Fifteen governments in Europe and North America have taken a rare but important step to press Russia to end serious human rights violations and abuses in Chechnya.
On August 30, the governments – Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the UK, and the US – requested Russia to outline its actions to stop abuses against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people; local dissenters; journalists; and human rights defenders in Chechnya. Russia has 10 days to respond.
The governments acted as members of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Vienna-based body covering the former Soviet Union, Europe, and North America. They invoked the Vienna Mechanism, which allows participating states to raise human rights concerns in another OSCE state.
Over the last 20 months, there have been “credible reports…(of) alleged worrying actions taken by Chechen authorities against persons based on their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity as well as human rights defenders, lawyers, independent media, civil society organisations and others,” the countries said in a joint statement. They highlighted recent attacks on Memorial, the leading Russian rights group, and the arrest of Oyub Titiev, Chechnya director of Memorial by local authorities. Russia has been unwilling or unable to uphold its OSCE commitments and to address these concerns raised repeatedly at the highest OSCE Permanent Council level, the governments said.
Invoking the Vienna Mechanism is a significant step since collective action by groups of states within the OSCE has been rare, despite severe human rights abuses in many OSCE countries. Most OSCE procedures on human rights monitoring are based on consensus decisions among the 57 participating states, making swift action difficult. The Vienna Mechanism and the related Moscow Mechanism do not require consensus.
The Moscow Mechanism builds on the Vienna procedure by enabling the creation of an expert mission to investigate abuses and report to OSCE states. The Moscow procedure has only been invoked twice since the millennium. On both occasions, regarding Turkmenistan in 2003 and Belarus in 2011, the investigations produced important findings.
It is important for Russia to respond in a timely and credible way to the human rights questions posed by the 15 governments. If it does not, these countries and others should consider invoking the Moscow Mechanism, as independent investigation of abuses in Chechnya is long overdue.