Tormentors in Cechnya should be punished

The news from Chechnya, where gay and bi-sexual men are being tortured in concentration camps, have made many world leaders react strongly. Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel has protested to Russian president Vladimir Putin and more leaders of the free world have also mouthed their protest. But where does the Icelandic government stand in this matter? We contacted the minister of Foreign Affairs, Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, and asked what the government is going to do regarding these persecutions.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson.

“It is really saddening for me, as most other people, to see such persecutions and severe violations of human rights,” says Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarson, Minister of Forreign Affairs.

“The Icelandic government is deeply concerned about these news from Chechnya. We have always fought for the rights of the queer community abroad and thought that, despite different obstacles, we have made great progress in the last years towards increased rights for the LGBT+ community. So these news are a hard blow and show us that there is still lots to be done.”

According to the news there are now concentration camps for gay men in Chechnya and that they are being tortured. It reminds one of stories of the nazi concentration camps in WWII. What does the minister think about that?

“To be honest the news from Chechnya are so horrible that one has a hard time beilieving that such things can be happening in our times,” says Guðlaugur. “And, yes, it reminds one of the concentration camps in WWII and the Russian gulag. The international community can not tolerate such violations of human rights. To make matters even worse those who rule in Chechnya are not willing to admit to doing anything wrong and seem not to care about the reactions these news have gotten.”

“In my mind it is important that the men being held captive will be released as soon as possible and the people responsible for these actions will be held accountable.”

The Icelandic Ministry of Foreign Affairs has condemned violations of human rights openly in the international community before, what does it plan to do in this case?

“Of course we condemn these violations of human rights and voice our concerns along with others that have demanded that these matters will be examined and investigated and have asked the Russian government to take responsibility for these actions and put an end to these horrors in Chechnya.”

Chechnya: Where the ‘gay concentration camp’ is said to be detaining men

Among those who have demanded that Vladimir Putin starts an investigation is Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, will you follow her lead and request that the Russian government investigates the matter?

“We have already voiced grave concern about this at the European counsel and urged the Russian government to examine it thoroughly. In my mind it is important that the men being held captive will be released as soon as possible and the people responsible for these actions will be held accountable.”

Does the minister plan to meet the Russian Ambassador in Iceland or other prominent Russian figures to discuss these matters?

“I was recently in Russia and discussed human rights, including the rights of LGBT+ people, with the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov. I will continue to voice those matters when opportunity presents itself. Iceland will also continue to fight for the rights of the LGBT+ people internationally. As sad as it sounds it’s a fact that in more than seventy-five countries  homosexuality is still considered a crime. That has to change and we will fight for that happening along with other nations that agree with us on that. People should not be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. Human rights are universal and should be granted to everyone.”

Demonstration outside the Russian embassy

The Icelandic government is not alone in worrying about the horrible crimes being committed against gay and bi-sexual men in Chechnya. The National Queer Organisation, Samtökin ´78, are staging a protest outside the Russian embassy in Iceland from Wednesday to Friday this week. The chair of the organisation, María Helga Guðmundsdóttir, told GayIceland about the meaning of the protest.

“From Wednesday to Friday, Samtökin ’78 are holding a chain vigil by the Russian Embassy at Garðastræti to draw attention to the seriousness of the situation. People will hold vigil by the entrance to the Embassy by turns each day from 12 pm–5 pm. On Friday at 4 pm, we will assemble at Suðurgata 3, put on pink triangles and march to the embassy to remind the Russian government of its human rights obligations.”

María Helga Guðmundsdóttir, chair of Samtökin ´78.

Aren’t these crimes against gay men a horrible backlash? Has anything like this happened since WWII?

“Not to my knowledge,” says María. “The violence described by survivors of the Chechen abuses is horrific. The way the Chechen government denies solidly verified reports, while dismissing gay Chechens as simultaneously nonexistent and worthless, is appalling. Information has been slow to come out of the region, but what we do know keeps getting worse.

The latest reports indicate at least two detention sites, perhaps as many as four, and the British Foreign Office has solid evidence that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov’s declared intention is to exterminate gay Chechens by the start of Ramadan on May 26th. This sudden prioritization is extremely concerning, not least because it may serve as a precedent to other homophobic regimes in the region and worldwide.”

Some say that there is a backlash against the rights of queer people internationally, what’s your opinion of that?

“It’s hard to talk about a particular backlash in the context of a region like Chechnya, where LGBTQIA people have not been able to live openly without fear in recent history. I can’t speak to Chechnya’s more distant past, but accounts of life for queer people there in recent years depict a climate of fear and constant danger. The same is true in far too many parts of the world.

The latest reports indicate at least two detention sites, perhaps as many as four, and the British Foreign Office has solid evidence that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrovs declared intention is to exterminate gay Chechens by the start of Ramadan on May 26th.

On the other hand, a rise in nationalism in Europe, North America and elsewhere rings alarm bells for many queer people. Narrow and exclusionary definitions of nationality can quickly become a weapon against marginalized groups. We see this in the rhetoric of the Chechen leadership, who state that there are no queer people in Chechnya, and if they were they would simply be eliminated by their families.”

Have Samtökin ’78 been in contact with the LGBT+ community in Chechnya? Or activists or journalists there?

“We are not in direct contact with Chechen activists or journalists but participate in dialogue with them through international groups like ILGA-Europe and Amnesty, where we have strong contacts. The importance of these international organizations in coordinating human rights work cannot be overstated.”

What do you think about the reaction of the Icelandic government to the news of the horrors in Chechnya so far?

“They have been engaged in dialogue about the situation in the Council of Europe and OSCE. The Minister of Foreign Affairs expressed his grave concern about the situation on Twitter early in April, but the ministry has not yet released any official statement on the matter. We urge them to follow the example of neighboring nations, including the UK, the US, Germany and Denmark, and do so without delay.”

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See links to social media in the upper left-hand corner


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Á. Óskarsson hefur komið að fjölda stórra verkefna við byggingu íþróttamannvirkja og hefur frá stofnun kappkostað að bjóða vandaðar og endingargóðar vörur.

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