The anti-LGBT purge persists in Chechnya

On January 14th, the NGO Russia LGBT Network confirmed that a new wave of persecutions against LGBT people in Chechnya was taking place: illegal detentions, torture, humiliations, executions, incitements to murder – all being orchestrated by law-enforcement officers. Human rights organisations condemned the international community’s lack of action and have called on Russia to face its responsibilities. 

Since December 2018, 40 homosexual individuals, or allegedly homosexual, have been arrested in Chechnya according to the latest warning from United-Nations experts. It is not the first time the UN has shown concern. In April 2017, the High-Commissioner for Human Rights urged Russia to “clarify” what the Russian newspaper >Novaya Gazeta was saying about the purge that had begun a couple of months earlier. As a reminder, Chechnya is a federal republic of Russia and its leader a close friend to Putin.

Ramzan Kadyrov is at the head of the country and goes as far as denying the very existence of homosexual individuals among Chechen population. This reaction gives place to a dialogue of the deaf with the international community. Alvi Karimov, his spokesman, declared that “if there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning”. Indeed, when the victims are not tortured and/or imprisoned in secret prisons, after being framed by the police, they are killed by their families to rescue the “lost honour”.

Obviously driven into a corner by David Scott in an HBO Real Sports interview, the Chechen leader won’t admit that they “have those kinds of people here”. He continues, “if there are any, take them to Canada […] to purify our blood. […] They are devils. They are for sale. They are not people”.

A “climate of impunity”

In April 2017, the first wave gave rise to indignation and was granted a large media coverage. The issue found its way in French presidential campaigning – despite of candidates Fillon and Le Pen’s silences. It became a topic in public debate with the #Chechnya100, petitions, gatherings, the creation of the association Urgence Tchétchénie (that later became Urgence Homophobie)…

Witnessing history repeating itself, the international community seeks to keep the pressure on Russia. The US State Department, in a press statement, “call[s] on Russia to live up to its international obligations and commitments and its own constitution”. Alan Duncan, Minister for Europe and the Americas in the UK, considers that “there should be no climate of impunity for those who commit these abuses” and >stated that “[the UK] and the international community have repeatedly called for the Russian Government to conduct an investigation and hold those responsible for human rights abuses in Chechnya to account”.

Russia not very keen to collaborate

Whilst justice still needs to be served as to the 2017 crimes, the NGOs regret that there has not been any official investigation yet. Following the many questions left unanswered, 15 member-states of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) decided to trigger the “Moscow mechanism”. Ironically. It is a “method of furthering respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy and the rule of law through dialogue and co-operation”. In concrete terms, it consists of sending experts whose goal is to “to assist in the resolution of a particular question or problem relating to the human dimension”.

In the same time, the director of Russia LGBT Network, Igor Kochetkov filed a complaint to the Investigative Committee of Russia. He highlighted, backed up with evidence, the illegal detention of at least 14 people at the police office and at the Grozny local Ministry of Interior building. “The detained were severely beaten, sexually abused, were tortured with the electric current. They were also forced to sign empty forms”. One of the network’s missions is to evacuate the victim of those persecutions – which is becoming more challenging as their tortures revoke passports. Since April 2017, the network evacuated 150 individuals, 130 of whom found sanctuary outside of Russia.

Presuming international leaders won’t bang their fists on the table, a long-term solution is hard to picture. More so given the discourse that is held by Chechen officials, such as Dzhambulat Umarov, Ministry of the Police: “ “Considering the fact that they (gay people) have sick imagination to start from, I am not surprised that they can write nonsense like that”.

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