A new era of crimes against humanity in Eurasia

Almost a year after Russia’s Novaya Gazeta broke horrific accounts of the roundups and severe torture that gay men were subjected to in Chechnya (the exact number of deaths remains unknown), the crisis is far from over. Though many gay men in Chechnya, like Milan, fled abroad with the help of Russian LGBT rights defenders, they still have to hide their real identities and locations to prevent possible harassment from the Chechen intelligence — just like in Chechnya. Over the summer of 2017, reports of similar crimes across the North Caucasus increased, and in September, reports of similar roundups, humiliation and torture against LGBT people (who allegedly had STDs and were involved in sex work) emerged from Azerbaijan — and in October, Tajikistan created a registry of LGBT citizens after police conducted operations to identity them.

While each crisis had its specifics, they all were used by the authorities to demonstrate their ability to crush any vulnerable community in an atmosphere of impunity, as well as to divert attention from other issues and extort money from the victims. The crises also exposed weak points, such as the lack of evacuation mechanisms, the fragility of the LGBT communities in question and inadequate collaboration between LGBT rights and general civil society groups in Eurasia.

[...] Dmitry Dubrovsky with Saint Petersburg’s Human Rights Council says it’s hard to explain why the attacks on gay people happened in Chechnya. Dubrovsky says that previously, for example, honour killings of women were widespread in Chechnya, but “they were carried out by the families, while gays were targeted by the Chechen authorities.” He adds that “homophobia in general in Russia is quite high”, citing a recent homophobic video on social media that called on Russians to participate in the March 2018 presidential elections as an example.

“The Chechen authorities were always hostile towards anyone who could be labeled as ‘the other,’” says the LGBT network spokesperson, adding that the LGBT people had always suffered physical attacks in the past, as well as attempts to extort money from them.

[... ] Recent crises have shown that there’s little systematic data on the issue of the LGBT rights or communities in general across Eurasia, and all that’s available is anecdotal data. “When there’s a more systematic data, then these issues are taken more seriously,” Dubrovsky says.

Mehdiyeva agrees that substantial research would help in the areas such as litigation, legislative changes and advocacy. Rahimli also mentions the lack of any substantive public opinion data or research in the country. He cites a public attitudes study carried out by ILGA-Europe, a leading LGBT rights advocacy group based in Brussels, which described Azerbaijan as the worst place to be gay in Europe in its LGBTI index of 2016. Read more via Open Democracy