The U.S. State Department has sanctioned Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya, following a fact-finding mission into "horrific reports of abuses against LGBTI persons."
In a Monday press statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the department has "extensive credible information" that Kadyrov "is responsible for numerous gross violations of human rights dating back more than a decade, including torture and extrajudicial killings."
The action follows a 2018 investigation conducted with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, an intergovernmental security group, into reports that the semiautonomous republic within Russia was detaining and torturing LGBTQ+ people in detainment camps. The mission confirmed the existence of numerous human rights abuses, which Pompeo feared may worsen during the spread of the ongoing global pandemic.
"We are concerned that Mr. Kadyrov is now using the excuse of the coronavirus pandemic to inflict further human rights abuses on the people of the Chechen Republic," Pompeo said in the release.
The designation, which also includes visa bans, also applies to the leader's spouse and daughters. Pompeo urged other nations to adopt similar measures.
"Today’s action serves to notify Mr. Kadyrov that his involvement in gross violations of human rights has consequences, both for him and his family, and that the United States is committed to using all the tools at our disposal to ensure accountability for those who engage in this abhorrent behavior," Pompeo said.
Kadyrov responded to Pompeo on Telegram, an instant messaging channel. "Pompeo, we accept the fight! The further it goes the more interesting it gets," he posted, along with a photograph of himself holding two machine guns in a warehouse.
Details of Chechnya's horrific anti-LGBTQ+ purge were first reported in 2016 by the Russian news outlet Novaya Gazeta. Survivors recounted being detained, beaten, electrocuted, and forced to turn over the names of other queer people. Many said they were turned into authorities by their own family members.
The reports sparked an international outcry, as well as an underground railroad of activists seeking to help queer Chechens escape persecution. These efforts were captured by David France's new HBO documentary, Welcome to Chechnya. While Germany, France, and Canada have quietly granted asylum to refugees, the U.S., so far, has not.
The Trump administration has been criticized for its inaction. In a 2017 speech, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referenced the "terrifying accounts" from Chechnya and called for the U.S. government to "demand an end to the persecution of innocent people across the world."
Russia has turned a blind eye to the reports. When asked if the Eastern-European nation would also impose sanctions, Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said "it would be difficult to provide a mirror response, but we will come up with something," reports the Fars News Agency.