Last week, it was hard to escape Sean Spicer’s big screw up. You know, the press conference where he discounted the entire Holocaust with the flick of a wrist. In a sad attempt to demonstrate the cruelty of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, he incorrectly stated Hitler never used chemical weapons during World War II. It seems the whole country collectively gasped…and then pulled together in time to drag him on every comedy show over the weekend. But there is something very World War II-like happening in Europe that’s barely been mentioned on U.S. news.—Chechnya’s gay concentration camps.
That’s right. In 2017, there is a country where gay men are being rounded up and disposed of in concentration camps. On April 14, OUT published firsthand accounts of men who’d escaped the country before they could be imprisoned or killed.
The survivors detailed being detained, electrocuted, beaten and questioned. They were being pressured to reveal the identities and locations of other gay men, so that they too could be captured. OUT reports that at least 100 men have been held in an “informal detention center”. 3 of those men have died from injuries sustained while in the custody of Chechnyan authorities.
Some of the men, who spoke anonymously to The Guardian, feared their own families would kill them once they were able to return home. Their only hope was to flee in search of a country where they could live without fear of death or persecution.
This is disturbing for the obvious reasons. A concentration camp?! In 2017?! Have we learned nothing from the Holocaust, the Civil Rights movement, the gay rights movement? Clearly, this is happening in a country where far less social progress has taken place. But to detain people because of their sexuality and torture them? That’s inhumane. Unfathomable. Despicable.
Chechnya’s president Ramzan Kadyrov denies these concentration camps are real. His spokesman Alvi Karimov’s statement is even scarier than his boss’ denial.
“You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic. If such people existed in Chechnya, law enforcement would not have to worry about them, as their own relatives would have sent them to where they could never return,” Karimov said. It’s clear where this government stands on gay rights.
What’s even scarier is that Chechnya is a Russian republic. Russian president Vladimir Putin has given leaders like Kadyrov free reign to do what’s necessary to enforce traditional values. And until the Syrian bombings, our President was singing Putin’s praises. Putin, who banned “gay propaganda” in Russia, has a strict, traditional stance on gay rights. If this is the kind of behavior he encourages, it should be even clearer to President Trump that this foreign relationship would be nothing but toxic.
Last week, 50 members of Congress signed a letter urging Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to speak publicly about the issue. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said the concentration camps can’t be ignored. But no one is speaking about it. We know more about Bill O’Reilly’s sexual harassment settlements and Trump’s Mar-a-Lago security costs than we do about these camps, and that’s a problem.
Our mainstream news services pick and choose when to dig into international issues. They had no problem breaking the news about the Syrian bombing or playing up the tension between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. But the concentration camps, actual detention centers where gay men are being singled out simply because of who they are, have been absent from the big network airwaves.
Bravo to CNN for airing an interview with some of the anonymous victims. But we need more than CNN if we want to send a message that these types of human rights violations are intolerable. What does it take to get people to care? When will they view our international issues as news? They can’t wait until there’s a thousand men in custody. They must start caring now.