US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been urged to raise reports of a homophobic ‘purge’ during his trip to Russia.
Donald Trump’s Secretary of State, a mega-wealthy former oil executive, landed in Moscow today for a meeting with Russian officials after growing tensions between the White House and Kremlin over Syria.
LGBT rights activists have urged Secretary Tillerson to use his trip to raise the reports of gay people being rounded up in Chechnya, which is an independent Russian region.
Russian newspapers and human rights groups report that more than 100 gay men have been detained “in connection with their non-traditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such” as part of a purge. Reports have also emerged suggesting men are being kept in concentration camp-style prisons, while several people are also feared dead.
A Chechen government spokesperson denied that any gay people exist in Chechnya, insisting that “you can’t detain and harass someone who doesn’t exist in the republic”. The Kremlin denied any knowledge of a purge.
In a letter to Tillerson, the Human Rights Campaign urged the US official to press the Kremlin on the issue.
HRC boss Chad Griffin wrote: “I urge you to make clear to your Russian counterparts that such lawless detentions, arrests, torture and murders are unacceptable and will not be tolerated.
“As you said during your Senate confirmation process, you believe in ‘a shared commitment to protect the human rights of all people, no matter who they are or whom they love’ and that ‘means standing for universal human rights and fighting for the dignity of every person’.
“This is a crucial moment to make it clear that the U.S. will indeed ‘work aggressively to advance human rights for everyone’, as you have said.
“The Chechen and Russian governments must transparently account for those who have been detained, condemn and investigate the attacks, and ensure that those targeted can flee to safety.
“I urge you to press them on these concerns and to put into practice the human rights goals you set for yourself and your Department in your confirmation process.”
The US State Department did previously release a statement calling for an investigation.
It said: “We are aware of troubling reports that local authorities in the Republic of Chechnya have arrested or detained more than 100 men, as well as reports that three of those detained were killed.
“We condemn violence against any individuals based on their sexual orientation or any other basis. We urge the Russian government to conduct an independent and credible investigation into the alleged killings and mass arrests, and hold the perpetrators responsible.
“We were likewise deeply disturbed by local authorities statements that apparently condone and even incite violence against LGBTI persons.
“We are very concerned by the widespread discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons in Russia or any society.
“We call on the Russian government to protect all people from discrimination and violence, and allow the free exercise of the freedoms of expression, association, peaceful assembly, and religion or belief.”