BY MICHAEL K. LAVERS, WASHINGTON BLADE
The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a resolution that condemns the ongoing crackdown against gay men in Chechnya. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who introduced House Resolution 351 last month, spoke on the House floor before the voice vote. “This body has the ability to be that strong voice of human rights for all individuals and send a clear message to any oppressor that the United States will not turn a blind eye against violence, against harassment and discrimination, no matter where it happens,” she said. “As a country we have the responsibility to promote our deeply cherished American values and reaffirm our commitment to fundamental freedoms, especially for those who under the shadow of oppression and tyranny.”
Chechnya is a semi-autonomous Russian republic in the North Caucuses. Novaya Gazeta, an independent Russian newspaper, in April reported Chechen authorities have arrested more than 100 men because of their sexual orientation — or perceived sexual orientation — since the beginning of the year.
Novaya Gazeta reported at least three of these men died after their arrest, while others have been beaten and tortured and sent to secret prisons. Ros-Lehtinen on Tuesday noted additional reports indicate Chechen authorities have begun to target women who they suspect are lesbians.
Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, who is a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the Kremlin have sought to downplay or even dismiss these reports.
Reports indicate the Kremlin has launched an investigation into the allegations. The Russian LGBT Network — a Moscow-based advocacy group that is providing assistance to gay Chechens who have fled their homeland — on Monday expressed skepticism over these claims, even though it noted Russian President Vladimir Putin told French President Emmanuel Macron late last month his government would “assist with the investigation of what qualifies as a crime against humanity.”
“Putin has given free reign to the Chechen leader,” said Ros-Lehtinen. “He has significant influence over what goes on in Chechnya.”
The House Foreign Affairs Committee on May 25 unanimously approved HR 351.
“I’m proud that the House passed this strong resolution condemning the recent violence targeting gay men in Chechnya,” said Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline in a press release the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus released after Tuesday’s vote. “Now, it’s critical that we do more to ensure those fleeing horrific violence can relocate somewhere safe.”
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley in a statement she released in April said the U.S. remains “disturbed” by the Chechen arrests. The State Department has also publicly commented on them and urged the Russian government to conduct an investigation.
President Trump has not publicly commented on the crackdown. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Cicilline earlier this month during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing that he has not raised it with Russian officials.
“We as a nation must lead the world in acting,” said California Congressman Alan Lowenthal in the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus press release. “It is our duty and responsibility to be the beacon on the hill that leads the way.”
“It is now up to President Trump, Secretary of State Tillerson, and our United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley to follow through on the consensus of the House and bring as much domestic and international political pressure as possible on the Russian government to rein in these deplorable human rights violations,” he added.