In Chechnya, Republic of Russia, starting in March of 2017, an anti-LGTBQI purge began with an aim to eradicate members of the LGTBQI community. The purge involved forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings by the police, military, and state actors. At the beginning of the purge, a group of gay men, identified through online profiles and underground intelligence were rounded up and tortured for information regarding the idenities of other gay men and LGTBQI+ identified people.
It is estimated that hundreds of people were taken to as many as 6 unknown locations where they were tortured, imprisoned and humiliated for hours up to weeks at a time. Many were raped, beaten, and waterboarded among other atrocities. Some were killed or disappeared, and some were returned to their families where they were outed. Many accounts suggest that the police or military would then instruct the survivors families to “deal with” the problem, implying that they should honour kill their loved ones in order to remain safe and maintain respect in the Republic.
The scale of violence that occured in 2017 and 2018 is still unknown, however survivor testimony has been helping Rainbow Railroad and other human rights focused organizations along with activists and lawyers in building a picture of the violence that occured. Despite numerous international governments and the United Nations acknowledgement of the purge, the head of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov, has consistently denied that the purge occurred and also denies the existence of LGBTQI+ persons in the Republic. In December 2018 a report written by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) confirmed the crackdown occurred and that the LGTBQI+ community was directly persecuted, however to date, no justice has been given to survivors as no formal international mechanisms have been initiated, and Russia has refused to acknowledge the violence that occured.
Rainbow Railroad was one of the first international organizations on the ground in Russia during the height of the crackdown. We worked with the Russian LGBT Network to identify individuals from the Chechen Republic and the Caucuses who were targeted. A part of this work involved co-funding safe houses that enabled us and the Network to temporarily hide survivors while evacuation logistics were arranged.
In partnership with numerous international governments, we have relocated more than 70 individuals from Chechnya, the Caucasus’ and Russia since 2016 who were affected by the crackdown. We continue to work with the Network to identify victims of persecution and provide support and emergency relocation on a case-by-case basis for those victims of the new wave of violence.
Rainbow Railroad is also involved in advocacy efforts with the Russian LGBT Network and other major partners at the United Nations and European Court for Human Rights to continue to press for ownership over the purge and a promise of human rights protections for the future.
Right now, efforts are focused on holding those accountable. We supported the Russian LGBT Network and Maxim Luponov’s (who we helped travel to safety) case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) as well as U.S imposed sanctions under the Magnitsky Act . However, so far, no individuals have been detained.