Chechnya, an autonomous republic in Russia, and a black hole in the Council of Europe’s human rights protection system: civil society has been the target of severe human rights violations for years. Having resumed office as head of the Chechen Republic in 2007, Ramzan Kadyrov and his close allies have repeatedly deployed military and police forces to terrorize the civilian population in order to “ensure political stability.” Local state authorities have subjected hundreds of Chechens to unlawful arrests, sexual violence, torture, enforced disappearances and killings.
Most recently, Chechen authorities started deliberately targeting LGBTQ persons. In a violent crackdown between 2017 and 2019, the Chechen military and police forces arbitrarily arrested, detained and severely tortured more than 100 people, mainly gay and bisexual men, targeted for their non-conformity with prevailing norms of Chechen hetero-patriarchal masculinity. In addition to these grave crimes, local organizations also documented cases of family members committing “honor killings” of LGBTQ people, pressured to do so by Chechen authorities.
Given the absolute impunity for these and other crimes committed by Chechen authorities at the national level, alternative legal avenues for redress must be pursued. To address this accountability gap, ECCHR works closely with partner organizations from the region.
ECCHR repeatedly intervened with national authorities to highlight international crimes committed in Chechnya, which states have a legal obligation to pursue. In 2012, ECCHR and Human Rights Watch submitted a joint report to the UN special rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, providing information regarding sexual violence perpetrators’ de facto impunity.
In June 2008, Austrian lawyers filed a complaint on ECCHR’s behalf against Kadyrov on charges of torture and attempted duress before the Salzburg Public Prosecutor. Seven months later, in January 2009, the key witness, Umar Israilov, was shot dead in the streets of Vienna. The Austrian authorities’ final report of the murder accuses Kadyrov of inciting it. ECCHR supported Israilov’s family during the murder trial, and highlighted the severe human rights situation in Chechnya through expert witnesses. While three of the accused were sentenced, Kadyrov himself was not prosecuted.
Chechnya has suffered from two armed conflicts with Russia, in which several thousand people were killed, and numerous cities and villages destroyed. During the post-conflict reconstruction process under Kadyrov, his security forces and special units promoted a climate of fear among the local population. Numerous killings and abductions have been reported since then, including acts committed by Kadyrov himself. The European Court of Human Rights has repeatedly sentenced Russia for human rights violations committed in Chechnya.