THE KILLING FIELDS

New report documents horrific anti-LGBTQ crimes against humanity in the Russian republic of Chechnya.

BY ORLY LYONNE

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) responded last month to a new report released by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) documenting horrific anti-LGBTQ crimes against humanity in the Russian republic of Chechnya that first made headlines in April 2017. Refuting denials from Chechen and Russian authorities, the report details the systematic torture, abuse and murder of LGBTQ people.

The report was authorized by 16 OSCE countries last month in order to investigate the human rights abuses and the Russian government’s failure to respond. It clearly states that there is “overwhelming evidence that there have been grave violations of the rights of LGBTI persons in the Chechen Republic,” while also citing gruesome personal stories from victims of the Chechen regime’s cruelty. The report also calls on Russia to establish a special investigative committee to “undertake an effective, impartial and transparent investigation of the allegations” and “bring to justice the alleged perpetrators.”

“The Russian government can no longer deny the existence of these barbaric anti-LGBTQ crimes against humanity in Chechnya,” said HRC Global Director Ty Cobb. “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.”

“It’s crucial that… the world community—and especially the United States—welcome refugees escaping these gross human rights abuses.”

On April 1, 2017, Novaya Gazeta, a Russian independent media outlet, first broke the news that Chechen authorities had rounded up and detained in secret prisons more than 100 men who were suspected of being gay or bisexual. Chechen leaders have denied these accusations, going so far as to deny the very existence of LGBTQ people in Chechnya—a claim the Russian government astonishingly repeated.

Chechen officials have also reportedly encouraged families to murder relatives they suspect might be gay or bisexual. While the initial detentions and attacks targeted men suspected of being gay or bisexual, the campaign has also brought about a surge in lesbian women sharing stories about humiliation, abuse, and threats they have faced from male relatives or from others. Transgender Chechens have also fled violence.

In October 2017 various media outlets reported that the Russian-Chechen singer Zelim Bakaev, who went missing in August of that year, was allegedly tortured to death by authorities in the Russian republic. 

In comments on state television last year, Chechen president Ramzan Kadyrov suggested the 25-year-old was murdered by family members ashamed of his sexuality.

Bakaev’s father, Khussein Bakaev, told Radio Free Europe that the family had no involvement in his son’s disappearance.

While former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly wrote a private letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov raising the human rights abuses, that letter was never released publicly nor was it accompanied by any public statement on Chechnya.

In October 2017, HRC filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the U.S. Department of State for all records regarding that letter—a request that has yet to be fulfilled. While the White House has remained silent, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have passed bipartisan resolutions condemning the atrocities.