One year ago, reports first surfaced of gay and bisexual men being rounded up, tortured, and killed in Chechnya, a semi-autonomous republic within Russia. Yet despite an international outcry, a mounting reported death toll, and survivors coming forward, Russia has refused to act.
This week, to mark this tragic anniversary, human rights groups once again slammed the Eastern European nation for its ongoing refusal to launch an investigation. To date, at least 100 men may have been detained and as many as 26 killed, according to coverage by the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta. But no criminal cases have been opened or arrests made.
"A year ago, this shocking news from Chechnya was ridiculed and dismissed by the Russian government," said Denis Krivosheev, deputy director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia at Amnesty International. "Since then we have witnessed a shocking display of denial, evasion, and inaction by the authorities, who have repeatedly refused to launch an official investigation into the reported heinous crimes and ignored credible evidence provided by Novaya Gazeta and others."
Those fleeing persecution have had to rely on human rights organizations, instead of the deaf ears of the Russian government, to reach safety and tell their stories. Igor Kochetkov, founder of the Russian LGBT Network, noted that these groups have "undertaken the work the state was supposed to do."
"We have ensured the safety of victims and collected and publicized their testimonies," Kochetkov said in a statement. "But one thing we could not do is launch an investigation and ensure criminal prosecution of the perpetrators. The Russian authorities, apparently, do not want to do this."
"It would be very easy to carry out an [effective] investigation if the authorities wanted to," said Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Milashina in a Tuesday press conference, according to Human Rights Watch.
For example, those saying they had been captured had their mobile phones with them in detainment, which could be used to corroborate location records. Chechen authorities had reportedly forced detainees to use these devices to out friends. Once arrested, these men were subjected to beatings and electrocutions, according to testimonials released by Human Rights Watch. Some were outed to their families, who were encouraged by authorities to carry out "honor killings."
Initially, Russia refused to open an investigation into the reported human rights abuses, because no one had filed a format complaint. However, these groups say a fear of retribution in Chechnya as well as Russia, which has become increasingly anti-LGBT, has stopped many from doing so. But even after Chechen survivor Maxim Lapunov filed a complaint last September, no action was taken.
Activists are calling on Russia to provide Lapunov and other survivors with protection, and investigate his complaint.
"There is no longer any excuse for Russian authorities not to conduct an effective, thorough, and impartial investigation," stated Kaitlin Martin, a fellow at Human Rights Watch.
This Saturday, activists have planned demonstrations around the world to demand justice from Russian authorities. Learn more at AllOut.org.