group said in a statement released by Iceland on behalf of the coalition. "We believe that the reported violations and abuses reflect a particularly serious threat to the fulfilment of the provisions of the OSCE human dimension."
"Those concerns centered around allegations of impunity for reported human rights violations and abuses in Chechnya from January 2017 to the present, including, but not limited to, violations and abuses against persons based on their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as against human rights defenders, lawyers, independent media, civil society organizations, and others. Among the reported human rights violations and abuses were: allegations of harassment and persecution; arbitrary or unlawful arrests or detentions; torture; enforced disappearances; and extrajudicial executions," the statement continued.
The State Department, under Donald Trump's first secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, issued a condemnation of the violence in Chechnya, as did Nikki Haley when she was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations; both have since left their posts. The Senate also denounced the situation. But Trump has yet to say a word about it.
The State Department, in a document obtained by the Blade, asserted that "the Trump administration has made it clear that we will hold Russia accountable for its malign activities, including its abuses against those within its own borders." State Department officials said the U.S. and other countries in the coalition had been pressuring Russia to take action for more than a year and "did not take this step without exhausting other means" of dealing with the situation. The U.S. has imposed economic sanctions against Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who denies there are any gay people in Chechnya, and police official Ayub Katayev. The two are also barred from entering the U.S.
LGBTQ rights activists were encouraged by the creation of the fact-finding group but weren't raising their hopes too high. "I'd be surprised if Russia were to let a fact-finding mission into the country -- and given the passage of time, finding concrete evidence may be a stretch," Michael Guest, a gay man who is senior adviser to the Council for Global Equality, told the Blade. "But using this diplomatic tool is in itself a rebuke to Russian officials, and keeps a spotlight on a tragedy that Russia would just as soon ignore."
"It is unconscionable that [Russian President] Vladimir Putin has allowed Chechnya's human rights violations to go on with impunity for so long," added David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign. "With this investigation, we will finally get an objective multinational report on the atrocities against LGBTQ people in that region and the key perpetrators behind them. This is a big step toward justice for those targeted by violence, and for preventing anti-LGBTQ violence in the future."