European officials are applying new diplomatic pressure to stop the ongoing LGBTQ+ purge in Chechnya, but their options are limited.
This weekend, officials from the Council of Europe met with Chechen leaders, the first meeting of its kind since the reports broke in 2017 that Chechen security forces were kidnapping, torturing, and killing citizens suspected to be LGBTQ+..
Russia, which wields authority over Chechnya, recently rejoined COE’s Parliamentary Assembly, which facilitated the trip. Frank Schwabe, a member of PACE, called reports of over 100 people being beaten, imprisoned, tortured, or killed over their identities unacceptable.
“There are very serious reports about violations against women, against [LGBTQ+] people, and about illegal detentions,” he said. “[...] Moscow signed the European Convention of Human Rights, it has the obligation to follow the rules in their entire country.”
Schwabe was set to meet with Chechen head of state Ramzan Kadyrov, who has a long history of violent rhetoric regarding LGBTQ+ people. That meeting did not occur, for unspecified reasons, but Schwabe was able to sit down with Russian parliamentary leader Vyacheslav Volodin.
According to Schwabe, he “made it clear that… the government of Russia has the responsibility for ensuring that there are no human rights violations in Chechnya and in the North Caucasus.”
While those sentiments are meaningful, they may not amount to much in the short term. The Council of Europe, which is separate from the European Union, has limited enforcement authority. The body can recommend actions and issue judgements via the Court of Human Rights, but there are few actions they can take against a state that refuses to comply.
Chechen and Russian officials are unlikely to be receptive to messages of tolerance for LGBTQ+ people. Previously, Kadyrov said the reports of violence are fake news, despite being well-documented by international advocacy organizations like Human Rights Watch.
“Here men marry women and women marry men. It was like this for thousands of years, and that is how it will always be, whatever the West tells us,” Kadyrov has said.
According to a Human Rights Watch report, kidnappings and torture have continued into this year and include sexual assault. Following international pressure, Russia conducted a perfunctory investigation. But it amounted to little.
“There wasn’t anything remotely resembling an effective investigation into the anti-gay purge of 2017, when Chechen police rounded up and tortured dozens of men they suspected of being gay,” Rachel Denber, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a recent report. “Impunity for the 2017 anti-gay purge has sanctioned a new wave of torture and humiliation in Chechnya.”