Russia leaves LGBT Chechen victims in danger

Russian officials say they are investigating the mass arrests of LGBT people widely reported in Chechnya, but the official response leaves innocent people in jeopardy, Human Rights Watch says.

HRW reported in part:

A logo of Human Rights Watch
A logo of Human Rights Watch

By Tanya Lokshina
Russia program director for HRW

… The information published by Novaya Gazeta is consistent with the reports Human Rights Watch recently received from numerous trusted sources, including sources on the ground. The number of sources and the consistency of the stories leaves us with no doubt that these devastating developments have indeed occurred. LGBT Network in Russia opened a special hotline to provide emergency support to those who find themselves in immediate danger.

In light of brutal repression in Chechnya, we cannot reveal our sources for fear of compromising their security. The fear of devastating reprisal is so intense that we cannot even provide detail on specific cases as the victims could suffer even more as a result of the exposure.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) with his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov. (Photo courtesy of CNN)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (center) with his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov (left). (Photo courtesy of CNN)

On Monday, 3 April, President Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, stated that the Kremlin was previously not aware of the situation, but that law enforcement authorities would look into these media reports. On the one hand, this seems like good news, a signal to investigative officials to run a check promptly. On the other hand, Peskov also suggested that people who supposedly suffered from abuses by law enforcement officials should “file official complaints” and “go to court” without indicating what, if anything, Russian authorities are planning to do to protect them.

These days, very few people in Chechnya dare speak to human rights monitors or journalists even anonymously because the climate of fear is overwhelming and people have been largely intimidated into silence. Filing an official complaint against local security officials is extremely dangerous, as retaliation by local authorities is practically inevitable.

The location of Chechnya between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea.
The location of the Russian republic of Chechnya between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea.

Human Rights Watch documented numerous cases in recent years showing just what fate awaits people in Chechnya who do what Peskov has suggested. For this reason, with very few exceptions, victims of torture and other horrific abuses refrain from seeking justice or withdraw their complaints as a result of threats, including death threats and threats of retaliation against family members.

It is difficult to overstate just how vulnerable LGBT people are in Chechnya, where homophobia is intense and rampant. LGBT people are in danger not only of persecution by the authorities but also of falling victim to “honour killings” by their own relatives for tarnishing family honor.

So it is particularly disappointing that the Kremlin spokesman should tell the victims to use official channels to complain, without saying a word about any security guarantees. Without solid security guarantees, victims and witnesses cannot possibly come forward, and there is no chance that an effective investigation could take place.

Surely Russian authorities can do better than that. At the highest level, they should resolutely condemn attacks against LGBT people in Chechnya and ensure safety and justice for the victims.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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