A new international human rights report has further confirmed that LGBTQ people are being abused, tortured, and even executed in Chechnya.
News began to surface early in 2017 of LGBTQ people, especially gay and bisexual men, being detained by Chechen authorities and placed in makeshift prisons that amount to concentration camps, where they are tortured and in some cases killed. Those who are released to the custody of their families often are in danger of being murdered by relatives. Some have escaped to other countries.
In November, 16 member countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, including the U.S., called for an investigation of the situation in Chechnya, a semiautonomous republic within Russia. Today OSCE rapporteur Wolfgang Benedek released a damning report.
“The evidence clearly shows that the allegations of very serious human rights violations in the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation have been found confirmed,” the report states. “This concerns in particular allegations of harassment and persecution, arbitrary or unlawful arrests or detentions, torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions. In particular, several waves of violations of human rights and abuses of persons based on their sexual orientation and gender identity in 2017 could be confirmed. New purges were identified affecting alleged drug addicts and even teenagers.
“There has not only been no progress with regard to the legal situation of effective remedies and consequently to the problem of impunity, but the situation has worsened as the climate of intimidation has increased to the extent that hardly anybody in Chechnya feels free to speak about the human rights problems any more. Human rights organizations and investigative media instead of being protected face various forms of harassment and attacks, which are not investigated. This appears to be in line with a general feeling of lawlessness and the impression that the repressive state apparatus is free to act as it wants, as it is protected by impunity.”
Russia appears to lack the “political will” to rectify the situation in Chechnya, Benedek writes, saying the republic “is treated like a special case … for the sake of stability.” Chechen separatists have been fighting for independence from Russia off and on since the 1990s, so it is in Russia’s interest to placate the republic. Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has the support of Russia’s government.
Benedek recommends several measures to address the human rights violations. He calls on Russia to open “an inquiry into the actions of the government of the Chechen Republic towards [LGBTQ] persons in general, as well as a criminal case on the alleged violations of the human rights of [Maksim] Lapunov in particular.” Lapunov, who says he was detained and beaten by Chechen police for being gay, is the only victim of the antigay purge who has been willing to reveal his name. Chechen authorities have resisted opening an investigation and have been backed up by courts.
The report also says the Russia must make sure the Chechen government and law enforcement comply with all domestic laws and international human rights standards. And it calls for the immediate release on bail of activist Oyub Titiyev, who heads the Chechen office of a human rights group called Memorial. He was arrested last January on a charge of possessing marijuana, which he and his colleagues say was planted in his car as part of a plot against Memorial.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement supporting Benedek’s report. “We call on the Russian Federation to protect the human rights of all within its borders, consistent with international law, OSCE commitments, and its own constitution,” it reads in part. “We support the report’s recommendations that Russia conduct a new and truly independent inquiry into the violations and abuses, that human rights defenders and the media be allowed to operate in Chechnya without reprisal, and that imprisoned human rights defender Oyub Titiyev be immediately released.”
The State Department has previously condemned the anti-LGBTQ purge in Chechnya, as has Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who will leave that post soon. Donald Trump, however, has said nothing about it. Russian President Vladimir Putin has promised an investigation into the situation, but Chechnya’s Kadyrov denies that there are any LGBTQ people in the republic — and has said if there were, they would be killed by their families or driven out of the country.
The Human Rights Campaign called on U.S. leaders and others to carry out the report’s recommendations. “The Russian government can no longer deny the existence of these barbaric anti-LGBTQ crimes against humanity in Chechnya,” HRC Global director Ty Cobb said in a press release. “World leaders, including the Trump-Pence administration, must take action to hold Russia and those responsible for the crimes accountable and to ensure these atrocious crimes have been stopped and never happen again. It’s crucial that Russia follow the report’s recommendations and launch a serious investigation, and that the world community — and especially the United States — welcome refugees escaping these gross human rights abuses.”