Chechnya Becomes Focus of International Investigation

In a letter delivered by Iceland’s delegation to the Organization for the Security and Cooperation (OSCE) in Europe last week, 16 countries — including the United States — came together to investigate the alleged human rights abuses targeting LGBTQ people in Chechnya.

Calling for a fact-finding mission to Russia, the statement follows a previous letter the countries sent to the Russian delegation of the international body on Aug. 30, requesting information connected to the reported imprisonment and torture of more than 100 LGBTQ Chechens. In that letter, they accuse authorities in Russia of suppressing information connected to the alleged abuses.

“Our countries continue to be deeply concerned about serious human rights violations and abuses in Chechnya,” the August letter said. “Numerous credible reports by media and civil society organizations over the past 20 months have alleged worrying actions taken by Chechen authorities against persons based on their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as human right defenders, lawyers, independent media, civil society organizations, and others.”

“The Russian Federation’s apparent unwillingness or inability to address these serious human rights violations has contributed to a climate of impunity for authorities in Chechnya in perpetrating such violations,” it continued.

Now the 16 member states say that a letter from the Russian delegation received on September 4 “did not provide a substantive response” to their questions.

Their Nov. 2 statement states that the lack of adequate response has contributed to the countries’ decision to invoke the OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism that will create a fact-finding mission to Chechnya.

The mechanism allows OSCE to form short-term missions related to human rights concerns. It was last used in 2011 to investigate alleged abuses in Belarus.

“[The Russia delegation’s response] 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 letter said.

It further states that the scope of the investigation will focus on allegations of impunity for reported human rights violations in Chechnya dating from January 2017 to the present. These include claims of harassment, beatings, and the murder of LGBTQ people or those perceived to be LGBTQ, as well as human rights defenders, lawyers, independent media, civil society organizations, and others.

The U.S. State Department supported the decision.

“We and like-minded countries have demanded that Moscow hold accountable those responsible for such violations and abuses,” said Robert Palladino, the State Department’s Deputy Spokesperson. “Russia has failed to provide a substantive response to repeated expressions of international concern and calls for accountability.”

“Therefore, with these actions at the OSCE, the administration will continue to work with our European partners to expose Russia’s human rights violations and abuses,” he said.

Rights groups hailed the call by OSCE.

Freedom House, which operates safe houses for LGBTQ Russians, released a statement welcoming the decision to look into the violence and disappearances in Chechnya.

“At a time when authoritarian leaders seem to believe human rights violations at home and abroad will go unpunished,” said Marc Behrendt, Freedom House’s director of Europe and Eurasia programs, “this strong response from the U.S. and its democratic allies clearly signals that human rights and democracy remain high on the international agenda.”

David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, said it’s time for Russian President Vladimir Putin be held accountable for the reported abuses. He claimed the OSCE’s decision was a significant step toward justice.

“It is well past time for the Russian government to hold accountable the perpetrators of violence against LGBTQ people in Chechnya,” he said in a statement.

Russia has denied reports of alleged violence against LGBTQ people in the republic.

News of the crackdown on Chechnya’s LGBTQ community was first reported by Novaya Gazeta in 2017, which reported that local authorities had detained hundreds of men that were or were perceived to be gay or bisexual. Since then, lesbian and trans people have also reported their own experiences with horrific violence in Chechnya.

Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has continued to deny the reports, claiming there are no LGBTQ people in the semi-independent Russian republic.

Image via Getty

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