Update on Chechnya

19 May, 2017
Today Russian LGBTQ+ charity announced that it was forming a coalition of nations which would accept the visa applications of gay men who are fleeing persecution in Chechnya. Notably absent amongst this group was the United States of America. Russia LGBT Network, one of the largest organizations in the region, said that the USA had not formally denied the visa applications of some 40 men who were seeking refugees status. However, conversations between the group and the US embassy after gay men in Chechnya were herded into concentration camps, tortured and killed, were not encouraging and thus applications to other countries are now being advised by the group.

What is as significant as this coalition is that I first heard about this news on BBC world service radio. This means two things: one that I am the only human under 40 in the world who has access to the internet and chooses to use the radio to get his news instead and two, that the world is paying attention to the cause of LGBTQ+ people in Chechnya. One of these things is odd, the other is important.

The issue is that the United States does not allow refugee applications from someone who has not fled their country. The US would allow an application if these men had led to a third country, but doing so might put them in more danger if their application failed. In the meantime, applications from inside Chechnya (where the government believes gay men do not exist) would have to be for work or tourist visas. These are much harder to obtain and can often take months, even if approved.

Meanwhile, other nations have stepped into the gap left by US complacency. LGBT Russia is in negotiations with five countries, two of them outside of the EU. Lithuania has announced its involvement, with Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius stating that "It's very important to act, because they are suffering," in a BBC interview. Linkevicius went on to add that his nation’s actions send an “implicit message” to Russia, a brave step for the small country. Other nations have not been identified but it seems that the UK and USA are not amongst the 5. Angela Merkel raised the issue on a recent trip to Russia so it seems that Germany might well be one of the 5 nations offering hope to people caught in this terrible plight.

Meanwhile in France several LGBTQ advocacy groups have filed a case with the International Criminal Court accusing the Chechen regime of a “gay genocide”. Their case cited the example of a teenaged male thrown out of a ninth-storey window by his uncle, allegedly in an attempt to preserve the family reputation because of his sexuality. The three groups, Idaho France, Moss and Stop Homophobia want the International Criminal Court in The Hague to start work before Russia withdraws from its jurisdiction in November.

Meanwhile, the Chechen government the government, led by Ramzan Kadyrov continues to deny these allegations on the baseless grounds that everyone in Checneya is straight. “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” Kadyrov’s spokesman, Alvi Karimov, told Interfax in April. He added a somewhat menacing caveat to this “If there were such people in Chechnya, the law-enforcement organs wouldn’t need to have anything to do with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning,”. Essentially their argument is two fold; there are no gays and we wouldn’t have to kill them if there were because we would expect their families to do it. Meanwhile in Moscow, activists trying to petition for an investigation have been arrested.

Despite this chilling rhetoric many nations have failed to act. F you find yourself living in a place where it is safer, now is a fantastic time to use the liberty you are lucky enough to have to write to your elected representatives and make the case for accepting the persecuted gay men of Russia. If you don’t feel safe doing this, or you feel threatened enough tat you want to leave, we suggest getting in contact with an established international human rights organization, LGBTQ group or refugee organization as, for the short term, things don’t seem to be getting better. Above all, take care of yourselves and each other and be safe.