On Thursday November 1, sixteen member states of the Organization For Security And Co-operation In Europe (OSCE) activated an expert enquiry into the Chechen Gay Purge.
Iceland's permanent representative to the OSCE, Guðni Bragason, read a statement to the Permanent Council on November 1, saying that "On August 30, we informed the Permanent Council about a letter we sent to the Russian delegation to request concrete information under the OSCE Vienna (Human Dimension) Mechanism due to our concerns about credible reports of human rights violations and abuses in Chechnya. The letter of September 4 that we received in response unfortunately did not provide a substantive response to our questions."
"This has only deepened our concern that the Russian Federation is unwilling or unable to address the reports of serious human rights violations and abuses, which contributes to a climate of impunity for authorities in Chechnya."
Therefore, Bragason told the permanent council, the sixteen member states invoked the 1991 Moscow Mechanism, a rarely used instrument which allows the OSCE "to establish a mission of experts to address the concerns outlined in our August 30 letter."
Bragason told the Permanent Council that the concerns "centred around allegations of impunity for reported human rights violations and abuses in Chechnya from January 2017 to the present, including, but not limited to, violations and abuses against persons based on their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as against human rights defenders, lawyers, independent media, civil society organizations, and others."
"In addition to establishing the facts and reporting on them, we encourage the mission of experts to give advice to the Russian Federation, to the OSCE, and to the international community on possible solutions to the questions raised."
The sixteen countries to trigger the Moscow Mechanism in relation to Chechnya are Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Also on Thursday, deputy spokesman for the US State Department, Robert Palladino, explained the USA’s support for the investigation.
"We and like-minded countries have demanded that Moscow hold accountable those responsible for such violations and abuses. Russia has failed to provide a substantive response to repeated expressions of international concern and calls for accountability. Therefore, with these actions at the OSCE, the administration will continue to work with our European partners to expose Russia's human rights violations and abuses.”
In May this year, Russia’s acting Justice Minister Alexander Konavalov told the UN Human Rights Council 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,” he told the UN council’s periodic review.
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 began.
As at April 3, the Russian LGBT Network had 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 who are the close relatives of the victims 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 and are 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 gay 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.”