March 20, 2019 at 11:52 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
State Department disputes HRC claim US refused to sign Chechnya statement
Chechnya, gay news, Washington Blade
The anti-LGBTI crackdown in Chechnya has sparked outrage around the world. The State Department on March 20, 2019, disputed the Human Rights Campaign’s claim the U.S. refused to sign a U.N. Human Rights Council statement that calls for an investigation into anti-LGBTI rights abuses in the semi-autonomous Russian republic. (Photo by Alexxx1979; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The State Department on Wednesday disputed the Human Rights Campaign’s claim the U.S. refused to sign a U.N. statement that calls for an investigation into Chechnya’s anti-LGBTI crackdown.

Albania, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, the U.K. and Uruguay signed the statement that was presented during a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.

“The Trump-Pence administration has once again shamefully chosen to not speak out against the barbaric, anti-LGBTQ attacks occurring in Chechyna,” said HRC Global Director Ty Cobb in a press release. “It’s unconscionable that the United States is not joining with these more than 30 nations in publicly condemning these Chechen anti-LGBTQ crimes against humanity and calling for those responsible to be held accountable. The absolute failure of human rights leadership from this White House is staggering.”

A State Department official with whom the Washington Blade spoke on Wednesday described HRC’s “characterization of our actions is inaccurate” and said the U.S. “did not ‘refuse’ to sign this statement.”

The official noted the U.S. in June 2018 withdrew from the U.N. Human Rights Council “and no longer participates in its sessions.”

“Under our withdrawal policy, the United States did not consider joining this or any other joint statement during the current session of the Council,” said the official.

An HRC staffer with whom the Blade spoke on Wednesday described the official’s comments as “ridiculous.”

“There were other nations not on the council who signed it,” said the staffer in an email. “And it speaks volumes that they are saying the U.S. was not asked to sign it. Its yet another sign that the U.S. has turned its back on human rights to such a degree that the global leaders on human rights like the U.K. don’t even ask the U.S. to join in on important efforts like this. Talk about damaged international standing.”

Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim, semi-autonomous Russian republic in the North Caucasus.

Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper, in April 2017 reported Chechen authorities had arrested more than 100 men because of their sexual orientation.

The U.S. and 15 other countries that comprise Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on Nov. 1, 2018, invoked its “Moscow Mechanism” that authorized a fact-finding mission to investigate the anti-LGBTI crackdown and other human rights abuses in Chechnya. A report the OSCE released in December documents extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses against LGBTI Chechens.

The Russian LGBT Network, a Russian advocacy group, in January said at least two people have been killed and upwards of 40 people have been detained in the latest anti-LGBTI crackdown in Chechnya that began in late 2018.

State Department spokesperson Robert Palladino described the OSCE report as “deeply disturbing.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and former State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert are among those who have publicly condemned the crackdown. The State Department spokesperson with whom the Blade spoke on Wednesday said the U.S. has sanctioned Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechen Parliament Speaker Magomed Daudov and seven other Chechens “known to be responsible for gross violations of human rights in Chechnya.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Kadyrov, who is a close Kremlin ally, have either downplayed or dismissed the reports. President Trump, who remains under investigation over his alleged involvement in the Russian government’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, has not publicly commented on the crackdown.

“As the human rights situation in Chechnya continues to worsen, we are examining additional responses, including potential sanctions actions,” said the State Department official.

“The department will continue to highlight the dire human rights situation in Chechnya in the OSCE, U.N. and other fora, as well as maintain our robust engagement with U.S.-, Russia- and Europe-based civil society organizations responding to the situation in Chechnya,” added the official. “We will continue to raise concerns with the Russian Federation about human rights violations in Chechnya, as well as in Russia more broadly.” 

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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