The bits and pieces of information on the persecution of gay people in Chechnya that trickled down to the media scare one with the scale, purposefulness and somewhat radical brutality of violence against the victims. At the same time it makes us recall other, very recent and no less terrifying events, such as the persecutions of LGBTI persons in Donbass region.
Very few of those who had escaped from the hell, which is now taking place in Donetsk and Luhansk, decided to speak out: most of LGBTI persons, who had experienced the horrors of violence and torture there, prefer not to recall their experience. According to a gay person from Luhansk region, violence, including sexual violence, had been often used to further humiliate homosexuals, but it is not something that people are ready to tell even their closest friends, especially since for those who stayed in the Donbass, disclosure of any such information can result in increased risks of new repression. It would seem that people subjected to repression in Chechnya should have more opportunities to protect themselves, because, unlike in the Donbass, they do not live in a situation of military conflict, protection of their rights, including the right to life, is formally guaranteed by law and is assigned to the state and special bodies of authority responsible for monitoring implementation of legal acts and observation of human rights. However, in real life their situation is little better than the situation of LGBTI persons in Eastern Ukraine, who found themselves in an atmosphere of total chaos and armed conflict, which continues for about three years now.
Chechen authorities shocked the international community with their reaction to the report on torture and inhuman treatment of gay people there. For example, the Chechen “human rights activist” Kheda Saratova, commenting on what was happening there, said that the murder of gay men would not be condemned not only by the residents of the republic, but also by judicial authorities and law enforcement agencies there. She then tried to explain what she had said, by adding that she was in a state of affect, struck by the very fact that gay persons were discovered in Chechnya. Reaction towards LGBTI persons on the territory of the military conflict in Eastern Ukraine was very similar. Moreover, the self-proclaimed authorities of the Donetsk and Luhansk republics openly called to kill everyone who was somehow connected with homosexuals.
Because of this, it was not at all surprising that LGBTI persons sought to leave Chechnya as soon as they could (and continue to do so). Those who have been subjected to repression or are now afraid of further reprisals and violence against them are also trying to leave the region. The same had happened in the Donbass region, the only difference being that military activities in the region did not give people much time for reflection or for the choice of routes of escape and destinations. LGBTI persons fleeing from the region also had to go through checkpoints, which posed even greater dangers and risks of violence, ranging from captivity and placement into illegal detention centers to the threat of being forced to remain in the region forever. At least one case of shooting a gay person near the Yasinovataya checkpoint was registered. LGBTI persons tried to leave areas where particularly homophobic armed groups were stationed as soon as possible. This included Nikitovka, where, according to the interviewed LGBTI persons, Chechen fighters were stationed.
It is reported that on the territory of Eastern Ukraine, which became the area of armed conflict, there were illegal places of detention, while many representatives of LGBTI community said that often people were taken “into the basement” (the former building of the Ukrainian Security Service in Donetsk). In the situation of military conflict, unfortunately, illegal imprisonment, torture and violence occur on a regular basis, but the existence of such a secret prison in the “peaceful” city of the Argun in the Chechen Republic, where gay persons were being systematically tortured, is considered illegal by any law and runs contrary to the basic legal norms guaranteed by national and international legislation.
Detention of gay persons in Chechnya, as far as we know, occurred based on orders given by the representatives of local authorities, just as it had been the case in the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, where armed men had acted on homophobic orders of their commanders. It is reported that some detainees were offered reduction of their punishment if they reported gay persons to the authorities. For example, in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic a minor, detained by armed people for smoking, was forced to report on a gay person he knew and the latter’s brother. To save themselves from torture and violence, some of the detainees in the Donbass region handed over gay persons they knew, and the very same practice of forceful extraction of information on gay persons also exists in Chechnya. At the same time, in both regions ransoms were demanded for the release of detained gays. Torture, humiliation and ill-treatment of homosexuals kept in illegal detention centers took place both in Chechnya and the self-proclaimed Donbass republics.
People who have faced violence and humiliation in Chechnya have found the possibility and courage to speak out about what was happening there, and it is this that can save those whose lives and health are at risk now. LGBTI persons from the Donbass region had virtually no opportunity to seek assistance and support. One of the few organizations that helped them to leave the territories affected by the war, Kiyv-based “Insight” NGO, provides temporary shelter to those in need. However, when the most horrific events occurred in the Donbass, people preferred either to hide or to leave the region in any direction and as soon as possible. Sometimes people from the Donbass region can not say where their LGBTI friends have gone, as some of the latter simply disappeared. Eyewitnesses believe that LGBTI persons, who lived in the region, were simply “subjected to extermination”.
International community and individual countries practically failed to react to the horrors that have been going on for several years in the eastern part of Ukraine. The situation in these territories is beyond the control of the authorities of Ukraine, communication with the self-proclaimed authorities of unrecognized republics is simply impossible on the part of any state. The absence of guarantees of protection in the territories affected by this war is, unfortunately, obvious, but it is unacceptable to allow repetition of such inhuman acts in a state, which de jure recognizes human rights, regulated by both international and national legislation. Behavior of representatives of the Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights of Chechnya and denial of the ongoing lawlessness by the Council on Human Rights of Chechnya is unacceptable. But the position of the Russian authorities, which are inclined to deny the facts of violence and inhuman treatment in Chechnya, is no less cynical. As a result of this, gay persons in the Chechen Republic find themselves in a very similar position and in a similar way have no guarantees of their human rights, just like people in the territories of a military conflict, who find themselves facing impossibility to protect their very basic right, the right to life. Russia’s claim to existence within the legal field should exclude even the very possibility of using violent homophobic actions by the parts of the state apparatus. Russian authorities should take adequate measures to secure the rights of all LGBTI persons in Chechnya. Otherwise how does the Russian state differ from the territory of total absence of the rule of law, where decisions are made on the basis of brutal force and availability of weapons?