The Globe: No Justice In Chechnya For The LGBT Community

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After taking power in the Chechen capital of Grozny at the behest of Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2007, President and strongman Ramzan Kadyrov have made clear that he has no intention of recognizing human rights. Over the last couple of years,  Chechnya (the Federal Republic in Russia’s North Caucasus) has come under intense scrutiny for how it treats minority groups, particularly members of the LGBTQ community, within its borders. More recently, human rights activists are being detained by Chechen security forces for allegedly undermining the state. While officials in the Council of Europe are trying to persuade Putin to get Kadyrov to release those jailed, there is little hope for change.

Since 2017, the Chechen Republic has been dangerous territory for anyone of the gay community. Men who are or are suspected of being gay are subjected to random kidnappings by security guards loyal to Kadyrov, sent to an undisclosed location and then tortured, broken, and/or killed for the identities of other Chechens who belong to the LGBTQ community. Furthermore, Kadyrov has issued a declaration that calls on family members of gay Chechens to kill them in order to purge what the Republic’s President considers to be a corrupting influence in society.

For Russia and Chechnya, the crackdown is seen as necessary. Both governments view LGBTQ rights as a threat to the ethnic, religious, and national cohesion. As an Islamic-majority society, these types of relationships are seen as taboo and a sin according to religious doctrine. Russia itself has long targeted the country’s LGBTQ people, dating back to the 18th century. In 2013, the State’s Duma (lower house) passed an anti-propaganda law that would ban any material that flaunts a pro-LGBTQ message with  the aim of “protecting children from information promoting the denial of traditional family values.”  

Furthermore, Russia is wary of cracking down on Kadyrov’s actions in order to have a loyal Chechnya. At the end of the Cold War, the Republic declared independence like so many states in Eastern Europe and Central Asia had. What followed was a brutal war for both sides led by Putin’s successor, Boris Yeltsin. While the new Russian military was able to take the majority of destroyed Grozny, they could not subdue the alliance between Nationalists and Islamists fighters who had fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan. The war ended in a peace deal that granted Chechnya semi-autonomy.

To then Prime Minister Putin, this was a travesty that had to be corrected. When Chechen extremists led by Shamil Basayev launched attacks in neighboring Dagestan, Putin had all the reason he needed to launch a devastating campaign that utterly obliterated the national will of Chechnya and secured his ascendancy to the presidency of the Russian Federation. The key to securing a stable Chechnya was the installation of a ruler who the people could trust. Thus, Ramzan Kadyrov who is the son of the assassinated former Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov was the perfect candidate. If Putin was not able to secure a successful (but wild) puppet in Grozny, then his entire campaign would have been for nothing. However, this is not to say there has not been any discontent in the Kremlin about the purge that is taking place in Chechnya. Officials in Russia’s law enforcement agencies are frustrated with Kadyrov’s unpredictable governing style and has proven Putin is unable to exert any real control over the mad dog of the Caucasus.

In an effort to improve the situation, human rights groups like Mission and Russian LGBT Network work to rescue those stuck in Chechnya and flee to safer territory -- whether it Russia or more Europe. But the Chechen government has decided these activists are a threat to society, arresting prominent Russian human rights activist and head of Memorial, Oyub Titiyev, is facing four years in prison under the allegedly false claims of marijuana possession. Kadyrov declared last August during Titiyev’s trial that “Chechnya will be forbidden territory for them [human rights activist]” and the Republic “will be forbidden territory for them, like it is for terrorists and extremists.” Now, any human rights workers operating within the North Caucasus Republic will be facing intense peril while carrying out their work.  

The situation in Chechnya has come under the ire of international bodies in Europe in the last year. The Council of Europe, which Russia is a member of (barely), has blasted Russia for not preventing Chechen security officials from waging their campaign. However, Russia is of no mood to heed the Council’s words as its voting privileges in the international body were removed following its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. In retaliation, Russia’s Duma has refused to pay the obligatory membership dues it owes the organization and has not sent a delegation to represent it since then. While sanctions would seem to be an appropriate response, this could only provoke Kadyrov and his men to lash out in defiance and target the LGBTQ community and human rights activists even more.

Ultimately, there is little that Europe can do to pressure change in Chechnya. For as long as Moscow subsidizes the Republic’s budget and Kadyrov keeps his people in check, Putin has no reason to push for the release of the LGBTQ and human rights activists. Only time will tell what happens to Chechnya as President Putin is set to exit office in 2024 unless changes are made to the Russian Constitution that allows him to run for office again after finishing this term. Overall, the only course of action Europe and the rest of the world can take is to try and find those targeted by Kadyrov’s forces safe harbor far away from the oblivion that is Chechnya.