ARTICLE 19 condemns reported violence against gay men in Chechnya, in the Russian Federation, including comments by the Chechen authorities which may amount to the incitement of further violence. Novaya Gazeta, a Russian independent newspaper, published credible reports that over 100 men have recently been detained, beaten and tortured by law enforcement agencies on suspicion of being gay. Three murders have been confirmed so far.
On 1 April 2017 Alvi Karimov, a spokesperson for Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen Republic, stated that: “You cannot arrest or repress people who don’t exist. If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement wouldn’t have any problems with them, as their own relatives would have sent them to a place they would never return from”.
ARTICLE 19 considers Karimov’s statement to be advocacy of discriminatory hatred constituting incitement to hostility and violence against LGBT people. In particular, we note Ramzan Kadyrov’s influence as a prominent politician in Chechnya, as well as the severely hostile environment already facing LGBT people there, noting the recent history of murders of people because of their sexual orientation (so-called “honour killings”).
The freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association rights of LGBT persons are also routinely violated in Russia, including through the enforcement of the June 2013 law banning the dissemination among children of so-called “propaganda for non-traditional sexual relationships.” ARTICLE 19 has long advocated for the repeal of such laws, as they violate international human rights law on the mutually reinforcing rights to freedom of expression and the right to equality.
The UN-backed Rabat Plan of Action provides that “political and religious leaders should refrain from using messages of intolerance or expressions which may incite to violence, hostility or discrimination”, and “have a crucial role to play in speaking out firmly and promptly against intolerance, discriminatory stereotyping and instances of hate speech.” This reflects commitments made by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe.
As such, Ramzan Kadyrov must immediately issue a retraction of his spokesperson’s remarks. As well as refraining from repeating these comments, Kadyrov should publicly and unequivocally condemn the recent discriminatory attacks against gay men, ensure investigations into these human rights violations and abuses to hold those responsible accountable, and commit to protecting LGBT people in Chechnya from further attacks. ARTICLE 19 also calls on officials at the highest levels of the Russian Federal Government to do the same.
Article 20(2) of the ICCPR further requires States to prohibit “any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.” ARTICLE 19 has argued that this obligation should be interpreted to extend to the advocacy of hatred against people on the basis of their sexual orientation, a position supported by the Council of Europe and by the European Court of Human Rights in their 2012 decision of Vejdeland and Others v. Sweden.
Based on the facts as they are known at this moment, and in the absence of a retraction by Kadyrov or by his spokesperson, competent authorities of the Russian Federation should investigate whether the statement delivered through Kadyrov’s spokesperson constitutes an offence under Russian law.
Any imposition of sanctions for the statement must comply with the requirements of Article 19(3) of the ICCPR, and be guided by the principles of necessity and proportionality. Taking into account the six “threshold” factors set out in the Rabat Plan of Action, any judicial determination of liability should consider the hostile context facing LGBT people in Chechnya, Kadyrov’s authority and influence over his audience in Chechnya as a political leader, and the likelihood and imminence of persons being incited to further violence, hostility or discrimination as a consequence of his statement.