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June 15, 2017

Secretary Tillerson Urged to Make "Pending" Human Rights Crisis a Priority

Washington, D.C.—Human Rights First today expressed alarm over the statements made by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson indicating that he has not raised the ongoing persecution of gay and bisexual men in Chechnya with his Russian counterparts. The secretary revealed this news during yesterday’s hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee under questioning from Representative David Cicilline (D-RI). Secretary Tillerson testified that speaking to Russian officials about the crisis is on the State Department’s “pending list.” Human Rights First calls on the administration to immediately raise these concerns with the Russian government, due to the severity and urgency of the crisis.

“Secretary Tillerson has known about this crisis for over two months. He also knows that international condemnation is key to stopping it. For him to admit on the record that he has not yet raised it in meetings is a failure of U.S. foreign policy,” said Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord. “The secretary needs to immediately make it clear to his Russian counterparts that the United States will not stand by while members of the LGBT community are detained, tortured, and murdered.”

Secretary Tillerson met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on May 10, more than one month after 50 members of Congress urged the secretary to condemn the detention and abuse of gay and bisexual Chechens. Per his testimony, neither at that meeting nor during any of the secretary’s subsequent conversations with Russian officials did he heed their call.

Next month President Trump will reportedly meet with Russian President Putin at the annual Group of 20 summit in Germany. If the Chechen crisis remains ongoing, the meeting will present an ideal opportunity to urge the Russian government to put a stop to abuses and bring its perpetrators to justice.

Human Rights First has repeatedly called on the U.S. government to raise concerns about the human rights of LGBT Russians in all bilateral and multilateral meetings with Russia. In recent weeks the organization hosted a delegation of Russian and Chechen LGBT advocates in Washington, D.C. and New York City to meet with senior U.S. And foreign policy makers in an effort to halt the crisis.

Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that more than one hundred gay men have been detained by Chechen authorities “in connection with their nontraditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such.” At least three of these men have been murdered. Local authorities have issued statements that either dispute these allegations or, worse, suggest that these killings and other human rights abuses are justified. Russian organizations that focus on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people are providing emergency assistance to members of the LGBT community who are seeking to flee the region.   

“Every day we hear new horror stories coming out of Chechnya. Members of the LGBT community that have escaped tell us that this crisis will not stop on its own. Secretary Tillerson needs to act and it needs to be now. Lives depend on it,” added Gaylord.

For more information or to speak with Gaylord, contact Christopher Plummer at PlummerC@humanrightsfirst.org