LGBTQ people in Chechnya are once again being targeted in a renewed crackdown by local authorities, the Associated Press reports. Russian activists say at least two people have been killed and 40 detained since the end of December alone. Because the work of Russian and international NGOs in the area remains limited due to the hostile environment, it can be tough to support LGBTQ people in Chechnya from afar. But you can support those who are helping LGBTQ Chechens escape and help raise awareness.
Human rights activists are calling on the international community to take action; in the United States, that would be within the purview of the State Department and the United Nations ambassador. In 2017, a spokesperson for the State Department expressed concern about the situation and condemned "Chechen authorities that condone and incite violence against LGBTI persons," while asking Russia to intervene.
Given the renewed danger, experts say Western governments must again condemn the violence — and take further action. "We are calling for the international community to take immediate action to protect gay and lesbian people in Chechnya, and to increase the pressure on the Russian authorities to properly investigate these horrendous crimes," Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement after the news broke of the renewed crackdown.
A report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) from December detailed the past crackdowns, which took place from December 2016 to February 2017 and then from March to May 2017. It noted that international outrage largely stopped a third crackdown. That no longer seems to be the case, given Russian activists' most recent statements.
"Widespread detentions, torture and killings of gay people have resumed in Chechnya," Igor Kochetkov, program director at the Russian LGBT Network told the AP. "Persecution of men and women suspected of being gay never stopped. It’s only that its scale has been changing." Kochetkov said the most recent uptick came after the administrator of an LGBTQ social network was detained and police went through his phone, later targeting his contacts.
Russia has neither moved to intervene, nor acknowledged the killings and detentions in its autonomous region of Chechnya. The AP reports a spokesperson for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov denied the recent claims to the Interfax news agency, saying they are "complete lies and don’t have an ounce of truth in them." The situation is further complicated by the fact that Russian leader Vladimir Putin has supported anti-LGBTQ legislation, such as the anti-gay propaganda law.
The OSCE report came with suggestions for Chechnya, Russia, and other OSCE states (members mostly include European countries — among them Germany, France, and the UK — but also the United States and Canada). It noted that widespread impunity limits human rights advocates and NGOs from working to keep LGBTQ people safe in Chechnya. Governments can push Russia to do more (and you can pressure your elected officials to do so), but thus far this has been unsuccessful — even after German Chancellor Angela Merkel brought it up directly.
The main solution under prior crackdowns has been to relocate at-risk individuals to other parts of Russia or to other countries. If you're looking to support LGBTQ Chechens, the best thing you can do is support the few NGOs working to relocate people who are at risk, while also putting pressure on your own government to take in Chechen refugees and provide them with the needed support upon arrival.
One NGO that has made a concrete difference in the situation is the Russian LGBT Network, which has "evacuated" 150 people from Chechnya, some 130 of them going to other parts of Russia. Another is the Rainbow Railroad, based in Canada, which helps to resettle LGBTQ refugees in the country. It helped some 30 Chechens get to Canada on emergency visas after the earlier crackdowns.
Western governments are also vital in the process. The OSCE report noted that some countries have worked out "best practices" when receiving Chechen refugees (notably Canada, Lithuania, Norway, and the Netherlands). The report calls on all OSCE countries (which, again, includes the United States) to do the same, offering asylum to LGBTQ Chechens, their families, and witnesses — as well provide extra support like medical and psychiatric support.
You can push your elected officials to take in Chechen refugees and be proactive about giving them humanitarian visas to get out of Russia. Make sure there are processes in place to keep them safe once they arrive, too — the report suggests some might need to change their identity to live safely, even outside of Russia.
If you think the government isn't doing enough, don't give up. Raise awareness in your city and push others to reach out to their elected officials, too. During the earlier crackdowns, protestors targeted Russian embassies as a way to draw attention to the situation in local media.
The plight of LGBTQ Chechens must not be forgotten. Support the limited NGOs on the ground and raise awareness to make sure the government is doing everything it can to help.