Today, HRC announced it has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the U.S. Department of State for all records regarding a letter that Secretary Tillerson reportedly sent earlier this summer to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addressing the violence against LGBTQ people in Chechnya.
“The very fact that we are required to compel the State Department to release this letter speaks volumes about the Trump-Pence administration’s lack of leadership on this life-or-death situation in Chechnya,” said Ty Cobb, Director of HRC Global. “It took months for Secretary Tillerson to write a letter on the atrocities in Chechnya, and we still don't know if he addressed human rights issues forcefully or not because he won't allow anyone to see the letter. It’s far past time that President Trump and Secretary Tillerson publicly condemn the ongoing attacks against the LGBTQ community in Chechnya. Given the growing violence and arrests of LGBTQ people around the world, the United States must not back away from leading on LGBTQ human rights."
Since early this year, Chechen authorities have rounded up and detained more than 100 men in secret prisons, under suspicion that they are gay or bisexual. Chechen leaders have denied these accusations, going so far as to deny the very existence of LGBTQ people in Chechnya. Nonetheless, there have been numerous verified reports of torture and at least three and possibly as many as 20 men have been killed. Chechen officials have also reportedly encouraged families to murder relatives they suspect might be gay, something that at least one family seems to have acted on. While the initial detentions and attacks targeted suspected gay and bisexual men, 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.
President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have thus far failed to publicly condemn the attacks. In September, a Washington Post article quoted a State Department spokesperson who said “the United States will ‘continue to raise our concerns about this situation with Russian authorities’ and that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had written a letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about it.” That letter was never released publicly nor was it accompanied by any public statement on Chechnya.
While the Trump-Pence administration has been largely silent on this issue, Congress has been unified across the aisle in condemning the atrocities. Last week, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously advanced a bipartisan resolution condemning the violence and persecution of LGBTQ people in Chechnya. The bipartisan resolution is nearly identical to a resolution that passed the House of Representatives in June, and “calls on Chechen officials to immediately cease the abduction, detention, and torture of individuals on the basis of their actual or suspected sexual orientation, and hold accountable all those involved in perpetrating such abuses.”
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley is thus far the most senior administration official to have spoken out about the attacks.