Magnitsky Sanctions Hold Chechen Human Rights Abusers Accountable

In response to the announcement that the United States has designated Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and head of the Chechen Ministry of Internal Affairs Ayub Kataev for sanctions under the Magnitsky Act, Human Rights First’s Shawn Gaylord issued the following statement:

“Sanctioning Kadyrov and Kataev for human rights violations, including the extrajudicial imprisonment, torture, and murder of gay Chechens, is a critical step in providing accountability and justice for the LGBT victims of the Chechen authorities. Kadyrov and Kataev are directly responsible for a wave of detention, torture and terror throughout Chechnya with LGBT people being only the most recent target. We welcome this step taken by the U.S. government, which sends a message to human rights violators around the world the United States remains committed to protecting the human rights of LGBT people worldwide and abuses will not be met with impunity.”

The Magnitsky Act combats impunity for those who commit crimes against human rights defenders. The bill, which received strong bi-partisan support and passed by a vote of 92 to 4 in the Senate and 362 to 43 in the House was part of a three-year campaign led by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) to promote accountability from the Russian government in the case of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian whistleblower who exposed a case of fraud involving some $230 million and implicating members of the Russian police, judiciary, and tax officials, among others. Magnitsky was arrested in November 2008, held for nearly a year without due process, denied medical care for a serious condition, and eventually died in custody.

In March, independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported on the mass detention of over one hundred men “in connection with their nontraditional sexual orientation, or suspicion of such.” During the crackdown at least seven men have been killed with many more deaths possible, including those who were killed at the hands of their own families after being released from detention. Journalists reporting on the situation have been threatened by Chechen government officials. In addition to the deaths, survivors reported beatings and torture, as well as being forced to disclose the names of other gay men in the region. As the crisis continued, LGBT organizations on the ground evacuated at least 100 individuals first from Chechnya and then from Russia altogether.

Human Rights First notes that sanctions, such as those prescribed in the Magnitsky Act, are one important lever for the United States to press for accountability in cases of serious human rights violations. This tool should however be but one element of a broader strategy to promote respect for human rights by the Russian government.

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