Getty ImagesU.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks at a United Nations Security Council meeting April 12, 2017 in New York City.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has called on authorities in Chechnya to investigate reports that dozens of gay men are being rounded up and tortured there.
In a statement on Monday, Haley said the United States was “disturbed” by the reports that have emerged in the past month.
“If true, this violation of human rights cannot be ignored,” she said in the statement. “Chechen authorities must immediately investigate these allegations, hold anyone involved accountable, and take steps to prevent future abuses.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden has called on the Trump administration to demand the detentions be stopped, saying in a statement he was “disgusted and appalled” by the reports.
Reports that Chechen authorities are engaged in a purge of gay men — kidnapping and imprisoning them secretly — emerged late last month.
The newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that dozens of men had been arrested and at least three were killed, citing multiple sources in the Chechen security services and among the LGBT community. Since then testimonies from gay men fleeing Chechnya have begun appearing in the Russian and foreign media, describing how police abducted them and severely tortured them in underground jail cells.
Some of the alleged victims described to Novaya Gazeta and the Guardian how their torturers demanded that they name their gay acquaintances. They said police also went through their phones to identify new victims, luring them to fake meetings. Victims have said many are being held in a prison located in the village of Argun.
“As soon as someone is brought onto the territory, the torture starts,” one victim told Novaya Gazeta anonymously. “Electric shocks, beating with plastic pipes. They told us we were ‘dogs who don’t have a right to live.’ The whole time you sit there are listen to the screams of people who are being tortured.”
Tanya Lokshina, the Russia director for Human Rights Watch, told ABC News that her own sources had confirmed the detentions to her. The Russian LGBT Network said it is running a hotline for those in danger in Chechnya, offering them aid in getting out of the region. Igor Kochetkov, an activist with the group, told ABC News that it has received dozens of calls since February confirming the detentions.
The purge is apparently being carried out by police and security forces under the command of Chechnya’s President Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman leader appointed by the Kremlin to keep control of the troubled region. Kadyrov’s security forces are regularly accused of brutal human rights violations.
Attitudes toward homosexuality were already deeply hostile in Chechnya. But recently, Kadyrov’s government has been promoting what it calls traditional values, with Kadyrov publicly threatening those he accuses as transgressors.
A spokesman for Kadyrov denied the purge was taking place to Russian news agencies by arguing that homosexuals don’t exist in Chechnya. Last week, Chechen religious leaders called a meeting of 15,000 people in the country’s main mosque which issued a statement promising “vengeance” against those reporting the persecutions.
Novaya Gazeta has said it considers the call an open threat against its staff. The newspaper has grounds for its fears — several of its journalists have been assassinated since 2000, with investigations tracing some of the killings back to Chechnya.
Moreover, Novaya Gazeta has called on the Kremlin to investigate the detentions. Chechnya’s prosecutor’s office on Monday said it was opening an investigation into the allegations.
But critics have expressed doubts that Russian authorities will intervene given the Kremlin has passed its own law discriminating against homosexuals. The so-called “gay propaganda” law bans the promotion of homosexuality to minors, but is seen by rights groups as signaling that homophobia is tolerated in Russia.
The Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, has said any alleged abuses should be investigated by law enforcement and told reporters last week it was opposed to any threats against journalists. Peskov said those suffering abuse should report it to law enforcement.