Swalwell, Cicilline, & Zeldin Lead Bipartisan House Members in Urging Condemnation of Violence Against LGBT People in Chechnya

January 29, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, DC – Reps. Eric Swalwell (CA-15), David Cicilline (RI-01), and Lee Zeldin (NY-01) on Tuesday led 62 other House Members in urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to publicly condemn the violence against the LGBT community in Chechnya and to pressure Russian leaders to stop this persecution.

The Russian LGBT Network and news media have reported a new wave of government-sponsored violence against LGBT people in Chechnya, a federal subject of Russia, since the end of December. It’s estimated that about 40 people have been detained, and two have been killed as a result of torture.

“The U.S. is a beacon of hope and freedom for the world, as it stands up for the dignity and human rights of all people everywhere,” the Members wrote in their bipartisan letter to Pompeo. “This situation is no different. It is incumbent on you to reaffirm these principles and publicly condemn violence against the LGBT community in Chechnya, and to utilize all of the tools available to you to pressure the Russian government into ending these atrocities.”

This persecution is the latest in a pattern stretching back to 2017, when more than 100 people suspected of being LGBT were detained. Reports indicated people were also tortured – including baton beatings and electric shocks – and killed. A survivor of these atrocities told the Human Rights Campaign in June 2018, “They beat us because we are gay…. They believe we are supposed to die and that we shouldn’t be allowed to live.”

The Members wrote Tuesday that they appreciated the Trump Administration’s use of sanctions and other mechanisms to push for unbiased investigation into crimes against the LGBT community inside Russia, but they fear the new reports of violence only confirm Russia’s unwillingness to take these crimes seriously.  A Russian Justice Ministry official in May 2018 denied that an LGBT community even exists in Chechnya, and Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov at one pointed allegedly said that LGBT people in Chechnya should be removed to “cleanse our blood.” 

The letter’s signers include House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (NY-16) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (NY-10), plus House LGBT Equality Caucus co-chairs Cicilline, Katie Hill (CA-25), Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18), Chris Pappas (NH-01), Mark Pocan (WI-02), and Mark Takano (CA-41).

“We cannot be silent while people are being oppressed, persecuted, imprisoned, tortured, and killed simply for being who they are,” Swalwell said. “The United States must lead the world in demanding human rights for all, and so must bring all available diplomatic pressure to bear to put an end to this appalling violence once and for all.”

“The ongoing violence against LGBT people in Chechnya is a humanitarian outrage. The United States has a long tradition of standing up for oppressed people around the world. There is no reason that should change now,” Cicilline said. “Secretary of State Pompeo must use his voice and the policy tools at his disposal to condemn this violence and work to bring it to an end. The silence of senior officials within the Trump administration speaks volumes.”

“The United States cannot stand idly by as innocent Chechens continue to be killed and tortured at the hands of a discriminatory regime which refuses to acknowledge their very existence,” Zeldin said. “Since its founding, the U.S. has stood strong for the dignity and human rights of all people everywhere, and we cannot waver now. I urge the State Department to immediately condemn the blatant persecution of the LGBT community in Chechnya, and utilize the resources necessary to pressure the Russian government to end this atrocity.”     

Click here to read the letter in its entirety.