Last week the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) released a report documenting the horrific treatment of LGBTI people in the Chechen Republic, a federal subject of Russia.
Responding to human rights abuses that were first reported by independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta in April 2017, the OSCE report details the systematic harassment, abuse, detention, torture, disappearance, rape, murder, and execution of LGBTI citizens in Chechnya.
It was requested by 16 members of the OSCE in November of this year, namely Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, according to Into. Russian delegates refused to appoint a second expert to co-author the report or participate in the investigation.
International attention was drawn to the anti-LGBTI purges in the region after a number of gay and bisexual men came forward describing their treatment at the hands of authorities including Maxim Lapunov, the first person to do so without the cover of anonymity.
Professor Dr. Wolfgang Benedek, the author of the report, describes the persecution or “purge” of gay and bisexual men coming in “waves”, with one between December 2016 – January 2017 and another following from March – May 2017, with a third seemingly stalling in response to international outcry, although there is evidence of new cases as recently as September and October 2018.
Men suspected of being gay were picked up by police officers or military personnel without any given reason from their homes, workplaces, or in the streets. They would be taken to police stations before being transferred to other locations to be detained, sometimes in unofficial prisons, such as one located in Argun.
Detainees would experience verbal humiliation, being called “faggots” and told they brought shame on their people and shouldn’t exist. They would be given “electric shocks, usually at the fingers” or “taken to interrogation rooms and beaten with police sticks, plastic tubes and cables”, resulting in serious injuries such as “broken ribs, jaws and bruises”.
The purpose of this torture was to make them confess they were gay, or provide authorities with the names of other gay or bisexual men.
While in detention the men would be subjected to mistreatment and torture on a daily basis for up to two weeks, or until they either signed a confession, reported others, or expressed a willingness to cooperate.
They were denied food, water, legal assistance, and medical attention, and were unable to clean themselves or their wounds. In most cases their relatives were not informed of their whereabouts.
The report states that some witnesses claimed spokesperson of the Parliament, Magomed Daudov, participated in some of the torture sessions, suggesting the campaign had the support of the state.
People who couldn’t withstand the torture due to their age were allegedly killed, as were those that could “bring shame on the authorities or administration”.
In most cases the men would be released back to their families who were shamed for having a gay relative and told to find “a proper solution”, or “get rid of the sick members of the family”.
Families would sometimes be asked to pay a ransom for their relative’s release, or the victims themselves would be required to pay their tormentors over a longer period of time.
After their release some of the victims were forced into marriage to “save the family honour”, others would be told to kill themselves. One witness described police officers telling families, “Either you kill your kid or we will do it for you.”
In addition to the treatment of gay and bisexual men there have been reports of lesbian and bisexual women undergoing similar treatment. Unlawfully detained, beaten, and pressured to report on other LGBTI people, in extreme cases they would be raped and killed.
Victims’ male relatives would be pressured to “wash away the shame from the family”, cooperating in their psychological punishment. There are cases of women who escaped Chechnya being brought back to their families with the help of authorities.
Some families are said to have brought their relatives to the Centre for Islamic Medicine in Grozny to undergo a sort of exorcism to rid them of “demons”, particularly the women, similar to practices currently occurring in Indonesia.
“Instead of protecting their citizens the government reinforces prejudices against people with different sexual orientation who are existing in the traditional society where it is still a taboo to talk about homosexuality and a shame for the family to have gay or lesbian members,” Benedek wrote.
The full report can be read here.
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has previously denied the purge of LGBTI people in the region, claiming, “We don’t have those kinds of people here.”
Despite this, he publicly condoned the ‘honour killing’ of LGBTI people by their relatives.
“If we have such people here, then I’m telling you officially, their relatives won’t let them be, because of our faith, our mentality, customs and traditions,” he said.
“Even if it’s punishable under the law, we would still condone it.”
The report contains a number of recommendations for the Chechen government in response to its findings, including recognising the existence and protection of LGBTI people, ending the harassment of human rights organisations and the media, ensuring perpetrators of human rights abuse are brought to justice, and the “immediate shut-down of all unofficial detention facilities in Chechnya”.
It goes on to recommend the Russian Federation “undertake an effective, impartial and transparent investigation of the allegations” and to ensure the perpetrators be brought to justice should the region fail to do so.
Professor Dr. Wolfgang Benedek also recommends that the 16 nations which requested the report grant protection to refugees fleeing Chechnya, particularly LGBTI refugees.
“Take the special security needs of refugees from the Chechen Republic, in particular LGBTI persons, into account by providing them with safe housing, medical and psychological support and new identities where appropriate,” he wrote.
“The Russian government can no longer deny the existence of these barbaric anti-LGBTQ crimes against humanity in Chechnya,” said global director of American LGBTI civil rights organisation Human Rights Campaign, Ty Cobb, in response to the report.
“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.”
In the past former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has raised concerns with the Russian government over reports of the anti-LGBTI attacks, while Greens Senator Janet Rice, Liberal Senator Dean Smith, and Labor Senator Penny Wong all moved motions in the Senate to draw attention to the crisis, although so far Australia has not offered to take any Chechen refugees.