The report, which the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights wrote, notes the first anti-LGBTI crackdown in Chechnya, a semi-autonomous Russian republic in the North Caucasus, took place between December 2016-February 2017.
A second crackdown against LGBTI Chechens began in March 2017 and ended in May 2017. The report notes international outrage “largely stopped” a third crackdown, but “there are still new cases as recent as September and October 2018.
“The detentions followed a certain pattern,” reads the report. “Persons suspected of being homosexuals were picked up without any particular reason at their homes or work places or on the road by police officers and military personnel.”
The report says members of Chechnya’s Special Division of First Responders who wear black uniforms were “particularly involved” in the detentions. The report notes detainees were taken to a police station before they were sent to “incarceration places, some of them unofficial prisons,” including one in Argun, a town that is outside the Chechen capital of Grozny.
“On the way and at the detention place they were humiliated with words like, ‘You were brought here because you are faggots. You bring shame on your people. You shouldn’t exist,” reads the report.
The report notes detainees were “taken to interrogation rooms and beaten with police sticks, plastic tubes and cables, which resulted in severe injuries like broken ribs, jaws and bruises. Some were also treated with electric shocks, usually at the fingers” in order to confess they were gay and to provide authorities with the names of other people who were gay.
The report says Chechen Parliament spokesperson Magomed Daudov “took part in some of the torture sessions.” It also notes the conditions in which detainees were kept.
“They usually were not receiving food, in some cases even not water, except if relatives of other inmates brought food, which was shared,” it reads. “In some cases, they were not allowed to wash themselves or clean the wounds. No medical assistance is reported. Some had to do certain works like washing the floor or cleaning cars. They were mistreated and tortured on a daily basis mostly for about two weeks or until they made and signed a confession or reported others or expressed their willingness to cooperate.”
The report also documents allegations that detainees were killed.
“Persons who could not stand the torture because of their age or other reasons or could bring shame on the authorities or administration allegedly were killed,” it reads.
The report notes authorities told relatives of those who were released from custody to find “a proper solution” or “to get rid of the sick members of the family.”
“It was said that they could be killed as terrorists in the forest but it would be better if the parents took care of them,” reads the report. “One witness formulated the message of police officers to relatives like this, ‘Either you kill your kid or we will do it for you.’ There were cases where the victims were asked to kill themselves. In many cases victims have been forced to marry in order to save the family honor.”
The report also says, “females with non-heterosexual orientation” were “unlawfully detained and underwent beatings and pressures to produce confessions.”
“In extreme cases, they were raped and killed,” notes the report. “But the main punishment seems to have been psychological, in cooperation with their male relatives who were put under pressure to wash away the shame from the family. There are documented cases of girls who escaped from Chechnya, but were abducted and brought back by their families with the help of the authorities.”
The report notes the relatives of some of those who were detained brought them to the Center for Islamic Medicine in Grozny for “a kind of Islamic exorcism procedure.”
State Dept. accepts report, criticizes Russian government
The U.S. and 15 other countries that comprise the OSCE on Nov. 1 invoked its “Moscow Mechanism” that authorized a fact-finding mission to investigate the anti-LGBTI crackdown and other human rights abuses in Chechnya.
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the Kremlin have repeatedly sought to downplay the reports or have simply dismissed them.
The U.S. late last year sanctioned Kadyrov and two Chechen officials under the Magnitsky Act, a 2012 law named after a Russian lawyer who died in a Moscow prison following his investigation of a $230 million tax fraud scheme. Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, who President Trump has tapped to succeed her, have both publicly condemned the anti-LGBTI crackdown.
Trump, who is under increased scrutiny over his potential involvement with the Russian government’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, has yet to publicly comment on the issue.
Deputy State Department spokesperson Robert Palladino on Thursday in a statement said the OSCE’s “expert report concluded that Chechen authorities committed torture and other appalling human rights violations and abuses, including extrajudicial killings of LGBTI persons and others, and describes a worsening ‘climate of intimidation’ against journalists and civil society activists.”
“The report observes that the Russian government ‘appears to support the perpetrators rather than the victims’ and has ‘not lived up to its responsibilities’ to address the ‘grave situation’ in Chechnya,” said Palladino.
Human Rights Campaign Global Director Ty Cobb in his own statement said “the Russian government can no longer deny the existence of these barbaric anti-LGBTQ crimes against humanity in Chechnya.”
“World leaders, including the Trump-Pence administration, must take action to hold Russia and those responsible for the crimes accountable and to ensure these atrocious crimes have been stopped and never happen again,” said Cobb.
US, other OSCE countries urged to accept Chechen refugees
The report contains a series of recommendations for the Chechen and Russian government. These include “an immediate shut-down of all unofficial detention facilities” in Chechnya and for the Kremlin to “express a commitment on the highest levels of the executive branch of the Russian Federation to fully investigate the allegations and to bring to justice the alleged perpetrators, including those belonging to the local security forces.”
The report notes the majority of the 135 LGBTI people the Moscow-based Russian LGBT Network has evacuated from Chechnya are now living in Europe and Canada. The report recommends to OSCE member countries that they “grant protection under the Geneva Refugee Convention to refugees from the Chechen Republic, in particular persons with a non-heterosexual orientation (LGBTI) fleeing on grounds of their sexual orientation and gender identity and take special care with regard to the fact that they might be threatened also in their host countries.”
“It’s crucial that Russia follow the report’s recommendations and launch a serious investigation, and that the world community — and especially the United States — welcome refugees escaping these gross human rights abuses,” said Cobb in his statement.
The Washington Blade will update this story with reaction from the Chechen and/or Russian government/s when it becomes available.