Student Name: Elizabeth Mather
Course: PSCI 3022
Instructor: Prof. Sarah Sokhey
Published: March 15, 2019
The end of December 2018 marks a new wave of persecution against LGBT people in Chechnya. This is not the first time this has occurred. An attempt by activists to hold a pride parade in April 2017 resulted in at least 100 gay men being rounded up and arrested, and many claim they were tortured by their Russian captors. Meanwhile, Russia is being confronted with international pressure again after authorities detained 40 homosexual men from the North Caucuses of Chechnya who used VKontakte, Russia’s version of Facebook, to communicate with and meet other gay men. The Russian Government backed a 1 n investigation into the deaths and reported torture of gay men in Chechnya in 2017, but authorities found no evidence of
maltreatment.2 These horrific events pose the question: How should the international community hold Russia accountable for human rights violations, specifically against the LGBT community, and ensure they do not continue to occur?
Chechnya, a southwestern republic in Russia known for being extremely conservative and predominantly Muslim, has continuously dismissed the reports as “misinformation.” Ayub Kataev, prison warden and head of Chechnya’s internal affairs, denied the abuse altogether. He has also denied the existence of gay people in Chechnya, stating “My officers would not even want to touch such people, if they exist, let alone beating or torturing them.” He also accused the victims and the Human Rights Watch of lying in an “attempt to destabilize Chechnya.”3 Kataev bolsters his power by dismissing gay people as “not Chechen,” referring to them as “suspicious outsiders,” and using state-sponsored homophobia to pit Chechen citizens against gay people.4 Chechnya’s attitude toward homosexuality is more extreme than Russia’s, but Russia does not support the LGBT community either. Putin signed a “gay propaganda” measure into federal law in 2013, which bans the “promotion of non-traditional sexual relations to minors.”5 This contributed to a state-sponsored intensification of harassment and stigma, resulting in violence against people in the LGBT community and their families.
In Chechnya, gay men who are arrested have their travel documents taken by the Chechen police to prevent them from fleeing the country to seek justice, and their family members are threatened with violence to keep them from speaking publicly about the crackdown.6 Many independent journalists in Russia are also discouraged from reporting on these stories due to the precedent set by the Russian government concerning opposition views, evidenced by the disappearances of Boris Nemtsov and Anna Politkovskaya.7 Surveys indicate that many Russians distrust news about Chechnya (Gehlbach, 2010). This could lead them to underestimate or dismiss Chechnya’s human rights abuses, which could be one explanation for the lack of reporting on the issue.
Historically, Russian people have had negative relations with Chechnya and support Putin’s intervention in the country, along with Putin’s appointment of Ramzan Kadyrov as president of Chechnya. A 2017 survey conducted by the Levada Center in Russia showed that public opinion about Kadyrov was generally positive among Russian citizens. The majority of survey respondents said Kadyrov could be trusted, and they believe the two largest consequences of Kadyrov’s leadership are “complete pacification and establishment of peaceful life in Chechnya” and “Establishing full control of Kadyrov’s clan over Chechnya” (Levada, 2018). As the survey indicated, Russians are not necessarily concerned with Chechnya because they believe Kadyrov is “controlling” it well. This attitude, combined with a distrust of news from Chechnya could mean that they do not see the “gay purges” as a pressing human rights issue, or even as a factual issue.
Research conducted by the Psychology Journal of the Higher School of Economics based in Moscow, found that negative attitudes toward homosexuals were “stronger in males” and among “religious respondents.” According to the International Religious Freedom Report from 2017, 71% of the Russian population considers themselves to be Orthodox Christians, and 10% identify as Muslim. This trend could explain a rise in homophobia, as Islam does not condone homosexuality and the Orthodox Christian Church starkly opposes homosexuality, stating “The Orthodox Church believes homosexuality is a sin.” Both groups 8 have remained silent on the issue in Chechnya.
To bring justice the victims and punish those who belong to the local security forces for their role in these disappearances and torture, Russia must commit to fully investigating these violations of the rights of LGBT people. Given that the previous investigations did not reach convincing results, the Russian Federation should create a special investigation committee “comprised of experienced federal prosecutors and police investigators in order to undertake an
effective, impartial, and transparent investigation of the allegations” (Benedek, 2018). The international community must continue to hold Russia to its human rights standards as outlined by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
Some might argue that Chechnya should be responsible for carrying out the investigation of allegations against the country, but this would not be effective, considering Chechnya refuses to even acknowledge the issue as of now. Russia, as the larger and more powerful state, should hold Chechnya to higher human rights standards by setting a new precedent for handling human rights violations, showing Chechnya that its actions will not go unpunished and will no longer be ignored.
Widespread homophobia leading to violations of human rights against LGBT people in Chechnya should not be tolerated under any circumstance. The lack of accountability of government officials highlights the democratic deficit and is worsened by the culture of fear instilled in media outlets throughout the country. Russia must use its power to shut down the current detention facilities, and should spearhead investigations of allegations in Russia to ensure independence of the judiciary, and to remain in good standing with the international community.
Gehlbach, Scott. “Reflections on Putin and the Media.” Post Soviet Affairs, vol. 26, 2010, pp.
“Attitudes To Homosexuals in Russia: Content, Structure, and Predictors.” Psychology Journal
of the Higher School of Economics, vol. 13, pp. 79-110.
Poushter, Jacob. “Russia’s moral barometer: Homosexuality unacceptable, but drinking, less so.”
Pew Research Center, February 6, 2014.
Benedek, Wolfgang. “OSCE Rapporteur’s Report under the Moscow Mechanism on alleged
Human Rights Violations and Impunity in the Chechen Republic of the Russian Federation.”
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Office for Democratic Institutions and
Human Rights, December 13, 2018.
LeVine, Steve. “Murder On An Elevator.” Putin’s Labyrinth, Random House, 2009. pp 103-121.
“Russian Public Opinion 2017.” Levada Analytical Center, 2018. pp. 174-175