The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) calls on the international community to hold Russian president Vladimir Putin and Chechen head of government Ramzan Kadyrov accountable for the ongoing and systematic persecution of gay men in Chechnya, a territory controlled by the Russian Federation. Chechen authorities have arrested nearly 100 gay men over the last two months, sent them to “concentration camps,” and tortured and murdered at least three Chechen residents, in an effort to exterminate the country’s LGBT community, according to Chechen news outlets and human rights defenders in Russia.
Kadyrov, who won reelection with 98% in a rigged vote last year as a member of Putin’s United Russia party, responded through a spokesman, saying, “You cannot detain and persecute people who simply do not exist in the Republic…. 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.”
“Ramzan Kadyrov is notorious for ruling Chechen society using terror tactics. His disturbing statement denying the existence of gay men in Chechnya lays the ground for a campaign of terror and annihilation of a minority group that the world cannot allow,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen. “Kadyrov is Putin’s most brutal enforcer and is suspected to have planned the assassinations of Russian prodemocracy leader Boris Nemtsov and investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya. But dictators do not just target dissidents. Kadyrov and Putin’s new campaign against gay men should remind the world that everyone suffers when dictators are in charge,” said Halvorssen.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, dismissed the homophobic crackdown as “a question for law enforcement, [and] not on the Kremlin's agenda.” The Russian government has long supported measures that oppress and censor LGBT people and their supporters. In 2013, the Russian Parliament adopted a law banning gay “propaganda” that draws attention to the abuse suffered by LGBT persons, or promotes public education about LGBT identities. The law has led to an anti-gay censorship regime and given Russian security officers justification for targeting LGBT activists.
In an interview with Radio Free Europe, three gay Chechen men who managed to escape Chechnya in the last few weeks gave their personal accounts of the horrors facing thousands of gay Chechens — including mass arrests, beatings, torture, and extortion. They explain that many of their acquaintances in the gay community have gone missing, and detail the methods Chechen authorities have used to locate, extort, and blackmail them.
“Under international law, when acts of torture, murder, or extermination are committed against an identifiable group in society as part of a government policy or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government, the officials in charge are guilty of crimes against humanity,” said HRF chief legal officer Javier El-Hage. “If the reports coming out of Chechnya are confirmed — and corroboration is tough in a dictatorial country with no independent media and a terrorized population — the state-sanctioned brutal persecution of gay men would make Putin and his agent Kadyrov both responsible for crimes against humanity.”
However, El-Hage explains that it will be difficult to hold Russia accountable using existing laws and institutions: “Russia is not a party to the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute and even has the power to veto any potential referral from the U.N. Security Council. That said, the international community must call out these horrific acts and pressure the Russian regime to end the violence,” he explained.
The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that promotes and protects human rights globally, with a focus on closed societies.
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