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Genocide in Chechnya - Unitarian Universalists stand up for gay rights at the United Nations
The Chechen Genocide and Global Fight for LGBTQ Rights

By Kate Mays

In April of this year, reports surfaced that the Chechen government had begun to out, detain, torture, and kill any Chechen man who is perceived as gay or bisexual. According to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the reports state that Chechen men are being hunted, abducted, and taken to concentration camps where they are tortured and then killed. The Chechen government has done this to an estimated 100 people so far. The men are also forced to out the other gay or bisexual men they know. Being outed as a member of the LGBTQ community in Chechnya puts them at risk for honor killings, murder perpetrated by a family member in order to restore a family’s honor. The Director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO), Bruce Knotts, vehemently condemns these actions and considers them genocide against LGBTQ people.

Behind bars, a hand holds a rainbow sign with text written in Russian script

Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and his government responded to allegations of abuse by denying the presence of LGBTQ people in the Chechen Republic. In a statement made to Interfax News, Chechen spokesperson Alvi Karimov stated, “nobody can detain or harass anyone who is simply not present in the Republic.”

Although recently condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, for several years Russia has enforced a law banning “gay propaganda.” In other words, nothing that promotes the LGBTQ community and its rights is allowed in Russia. This Russian law is deliberately vague, allowing authorities to interpret the law any way they want.  Chechnya is a federal subject of Russia, which means it is mostly autonomous—has its own President and constitution—but is represented by Russia in international affairs.

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) recently released a statement denouncing the killing, torture, and invisibilization of LGBTQ people in Chechnya and called for the United States to hold Putin and Chechnya accountable for the genocide. The UUA asked that all people of faith join in solidarity against this homophobia.

“Unitarian Universalists remain committed to the ongoing struggle to recognize and affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person, including persons of all race, class, nationality, culture, and creed who identify as LGBTQIA,” said the UUA. 

Logo for the United Nations Human Rights Council

United Nations Human Rights Council

Political pressure against Chechnya is mounting. A five-person advisory panel to the United Nations Human Rights Council called for the end of the detention and persecution of LGBTQ people in Chechnya. The panel consists of experts from Thailand, Benin, France, Switzerland, and the United States. These experts requested the release of all detained and that those leading the persecution be held responsible.

“These are acts of persecution and violence on an unprecedented scale in the region, and constitute serious violations of the obligations of the Russian Federation under international human rights law,” the panel said.

In late June, the United States Congress passed Resolution 351 which condemns the violence in Chechnya. The resolution calls for the release of all detained and for the Russia to intervene in Chechnya. While this resolution is an important step towards the end of this genocide, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and President Donald Trump must also contribute to the effort as well.

From the shoulders up, a white person gazes into the camera. Small stripes of paint, arranged in a rainbow pattern, run down their cheeks.

Persecution of LGBTQI people anywhere is rarely isolated, but part of a pattern of human rights violations.  The persecution of LGBTQ people in Chechnya is just the latest chapter in a country with a long history of violating the human rights of its people. According to the New York Times, Chechens run the risk of torture and death for speaking against the Chechen or Russian government. One victim who criticized the government claimed that Chechen President Kadyrov enjoys personally torturing prisoners through electric shocks or shooting their feet. Women in Chechnya who break Islamic dress codes or who have “loose morals” are in danger of being killed, and President Kadyrov has stated that women are property whose primary responsibility is to have children. There have been many instances of young Chechen women being married off to older men. In 2015, Kadyrov attended the wedding of a 17-year old girl who was forced to marry the 47-year old police chief.

The United States cannot forget about our LGBTQ family in Chechnya. There are several things we can do to help. As of June, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has not spoken with any Russian officials about the killings. You should continue to put pressure on Tillerson and the United States government to take action. You can also sign this petition calling for the Prosecutor General of Russia to investigate the genocide.  It is our responsibility to do what we can to support the LGBTQ community in Chechnya as we work towards our Sixth Principle goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.

The UU-UNO vows to continue to pressure the United Nations to take action to stop this genocide. 


Kate Mays is a Program Intern at the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. She is also a student at the University of Kansas studying Journalism and Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies.

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