Trump Administration Silent as Chechnya and Azerbaijan Torture Gay Men

Daniel Balson, Advocacy Director for Europe and Central Asia

In April 2017, the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that authorities in the Russian republic of Chechnya launched what amounts to a state-sponsored purge of its lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (“LGBT”) population. Reports indicate that over 100 people were arrested without cause. Many of them suffered torture at the hands of security services and up to 20 people were killed in unconscionable acts of violence.

Only a few months later in late September, authorities in neighboring Azerbaijan arrested over 50 LGBT people and subjected them to beatings, humiliation, electric shocks, and forced shaving. Once released, many people were rejected by their families, locked out of their homes, and denied social support. This fits a pattern of persecution.

Across the former Soviet Union, LGBT people are facing a repressive environment with heightened discrimination, targeted attacks and harassment. While the Kremlin’s appalling precedent for how neighboring governments approach human rights has led to devastating consequences, it is not the only international actor that can influence the region. There are clear actions that the U.S. government should take to prevent these anti-LGBT crackdowns from degenerating into a regional epidemic of violence and discrimination.

In Congress, Senator Pay Toomey (R-PA) is spearheading a resolution to condemn Chechnya’s persecution of LGBT people, coming to a Senate floor vote in Fall 2017. In a letter to the Senate, Amnesty International has urged the body to pass it swiftly and unanimously. A similar resolution, H. Res. 351, already passed in the House.

Within the administration, senior officials must clearly communicate the seriousness of violence aimed at the LGBT community and insist on an independent criminal investigation of the perpetrators. Despite the highly publicized, well-documented attacks against LGBT individuals in Chechnya and Azerbaijan, the administration has yet to dispatch the State Department’s LGBTI Human Rights Envoy abroad to engage foreign governments.

Most critically, the White House must speak out against the systemic discrimination and persecution of LGBT people. President Trump must call on the governments of Chechnya and Azerbaijan to halt their crackdown against LGBT people. Likewise, Secretary Tillerson should raise the issue directly with his counterparts in Chechnya or Azerbaijan.

By failing to speak out in the defense of LGBT people, the Trump administration risks turning its back on people who only want to exercise the right to live free from violence and persecution. LGBT people in the former Soviet Union already face open hostility from government authorities, religious institutions, family members, and their own communities. It is time to stand up for them and put an end to their persecution.

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