NEW DELHI: Since the beginning of April, disturbing reports from Chechnya have been coming in about gay and bisexual men being held in concentration camps. It is the first time since the 1930’s that the world is witnessing the opening of concentration camps.

The Republic of Chechnya, a part of the Russian Federation, is largely an Islamic and ultra conservative society, where homophobia being rampant. Not only do members of the LGBT community in Chechnya face persecution by the authorities, but also fear honour killing by family and relatives. Previously, there have been reports of extra judicial killings by the family being encouraged by state authorities.

Novaya Gazeta, a Russian daily first broke the news of these camps on 1st April, 2017. However, Chechnya President Ramzan Kadyrov dismissed the reports as an April fool’s joke; claiming that members of the gay and bisexual community don’t exist in the Republic and that thus such reports were baseless. Kadyrov’s press secretary dismissing any such reports, also cynically added that ‘if there were such people in Chechnya, law-enforcement agencies wouldn’t need to do anything with them because their relatives would send them somewhere from which there is no returning.’

As per reports from various sources and the Russian LGBT Network at least 100 men are being held captive and three have died in detention. Individuals held at these camps are being tortured, given electric shocks, being forced to reveal names of other members from the community and in some cases even beaten to death. Among those being held at these concentration camps are also said to be local television personalities and religious figures.

Reports claim that the crackdown on the LGBT community began after an application was submitted for permission to hold a ‘gay rights march’ and that much of the abuse is reported to have taken place at unofficial detention centres. The LBGT Network in Russia has set up a hotline and is prepared to evacuate those facing imminent danger; however, at present the LGBT network and other reports have refrained from naming their sources or giving out detailed information, fearing that the victims would be further endangered.

Human Rights Watch and other human rights organisations for long have been recording human rights violations in Chechnya. Over the years, Chechen citizens have refused to speak to journalists and human rights monitors, even anonymously, fearing repercussions from local authorities and officials.

Given the extent of control exercised by the state and the shrinking spaces for dissent or free expression. Chechen’s over the years have refrained from seeking justice or reporting horrific abuses or torture by state authorities and withdrawn complaints, fearing death threats and the safety of themselves and their family members.

Even though there has been global outrage against the events unfolding in the Chechnya, the Chechen authorities have not come forward to condemn these attacks or ensure safety and justice for victims.

A panel of five UN experts, which advises the United Nations Human Rights Council, issued a statement on 12th April, demanding that the violence against and killing of gay and bisexual men be halted.

A statement issued the UNHRC panel of experts reads that ‘these are acts of persecution and violence on an unprecedented scale in the region and constitute serious violations of the obligations of the Russian Federation under international human rights law.’ LGBT rights groups in UK too held a protest outside the Russian Embassy, demanding an end to the worst violence that the LGBT community has faced in several years.

At this point, given the lack of information available – for several reasons – it is not known whether these concentration camps have been shut down or continue to operate; nor is there any information on how many individuals are being held there and how many may have died in custody.

It is important to note here, that while the United Nations and many countries have come out to condemn the horrific events unfolding in Chechnya, there has been little international action to check or stop these gross human rights violations and abuses taking place.

What is required at present is perhaps a global call for action and immediate intervention to ensure safety and justice for individuals being held in these camps, rather than just statements and press conference ‘condemning’ the horrors unfolding in the Republic of Chechnya.