“As members of Congress dedicated to the promotion of fundamental human rights across the globe, we urge you to immediately publicly condemn the ongoing abuses of LGBT and perceived to be LGBT individuals in Chechnya, and to raise this issue at the highest levels with members of the Russian government,” reads a letter to Trump that U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and 51 other members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed. “The lives of hundreds of Chechens are at stake and it is vital that the U.S. uses its full leverage to pressure Russian authorities to end these atrocities, conduct a fair and open investigation and prosecution of these crimes, and swiftly work to provide a safe haven for the marginalized.”
The letter notes “credible reports” that indicate the Chechen government since early March “has conducted a coordinated campaign of arrest, torture and murder targeting gay and bisexual men and women.” It also cites international human rights organizations and local activists who have said this crackdown includes “beatings, torture with electric shocks, and purposely outing victims to their families, with the intention of inciting ‘honor killings.’”
“Despite widespread acknowledgement of the accuracy of these reports, the Chechen government continues to deny those allegations,” notes the letter.
“The central Russian government has had a conflicting reaction to these reports, on the one hand denying that any atrocities are taking place, while also recommending that victims report grievances to the very local authorities accused of carrying out the attacks,” it adds. “Russia also prematurely ended an investigation with the claim that the multiple reports have little credence.”
Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim, semi-autonomous Russian republic in the North Caucuses.
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin in a letter he sent to Trump earlier this month wrote it is “imperative” that he raise the crackdown against gay Chechens during his meeting with Putin at the G-20 summit in the German city of Hamburg.
Michael Anton, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, told the Washington Blade this week he “was not told that” Chechnya “came up” during the meeting between Trump and Putin that took place on July 7. The two men sat down against the backdrop of growing questions about whether Trump had any involvement in Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential campaign.
The letter that Cicilline and other members of Congress signed notes Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the House Foreign Affairs Committee last month that the Russian government “must protect the lives and safety of all its citizens, including the LGBT community.” It also notes nobody from the Trump administration “has raised” Chechnya with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov or any other Kremlin official.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and the State Department have both criticized the ongoing crackdown. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and British Prime Minister Theresa May are among the world leaders who have publicly condemned it.
“The United States stands as a beacon of hope for marginalized people across the world and has a commitment to protect and promote the human rights and dignity of all persons,” reads the letter. “When the president speaks out against human rights atrocities, or chooses to stay silent, the world pays attention.”