This LGBT+ History Month rather than just celebrating, I’m agitating against the Human Rights abuses faced by my Chechen siblings. Lewisham is proudly a Sanctuary Borough, and this policy will ensure we work with NGOs and Charities to be fully aware of the needs of LGBT+ Refugees.
Below was my speech to Full Council (delivery may have varied). I’m pleased to say the motion was passed unanimously.
“Earlier this month the Russian LGBT Network confirmed reports that the Chechen authorities have resumed large-scale arrests of individuals believed to be gay or lesbian, imprisoning and torturing them.
“According to that organization’s protected sources, around 40 people have been arrested since December and at least two people have died under torture. Police have also reportedly demanded that families of gay and lesbian people commit “honor” killings against their relatives and provide evidence of their murders.
“These appalling reports follow a previous “gay purge” in 2017, which saw hundreds of men detained and tortured and put Chechnya’s dismal human rights record back in the global spotlight.
“A government spokesman has dismissed their latest report as “complete lies”. Chechnya, and its authoritarian leader Ramzan Kadyrov, have consistently denied allegations of illegal detentions and human rights abuses.
“In an interview with the BBC last year (Chechnya LGBT: Dozens ‘detained in new gay purge’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-46871801), Mr Kadyrov said the allegations were “an invention by foreign agents” or created by activists looking for money. Mr Kadyrov and other government figures have repeatedly claimed Chechnya has no gay population at all.
“The Russian LGBT Network, an activist group, has been monitoring the situation in Chechnya and working to evacuate people from the region since reports of the crackdown emerged in 2017. International Human Rights Group and Activists often comment on the contrast between the the modern Chechen capital Grozny and it’s shining glass skyscrapers, luxury boutiques and fashionable cafes which line the streets of the city and its regressive and aggressive authoritarian rule. Arranging meetings with human rights activists requires intricate planning to ensure their anonymity and safety are preserved.
“The activists who have documented the attacks on the LGBT community have often acted with unimaginable courage, risking arrest, torture, ill treatment and even death if they are identified.
“It is said that behind Grozny’s new glossy facades of offices and homes hang portraits of Kadyrov. It is almost impossible to watch TV or listen to the radio without hearing his name. Kadyrov seemingly permeates every aspect of life in Chechnya, and how his system of absolute rule has broken down law and order inside the republic. Allegedly anyone who dares to complain about officials or their policies faces public humiliation or worse. It’s alleged typical punishments for dissent include being forced to make a televised apology, having your house burnt down or having fabricated criminal charges slapped on you.
“Let’s not forget that Chechnya remains a part of the Russian Federation, which is a signatory to many international human rights treaties. When news of the 2017 crackdown broke, Russian human rights activists and journalists appealed to the federal authorities, demanding an investigation and immediate action to protect the lives of LGBT people in Chechnya. Maxim Lapunov, so far the only victim to speak publicly about his ordeal, filed a formal complaint with the Russian authorities in September 2017. In harrowing detail Maxim described being held for 12 days in a blood-soaked cell, beaten with sticks and having a plastic bag placed over his head.
“In November 2018, after months of denials and obfuscation, the Russian authorities said they were unable to confirm Maxim’s claim and refused to open a criminal investigation into the allegations.
“This crushing blow for justice rang alarm bells for many activists in Chechnya, who knew that without accountability it was only a matter of time before the Chechen authorities resumed their atrocities. Sadly, they have already been proved right.
“In December 2018, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe published a report in which it accused Russia of shielding Chechen officials from scrutiny. It seems Kadyrov knows he has carte blanche when it comes to human rights abuses.
“Nevertheless, following the 2017 crackdown sustained international attention did succeed in temporarily halting the arrests. This shows that Chechen and Russian authorities are not immune to criticism. The international community, therefore, can play an important role in pressurising political elites into acknowledging their crimes and taking meaningful steps to bring those responsible to justice.
“In 2017 the Russian LGBT Network, supported by other NGOs, helped evacuate hundreds of people from Chechnya and in some cases relocated them elsewhere. Several countries, including Canada, France, Germany and Lithuania granted asylum to dozens, though sadly they stand out for their generosity, and other governments were reluctant or too slow to offer protection. This time, governments should be prepared to expedite the asylum process so that anyone who wants to leave Chechnya can do so promptly and safely.
“Someone who is seeking to be a Refugee/Asylum Seeker only has five grounds on which they can apply – The UN defines this as any person who has:
“a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of
political opinion or
membership of a particular social group,
“and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”
“And this is where we, as a proud sanctuary Borough, can and should play our role, ensuring that not only are we known as a safe place, skilled at supporting any individual at fear of persecution irregardless of their sexuality or gender identity, but as an arm of Government, it is also our responsibility to call out all incidents of oppression and make sure that it isn’t just this authority, but this nation, becomes a sanctuary for all those living in fear of persecution- and for the Chechen authorities to know that the World is watching, and that these horrendous crimes, and their actions in it, are not going unnoticed.”