U.S. Joins 14 Countries in Calling for a Response to LGBTI Atrocities in Chechnya

At a large human rights meeting in Warsaw, Poland, the United States and 14 other governments are trying to hold Russia accountable for atrocities committed against its LGBT citizens in Chechnya.  U.S. Ambassador Michael Kozak explained to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that: “The United States joined 14 other participating States in invoking the OSCE’s Vienna Mechanism, requiring Russia to provide a serious response to reports of appalling abuses by Chechen authorities against persons for their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as against human rights defenders, lawyers, and members of independent media and civil society organizations.

Ambassador Kozak is referring to a decision to invoke a rarely-used human rights mechanism that was triggered two weeks ago by 15 OSCE governments (Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States).  The “Vienna Mechanism,” as it’s known at the OSCE, now requires the Russian government to respond within ten days to a specific set of questions on human rights abuses in Chechnya, including, most pointedly, this key question: “How have Russian federal authorities investigated allegations of violations and abuses reportedly committed against actual or perceived LGBTI persons, and how have they arrived at the conclusion (as repeated by Russian authorities) that no such violations or abuses have occurred and that no LGBTI persons exist in Chechnya?

The ten-day deadline just passed without a response from Russia.  The next step in this diplomatic dance is to invoke the OSCE’s “Moscow Mechanism.”  The Moscow Mechanism moves beyond a cordial request for information and empowers independent fact-finding experts to prepare an official report on the atrocities and human rights obligations in Chechnya.  LGBTI and allied human rights advocates are at the Warsaw meeting this week to call on governments to take that next step to invoke the Moscow Mechanism – and to do so sooner rather than later.

The OSCE has its origins in a 1975 agreement that facilitated security negotiations between East and West during the Cold War.  At the end of the Cold War, it was reinvented as an institution that promotes security, democracy and human rights across 57 countries in North America, Europe and Asia, with special attention to the promotion of human rights and democracy in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

More recently, the member governments of the OSCE agreed to address hate crimes as a priority human rights and security challenge across the region, pledging to support effective training, education, legislation, prosecution and data collection to respond to bias-motivated crimes directed at minority communities.  To date, the OSCE’s engagement has focused on responses to hate crimes targeting religious and ethnic minorities, including strong responses to anti-Semitism and discrimination against Muslims and Roma in Europe.

Increasingly, however, the OSCE also has been addressing hate crimes targeting LGBTI citizens.  This is an important development that is moving forward despite the objections of Russia and the Vatican and other OSCE states that cling to anti-LGBTI laws and policies.  By invoking the Moscow Mechanism in this particular case in Chechnya, the OSCE would for the first time empower independent experts to establish, conclusively, whether Russia has violated its human rights commitments as a result of its failure to protect its own LGBTI citizens from torture, arbitrary detention and extrajudicial execution.  Sadly, the world already knows the answer to that question.  But it is important to establish the facts through an official record that could provide the basis for additional actions at the OSCE, the United Nations and in OSCE member countries.  It is also crucial that the OSCE not turn a blind eye to the violence because of the sexual orientation of the victims.

This is primarily and most importantly an effort to respond to impunity for LGBTI hate violence in Russia.  But it also sets an important precedent within the OSCE, as 15 of the organization’s leading members – and leading funders – have taken collective action against LGBTI violence.  Civil society must build on this momentum to insist that the OSCE strengthen its capacity to respond to LGBTI hate crimes in the same way across all OSCE countries.

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