May 10, 2017

Ahead of Tillerson Meeting with Lavrov, Sens. Harris and Collins Call on State Dept. to Press Russian Government on Violence Against LGBT Men in Chechnya

WASHINGTON, D.C. - In advance of Secretary Tillerson's meeting today with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME) sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressing deep concern over the reported abduction, detention, torture, and murder of more than 100 LGBT men in Chechnya. In their letter, the Senators reiterated the "utmost urgency" of the matter and asked urged Secretary Tillerson to press the Russian government for urgent and thorough investigation into reports of torture and murder in Chechnya. In addition, the letter asks Secretary Tillerson to report back about specific measures the Administration has taken and will take to protect the LGBT community in Chechnya.

"Reports have indicated that more than 100 people are being held in arbitrary detention, and that many have been tortured or even killed at the hands of the Russian-supported Chechen government", the Senators wrote. "The Chechen government has not only denied any wrongdoing, but also denied the mere existence of LGBT citizens in its territory. Furthermore, the brave journalists who first described these atrocities have been reportedly subject to death threats and intimidation due to their dedication to reporting the truth about Chechnya's violent campaign against the LGBT community. It therefore falls to the international community to demand information and accountability."

The full letter is printed below:

Dear Secretary Tillerson:

We write to ask for your commitment to press the Russian government for urgent and thorough investigations into the recent appalling allegations of abduction, detention, torture, and murder of men in Chechnya due to suspicions about their sexual orientation. We add that this matter requires your immediate attention given British Foreign Minister Alan Duncan's report that the Chechen government seeks to "eliminate" the gay community by the start of Ramadan, which begins in late May.

Reports have indicated that more than 100 people are being held in arbitrary detention, and that many have been tortured or even killed at the hands of the Russian-supported Chechen government. The Chechen government has not only denied any wrongdoing, but also denied the mere existence of LGBT citizens in its territory. Furthermore, the brave journalists who first described these atrocities have been reportedly subject to death threats and intimidation due to their dedication to reporting the truth about Chechnya's violent campaign against the LGBT community. It therefore falls to the international community to demand information and accountability.

We welcomed the State Department's statement of April 7, 2017, categorically condemning the persecution of individuals based on their sexual orientation. We agree with United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley's assertion that this violation of human rights cannot be ignored and that, when left unchecked, human rights abuses can lead to destabilization and conflict.

At your January 11, 2017, confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, you stated "American values don't accommodate violence or discrimination against anyone," and that, "our values are our interests when it comes to human rights." We support this sentiment, and hope the Administration will exhaust every measure to ensure that there are credible investigations into these egregious allegations of human rights abuses, and that the perpetrators be held to account.

In closing, we reiterate the utmost urgency of this matter, and look forward to hearing from you about specific measures the Administration has taken and will take to protect the LGBT community in Chechnya.

Sincerely,

Senator Kamala D. Harris Senator Susan M. Collins