Today, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization, responded to a decision by 16 countries at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), including the U.S., to invoke the “Moscow Mechanism”, which authorizes a fact-finding mission to investigate anti-LGBTQ atrocities that have occurred in Chechnya over the last 18 months -- and the Russian government’s failure to respond.
For more than 18 months, HRC has worked to shine a spotlight on the dire situation unfolding in Chechnya through the #EyesOnChechnya campaign. In that time, the Trump-Pence White House has refused to publicly condemn the systematic torture, abuse, and murder of LGBTQ people occurring in Chechnya, even as Vladimir Putin has licensed the violence to continue. While the U.S. Treasury Department did place sanctions on certain Chechen officials in response to their human rights violations, and Congress passed bipartisan resolutions condemning the atrocities, President Trump has never once spoken out against what has taken place there. In July, on the eve of the Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, HRC projected an enormous message on the Presidential Palace demanding that Trump and Putin immediately condemn and investigate the ongoing anti-LGBTQ crimes against humanity occurring in Chechnya.
“It is well past time for the Russian government to hold accountable the perpetrators of violence against LGBTQ people in Chechnya,” said HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy. “It is unconscionable that Vladimir Putin has allowed Chechnya’s human rights violations to go on with impunity for so long. With this investigation, we will finally get an objective multinational report on the atrocities against LGBTQ people in that region and the key perpetrators behind them. This is a big step toward justice for those targeted by violence, and for preventing anti-LGBTQ violence in the future.”
The 16 countries voting to invoke the Moscow Mechanism were Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
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. 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 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.
The Trump-Pence White House has refused to publicly condemn the attacks. In September 2017, a Washington Post article quoted a State Department spokesperson who said the U.S. will “continue to raise our concerns about this situation with Russian authorities.” While former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did reportedly write a private letter to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov raising the issue, that letter was never released publicly nor was it accompanied by any public statement on Chechnya. In October last year, 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.
Since news of the attacks first broke, HRC has sounded the alarm through an #EyesOnChechnya campaign and repeatedly called on Donald Trump and Mike Pence to speak out and take action. In March, HRC also released a letter from HRC President Chad Griffin to Trump calling on him to end his deafening silence and publicly condemn the attacks as crimes against humanity. In June, a gay Chechen refugee joined HRC in Washington for a series of meetings with U.S. government officials, where he shared how he had been brutally tortured in Chechnya and managed to flee to safety in Canada with the help of the organization Rainbow Railroad. HRC also shared the first-hand story of one of the Chechen survivors on World Refugee Day.