The Truth About Concentration Camps in Chechnya

By Beth Gillespie

The Crown (Wilmette, Illinois):

Since April, numerous reports about concentration camps, specifically geared for gay people in Chechnya, a semi-autonomous Russian state, have been released. These reports detail how many have been detained and rounded up into camps. According to many reports, men within these camps are being tortured, and sometimes even killed. These claims of human rights abuse have caused international outrage, both from foreign governments and organizations. However, both the Russian and Chechen governments continue to deny these reports.

After reports of this abuse were released, the Chechen government claimed that it was fabricated. According to Chechen officials, there are no gay people in Chechnya. As a result, officials claim that this makes it impossible then for any camp to hold gay people as prisoners because as they argue, gay people do not exist within the region. The Russian government has backed the claims of the Chechen officials confirming that they haven’t received any information about problems such as this within the area.

However, many Russian LGBT organizations have stepped up to defend victims, and possible future victims, of these camps. For example, the Russian LGBT Network has been working to evacuate gay people from the region. To do so, they have allied themselves with LGBT organizations outside of Russia to create safe evacuation routes for future victims of these camps.

Many Russian LGBT organizations have also begun to put pressure on the Russian government, as well as foreign governments, to condemn these attacks. Protesters have called for Russia to address these human rights abuses and to thoroughly investigate them. This, though, has caused danger for many activists. On May 10, five Russian LGBT activists were detained after carrying a petition to the Russian government seeking the government to investigate these claims in an unbiased manner.

This petition was spread through the Change organization and contained signatures from around the globe in support of an investigation. Similarly, on May 1, 17 activists were also detained after a protest at a May Day parade in Moscow.  Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would put together a committee to investigate these claims; however, many have doubts as to whether this investigation would be unbiased.

Around the world, foreign countries and organizations have begun to respond to these reports. On April 13, experts from the United Nations condemned the Chechen government. They demanded that Chechnya halt the detainment and torture of gay people within the country. Ordinary citizens, too, have demanded that their governments take strong stances against anti-gay violence in Chechnya.

In the United Kingdom, a group of British citizens protested outside of the Russian Embassy in London. This was done to pressure Britain into taking a strong stance against the violence in Chechnya.

Similarly, in Australia, a vigil was held in Melbourne, on May 16 in support of Australia taking in Chechen refugees. One of the most prominent organizations involved is Amnesty International.

Amnesty International statement about this issue reads, “We urgently need your help to call out the Chechen government on the persecution of people who are, as they put it, of ‘non-traditional orientation’, and urge immediate action to ensure their safety.”

Since April 4th, they have worked to pressure Russia and foreign governments to investigate anti-gay human rights abuses in the region. Finally, many governments of foreign countries, such as Canada, have also called for

Since April 4, Amnesty International has worked to pressure Russia and foreign governments to investigate anti-gay human rights abuses in the region. Finally, many governments of foreign countries, such as Canada, have also called for an investigation into this matter.

Still, many countries and major organizations are remaining silent on this issue. Neither the United States government nor the Vatican has released a statement on the claims of violence within the region. In fact, President Donald Trump has not yet spoken publicly about the current situation. This has not come without criticism, of course. In April, five members of Congress wrote a letter to Secretary of  State Rex Tillerson asking him to condemn the violence while he was traveling in Russia. However, Tillerson has remained silent, and has not taken a stand regarding these reports.

Similarly, in a meeting between Donald Trump and Sergey Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of Russia, the topic of violence against gay people in Chechnya reportedly did not come up. In fact, some members of the White House staff have said that they are unsure if Trump has been briefed on the situation. Trump’s former political opponent, Hillary Clinton, however, gave a speech urging Trump and the United States government to take a stand against these reported human rights abuses.

Across the world, ordinary citizens have responded to reports of horrific violence in Chechnya by demanding action. They are calling upon their leaders to put an end to the homophobic detainment and torture enacted by the Chechen government. Sentiments against this violence are strong, and many world leaders are starting to feel a push towards action.

Photo Credit: edwin.11

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