Few people can find Chechnya on a map, but its president’s policies and pronouncements are doing its best to attract international attention — and not in a good way. A culture of violence and intolerance has been inculcated in Chechnya, and it continues to manifest there and beyond its borders.
Chechnya suffered a brutal and bloody civil war for three decades. To consolidate his rule, Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has been accused of a brutal crackdown against all dissent, charged with extensive human rights abuses, including kidnapping, torture and murder, and former members of his security forces have been involved in political murders in Russia and its former republics, invariably targeting opponents of the Moscow government, Kadyrov’s ally.
In recent months, Kadryov’s government has been accused of torturing and killing gay men. A Russian newspaper reported earlier this year that homosexuals in Chechnya were being arrested, tortured and killed. Those allegations were confirmed by other news outlets along with a Human Rights Watch report that concluded that gay or bisexual men were being “purged” from Chechen society. Kadyrov has responded in a variety of ways, none of which inspire confidence. First, he denied that there were any gay men in his country. If there are any, he added last month, “take them to Canada.” His spokesperson qualified those comments, noting that if a Chechen knew that a family member was gay, that relative would “have sent them to where they could never return.”
Thus far, Kadyrov enjoys virtual impunity, a result of his country’s isolation and Russia’s unflinching support. Yet while the Moscow government is no fan of gay rights, Kadyrov’s actions may be reaching a breaking point. If Kadyrov becomes an international embarrassment and weight around Russia’s neck, then Moscow’s calculus could shift. That should be reason to loudly condemn the Chechen campaign against its gay population — if the simple morality of that policy is not reason enough.