Post submitted by Stephen Peters, former Senior National Press Secretary and Spokesperson
Today, HRC released a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling on him to forcefully and publicly condemn the Chechen anti-LGBTQ crimes against humanity while he participates in a Ministerial Council meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on December 6-7. Earlier this month, 16 countries at the OSCE invoked the “Moscow Mechanism” and authorized a fact-finding mission to investigate the anti-LGBTQ atrocities that have occurred in Chechnya over the last 18 months, including the Russian government’s failure to respond.
Read the full letter from HRC to Sec. Pompeo here.
“This is a critical moment for you to make your voice heard and to speak out against the Chechen government’s horrific anti-LGBTQ human rights violations and the Russian government’s unconscionable complicity,” said HRC Government Affairs Director David Stacy in the letter. “As you meet with your Russian counterparts at the OSCE and as you make public comments during the ministerial meetings, it is essential that you break your silence and make it clear that the U.S. is monitoring this process very closely at the highest levels and that we and our allies demand that the perpetrators be held accountable. It is crucial that the Russian government and the world community hear that message.”
Since news of the atrocities first broke, HRC has worked to shine a spotlight on the dire situation unfolding in Chechnya through the organization’s #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 U.S. diplomats supported the OSCE fact-finding mission, President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Secretary Pompeo have never once spoken out publicly 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.
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. 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 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.
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.