The expert report launched at a meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on Thursday, December 20, leaves no doubt that serious abuse has taken place against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons (LGBT), human rights defenders and civilians in Chechnya.
– The report is unusually strong, and among other things it asks Russia to establish an independent investigative committee that should look at some of the most serious crimes. We who work with the situation daily are not surprised by the findings. The report reflects the situation as we see it, and we are relieved that such an assessment of facts is now available, Skouen says.
The report presents evidence of torture, humiliating treatment and killing. Furthermore, it shows how use of arbitrary arrests and forced confessions creates a general climate of fear in the population. In addition to assaults against LGBT people, journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders; brutal treatment of drug users, salafists, and youth in general is also mentioned, as well as extensive use of collective punishment against families and clans.
It also presents a wide range of psychological abuse, such as a practice of exorcism on lesbian women, exerting pressure on people to kill their own relatives because of their sexual orientation, or that individuals are asked to take their own life to restore the honor of the family. All such grotesque details is a clear indication of how the state apparatus has a huge influence on the families internal functioning. Regarding the practice of so-called honor killings, the report concludes that ” in Chechnya, the state
appears to support the perpetrators rather than the victims”.
In the comprehensive set of reccomendations Russia is asked to put an end to the human rights violations, prosecute the perpetrators, and to release imprisoned human rights defender, Oyub Titiev, Head of Memorial in Chechnya.
– Now we are looking forward to seeing how the OSCE participant states, and not the least Russia, will follow up the recommendations, Skouen said.
Investigation invoked by fifteen states
In November, Norway and fifteen other OSCE countries took the initiative to invoke the Moscow Mechanism against Russia. The background was well-documented allegations of extensive human rights violations committed in Chechnya from 2017, without Russia trying to stop it. The mechanism allows the participating OSCE states to appoint an independent expert group to investigate and report on human rights violations in another participating state.
– It may seem like an enormous distance between the conversation you have with a survivor, petrified of repercussion he or she might suffer if they dare speak, to the international forums where state leaders meet. We, and many others, have put an extensive effort to assist the independent expert with up to date and well documented information about the situation, says Skouen, and continues:
– The fact that the survivors and victims’ stories are so well reflected in the report nevertheless shows that the distance can be overcome, and for us this confirms the significance of international institutions to strengthen the human rights protection of individuals.
– Great importance to the victims
The OSCE statement in November emphasizes especially killing and torture on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons (LGBT), who first became known to the world through a series of articles in the independent Russian newspaper Novaja Gazeta in April 2017.
– The report is important for survivors and victims. Although it is not a legal process and will not result in someone to be convicted for these violation, the documentation that comes out of the process may still be valuable for the survivors who want to bring their case to court, says Skouen.
One of these survivors is Maksim Lapunov, who was the first to openly tell the world about torture and humiliation in Chechnya’s secret prisons for alleged gay men. The report provides extensive information about Lapunov’s case, and the need to carry out an impartial investigation.
– They took a plastic bag on my head. They severely beat my arms and legs. When I was leaving Chechnya, I could barely crawl, Maksim said at a press conference last year. Maksim has tried to get his case up for a Russian court, but so far without results. -No one knows whose son or daughter will be taken next, he warned.
Even before the report of the expert was launched, the Russian Ombudsperson Tatiana Moskalkova stated that it should be possible to get Maksim’s case tried in Russia. Until now, his case has been rejected in so many instances that he is preparing his appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
-The vulnerability of the people who have had to flee due to this crisis is also dealt with in the report, reccomending that additional security should be provided, and that one should not consider it safe to return persecuted Chechens to other places in the Russian Federation. This is something NHC has had a focus on for a long time, and we are very glad that the reports sheds light on this, says Skouen.
– With this report we have seen that the victims’ voices can reach the institutions. Now it is up to the participating states and Russia themselves to follow up the recommendations. There is still a very precarious human rights situation in Chechnya for more vulnerable groups.
You can read the report here.