Photo: Schyler, via Wikimedia.
On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved a bipartisan resolution condemning the detention, torture, and murders of gay and bisexual men in the Russian republic of Chechnya.
The resolution was introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), a Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus founding member and former chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
It cites reporting from the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta claiming that men suspected of being gay and bisexual were being rounded up, kept in private detention facilities, and tortured for information about the identities of other LGBTQ people.
According to Novaya Gazeta, 26 men have been killed in the anti-gay purge. Most of the men have not died in captivity, but have been the victims of “honor killings” at the hands of family members in the majority-Muslim republic, where homosexuality is routinely socially condemned. Those reports have since been confirmed by human rights groups that have been closely monitoring the situation.
The resolution condemns the anti-gay purge and calls on Chechen officials to put a stop to such persecution based on an individual’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, and to prosecute the offenders.
It also calls on the government of the Russian Federation to stop the persecution, investigate the crimes, and prosecute those responsible, and on the U.S. government to continue to condemn the continued anti-gay campaign.
The resolution also affirms the “universal” rights to freedom of assembly, association, and expression, as well as freedom from extrajudicial detention and violence, adding that “countries that fail to respect these rights jeopardize the security and prosperity of all their citizens.”
“We will continue to stand united with the LGBT community and shine a bright light on these atrocities, which are encouraged by the evil Putin regime in Russia, in order to help ensure that those who are responsible for these crimes are held to account for their despicable actions,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement.
The Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus issued statements praising its passage, with co-chair Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) dubbing it “an important step,” but the first of many that the U.S. should take to assist LGBTQ people fleeing persecution in the republic, including helping them relocate to places where they will not be persecuted for their sexual orientation.
“The People’s House has now made its collective and unanimous voice known: the situation in Chechnya cannot stand,” Vice Chair Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) said in a statement. “We as a nation must lead the world in acting. It is our duty and responsibility to be the beacon on the hill that leads the way.
“It is now up to President Trump, Secretary of State Tillerson, and our United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley to follow through on the consensus of the House and bring as much domestic and international political pressure as possible on the Russian government to rein in these deplorable human rights violations.”
Both Haley and the State Department issued statements earlier this year condemning reports of the persecution, but Trump has failed to officially acknowledge the situation.
GLAAD, which has been critical of Trump’s silence, took to Twitter to share the news of the resolution’s passage, tweeting: “What about you, @realDonaldTrump?”
Despite a number of world leaders urging Russia to intervene in the situation in Chechnya, both Russian and Chechen officials deny there is any such purge going on.
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has previously said that “You cannot arrest or repress people who don’t exist in the republic.” A spokesman for Kadyrov said: “If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return.” Human rights observers say there are credible reports indicating that authorities in the republic have been encouraging families to kill family members they believe to have homosexual tendencies.
A Kremlin spokesman also dismissed reports of the persecution, as did Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Tatyana Moskalkova, saying that such reports should not be believed because of the lack of formal complaints registered with the proper local authorities.