Local authorities in the Chechen Republic of Russia have detained approximately 40 members of the LGBTQ+ community since December 2018, and reports indicate two detainees have been tortured to death. LGBTQ+ advocates in the region are questioning human rights violations targeting people based on their sexual orientation.
The Russian LGBTQ+ Network has closely monitored the LGBTQ+ population in the North Caucasus region since April 2017. In a statement on their website the network labels the spike in incarcerations since December 2018 as “a new wave of persecution against LGBTQ+ in Chechnya.” The Network has evacuated 150 people out of the Chechen region since the persecutions became international news last March, according to a Jan. 14 Associated Press News Report.
Assistant Professor of Political Science Jacqueline McAllister notes that the recent occurrences can be linked to cultural and political agendas and that the circumstances raise pressing questions regarding the implementation of certain human rights legislation in areas where institutionalized values hold strong.
According to McAllister, the Russian government is often willing to engage in investigations of allegations of persecution and torture. She notes, however, that the strength of these accusations is reliant upon individuals coming forward and associating themselves with the LGBTQ+ community. In a society like Chechnya where honor killings remain prevalent, aiding in investigations becomes a dangerous choice.
An honor killing is the murder of a person when something they have done brings shame and dishonor to a family, community or culture. Persecuted individuals’ fight for justice becomes a life-threatening venture when members of the state and society threaten physical harm.
Concerns over December’s detainments were amplified when the Russian LGBTQ+ Network’s executive director Igor Kochetkov’s announced that people suspected of being homosexual were being detained in police offices, official state buildings funded by the Russian Federation. The nature of the detainments “proves that all the detentions, tortures and murders are committed by the law enforcement officers,” Kochetkov said in a statement released Jan. 14.
The use of law enforcement to enact human rights violations raises the question of whether human rights trump a nation’s right to self-determination, or vice versa.
“It plays into this bigger debate about whether human rights are in fact universal or culturally specific,” McAllister said. Documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights corpus and courts like the European Court of Human Rights were created to protect individuals from violations of their human rights. However well-intended, these documents and decisions have no legal binding beyond international courts of law.
“Russia tends to come down on the side that human rights are culturally specific, and it’s up to the sovereign state to define what those rights mean and its particular context,” McAllister said.
Political turmoil within Chechnya has distracted the public from internal abuses of state power for forcible detentions. McAllister cites the head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov’s political agenda as an explanation for the detentions.
“He’s trying to consolidate his rule and power and control over society, and he started in 2017 or so, on cracking down — not just on LGBTQ [people], but on women for having been promiscuous,” McAllister said. Kadyrov’s circumvention of federal oversight has piqued investigations by the Russian Federation, a state which McAllister claims is generally willing to comply with decisions made by human rights courts.
Despite living in a region that has been typically unreceptive to LGBTQ+ plights, persecuted members of the LGBTQ+ community of Chechnya have garnered attention in international news, McAllister notes, crediting social media for this development. She sees this as a potential catalyst for greater human rights efforts in the region.
“The positive thing I can say about the whole thing is that it is being fought over right now quite a bit,” she said. “What’s going on in Chechnya is getting a lot of attention and becoming a flashpoint that could potentially shape and make the situation better in terms of protections in the future.”