By Christian Hess, Contributor
Within the first few months of 2017, reports emerged from the Chechen Republic that homosexual men were abducted from their homes. From there, they were sent to make-shift concentration camps where they were beaten and electrocuted. The leader of the Chechen Republic, Ramzan Kadyrov denied these reports. He stated there were no homosexual men in the Chechen Republic. The U.S. Department of State corroborated these claims, at which point it was stated that the reports received were credible and that they condemned such actions taken against homosexual men. International outcry followed, whereupon Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stated he would investigate the claims.
The Chechen Republic is a semi-autonomous region of the Russian Federation, beholden to Russian jurisdiction and law. Previously it fought two civil wars against Russia in a bid for independence only to be defeated and remain under Russian rule. As such, Putin would be able to issue a declaration that such activities should cease if they were found to be true. However, Edwin Bacon in his book Inside Russian Politics argues that Kadyrov is given carte-blanche in how he rules the Chechen Republic as long as Russia’s authority is not challenged (Bacon 2017, 32). Kadyrov has contested this claim as “false information.” Putin said little on the subject, though his press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, agreed with Kadyrov that no events of that kind transpired.
In Russia itself, homosexuality is viewed negatively. A poll conducted in 2013 by Pew Research found that 74 percent of Russians do not think that homosexuality should be accepted by society. In contrast to this, 16 percent of those polled said that it should be accepted by society. Even amongst those deemed younger (18-21), only 21 percent accepted homosexuality, compared to 12 percent of those polled 50 years and older. In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights found Russia guilty of restricting the rights of homosexual men. The New York Times reported the court stating that “by adopting such laws, the government reinforced stigma and prejudice and encouraged homophobia, which is incompatible with the values of a democratic society.” The Court further stated that as Russia ratified the European Convention on Human Rights in 1998, it was subject to its laws. As a result, Russia must not only protect gay rights for its citizens, but also the regions it has under its control.
The events that transpire in the Chechen Republic are pertinent to human security in that they are indicative how a community may be targeted. A community which fears that their way of life and identity will be erased. Homosexual men in Chechnya are deprived of their human rights, which is the fundamental component of human security. Article 3 of the Declaration of Human Rights states that all humans are to have life, liberty, and the security of their person. Human rights affirm one’s need for security. If one’s human rights are violated, so too is their security. Micheline R. Ishay in The History of Human Rights: From Ancient Times to the Globalization Era states that human rights, while universal, are not inherently progressive (Ishay 2008, 35). In this sense, human rights (and one’s security as a result) may regress should others feel the need to violate them.
Putin’s administration stated that human rights for homosexual men are a Western concept, yet this too, is untrue. Human rights are universal and available to all, just as is human security. Although the treatment of homosexual men in the Chechen Republic has been confirmed by several countries in addition to human rights groups, little action has been taken. The difficulty is furthered when those in the region vehemently deny such reports. Although asylum has been offered to homosexual men fleeing the Chechen Republic, the question still remains as to how human security issues may be addressed. However, it may be stated that more punitive measures are needed to ensure that states ensure their citizenry retain both their human rights and security regardless of popular opinion or actions taken by those in power.
About Author: This post was written by Christian Hess, a PhD student at the Rutgers Division of Global Affairs in Newark.