On Wednesday 2 November, the United States Senate passed a resolution that condemned human rights violations against LGBT men in Chechnya. The resolution stated that “the Senate condemns the violence and persecution in Chechnya and calls on Chechen officials to immediately cease the abduction, detention, and torture of individuals on the basis of their actual or suspected sexual orientation, and hold accountable all those involved in perpetrating such abuses.”
The resolution stands in contrast to the United States’ previous attitude towards human rights abuses in the semi-autonomous North Caucasian republic. When a merciless war was being waged in Chechnya, a largely idle international community was witness to countless human rights violations and atrocities at the hands of the Russian military.
Despite this, Russian troops were unsuccessful in regaining full control over the republic and sustained heavy losses, including 5,500 dead. This made Russia appear weak and at risk of further secessionist movements. In response, the newly elected Vladimir Putin invaded Chechnya again in 1999, beginning the Second Chechen War, which the Russian state was determined to avoid losing at all costs.
Silence of the Bush regime
Throughout both conflicts, which spanned nearly fifteen years, the United States and its representatives remained silent. Traditionally considered a prominent voice in support of human rights and civil liberties, the desire to bring Russian in from the cold after the fall of the USSR, added to the growing threat of international terrorism, caused the US to support the Moscow and turn a blind eye to the way the campaign was conducted.
Following the September 11 attacks, President George W. Bush gave a speech in which he referred to “terrorists” as “resourceful (…) and smart”, but assured that the American people and their defenses were equally so. In subsequent discussions on the global terrorism threat, the net was widened to include all groups associated with Islam, and that singular characteristic proved sufficient to leave Chechens with little hope of US support.
As war raged in Chechnya in 2003, the United Nations labelled its capital, Grozny, the most destroyed city on Earth after a largely indiscriminate assault by the Russians forced Chechen militants from their bases within its limits. But even as Bush won reelection in 2004, the United States still refrained from commenting on the Chechen conflict, as the interests of both nations lay in the destruction of international terrorist organizations, which the Chechen soldiers had become associated with since the fighting began.
Abuses under Kadyrov
After 2009, when most of the Chechen guerilla operations ceased, the appointed President of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov, worked to convince the Kremlin and the international community that Chechnya had moved on.
Whilst ostensibly a servant of the Russian Federation, Kadyrov appeared to be able to restore peace to his people; Chechen infrastructure began to be rebuilt. Since the Second Chechen War, the Kadyrovtsy, Kadyrov’s personal security force, have raised eyebrows in the international community due to their inhumane treatment of their own people.
In June, MMA fighter Murad Amriyev was arrested and brought to Grozny where he was allegedly tortured before being returned to his family. Simultaneously, the imprisonment of gay men in Chechnya was occurring at an alarming rate, attracting increasing attention from human rights organizations and, ultimately, the United States Senate.
Part of a wider trend
What to some may seem a sudden shift in the attention paid to Chechen human rights violations has been an ongoing process in the background of a larger international dynamic.
Movements to disassociate Islam and terrorism as mutually inclusive have caused condemnations of organizations such as Boko Haram and ISIL to be reserved for the people engaging in the acts, rather than the more than 1.8 billion who peacefully practice Islam. As such, though terrorism remains a collectively relevant issue, Chechens have been allowed to exist separate of any terrorist admonishments attributed to their ethnic group by the Russian state.
A more important point is the altered Russian role in international conflict and the desire of the United States government to condemn its actions. In both Ukraine and Syria, Russia has exacerbated tensions, increasing international scrutiny.
In Chechnya, where a large portion of total funding comes from Moscow and its President is seen as an extension of the Kremlin, condemning human rights violations provides the dual benefit of appearing proactive to the international community as well as providing further evidence that the Russian state is contributing to worldwide unrest and unethical behavior. Therefore, a United States Senate once silent on human rights violations has found its voice, using it loudly to condemn heinous actions in the North Caucasus.