Secretary of State Rex Tillerson admitted in congressional testimony he hasn’t brought up reports of anti-gay abuses in Chechnya with Russian officials, condemning the violence only after repeated questions from Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.).
When Cicilline, who’s gay and a co-chair of the LGBT Equality Caucus, questioned Tillerson Wednesday on the violence, the secretary of state said he’s “aware of those reports.”
But Tillerson conceded he didn’t raise the issue during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov or any other time.
“Those are on our pending list,” Tillerson said. “We did not make our way through all of the issues in the meetings we had.”
Pressed by Cicilline on whether President Trump brought up the violence with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Tillerson said he’s “unaware” of whether the president discussed the issue.
Tillerson’s response is consistent with the comments made last week to the Washington Blade from White House National Security Council spokesperson Michael Anton, who said anti-gay abuses in Chechnya “did not come up in the meetings” with Lavrov.
When Cicilline called on Tillerson during the hearing to “condemn the torture and murder of gay men in Chechnya” and insist the Russian government must protect all of its citizens, including LGBT people, Tillerson replied, “That is our position globally.”
Asked whether that applies to Russia, Tillerson said, “Last time I checked Russia’s part of that.” When Cicilline sought to clarify whether that response was a “yes,” Tillerson replied, “Yes.”
Concerns persist over reports that authorities in Chechnya, a semi-autonomous Republic in Russia, are detaining and torturing gay men at what eyewitnesses have called concentration camps. Despite testimonies affirming those reports, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has said it’s not happening because no gay people exist in the region. Novaya Gazeta, which first reported the news of the violence, reported last month 26 gay men have been killed as a result of the persecution.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley has spoken out against the atrocities, but President Trump has said nothing. Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have each spoken out against the violence.
David Stacy, government affairs director of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement Tillerson’s response during the hearing is far from sufficient.
“People have been tortured and killed in Chechnya, yet Secretary Tillerson admitted today he hasn’t raised concern about the atrocities against gay and bisexual men with his Russian counterparts — not even once,” Stacy said. “When directly asked during the hearing to clearly condemn the attacks, Sec. Tillerson declined to do so. And he had no idea if the President has raised the issue. The Trump/Pence administration’s lack of leadership on this issue and human rights around the globe is beyond disturbing. The time for action is now.”