Russia’s acting Justice Minister Alexander Konavalov told the UN Human Rights Council on Monday that there was no gay purge in Chechnya because no LGBT people exist in the country.
“The investigations that we carried out...did not confirm evidence of rights’ violations, nor were we even able to find representatives of the LGBT community in Chechnya. Please, help us do this and find them,” he told the UN council’s periodic review.
Konovalov told the council that “work is being done” towards a “full verification of allegations” of human rights violations.
He denied other UN member states’ accusations of LGBT discrimination in Russia as either “lacking concrete evidence” or “not at all related to their (victims’) political beliefs, sexual orientation, religious views and so on.”
On April 1 last year, Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that Chechen police and security services had started rounding up presumed gay and bisexual men in February 2017, starving, torturing and humiliating them, shaming their relatives, and encouraging family honor killings. Human Rights Watch corroborated the information based on their own sources.
On April 3 this year, Novaya Gazeta journalist Elena Milashina and Russian LGBT Network’s Igor Kochetkov held a press conference in Moscow where they gave details of events since the purge.
The Russian LGBT Network evacuated 114 Chechens from the region, 92 of whom have been safely helped out of Russia. 41 people were illegally detained and faced torture and severe beatings. 14 people contacted the Russian LGBT Network because they were threatened by the law enforcement officials. Another 7 people contacted the Network because people they knew were detained and they expected to be next. A further 7 people were threatened by relatives who were going to execute them. Another 35 people are the close relatives of the victims and fear it’s too dangerous for them to stay in Chechnya.
Three of the people evacuated from Chechnya were kidnapped by their relatives and returned to Chechnya against their will, with at least one of them now dead. Due to different reasons, 5 more people returned to Chechnya and one of them is now dead. The Russian LGBT Network was contacted by 8 people from the Caucasian Republic being persecuted by Chechen law enforcement agencies because of their contacts with Chechens.
Igor Kochetkov from the Russian LGBT Network said “Over the past year, the Russian LGBT Network and Novaya Gazeta have undertaken the work the state was supposed to do. We have ensured the safety of victims and collected and publicized their testimonies. But one thing we could not do is launch an investigation and ensure criminal prosecution of the perpetrators. The Russian authorities, apparently, do not want to do this.”
Amnesty International’s Denis Krivosheev said “A year ago, this shocking news from Chechnya was ridiculed and dismissed by the Russian government. Since then we have witnessed a shocking display of denial, evasion and inaction by the authorities, who have repeatedly refused to launch an official investigation into the reported heinous crimes and ignored credible evidence provided by Novaya Gazeta and others.”
Last year a spokesperson for Russian President Vladimir Putin responded to the international condemnation of the situation in Chechnya by saying “If any actions have been taken by the law enforcement agencies, which, in the opinion of some citizens, were taken with some irregularities, these citizens can use their rights, file relevant complaints, and go to court.”
However, it is considered too dangerous for LGBT people to file a complaint in Chechnya or Russia, due to the possibility of further harassment or abuse from law enforcement officers.
The lack of complaints from purge victims was originally used by Russian officials as the excuse for not conducting a thorough investigation. However, torture victim Maxim Lapunov came forward in September last year and his official complaint is still being ignored by Russian officials.
Amnesty International is continuing to call on Russian authorities to promptly and effectively investigate the reports of abuses against men believed to be gay in the Chechen Republic and to immediately ensure the safety of LGBT people in Chechnya and across the Russian Federation.