LGBT activists in France say they have filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) against the leader of Chechnya alleging genocide following reports of the torture and killing of gay men in the southern Russian region.
Three gay-rights groups said on May 16 that they filed the complaint with The Hague-based court a day earlier against Ramzan Kadyrov, calling him the "logistician" of "genocide" and "the organizer of torture camps with a desire to exterminate homosexuals."
The complaint comes amid mounting international pressure over the alleged abuses against gay men in Chechnya, first reported last month by the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta.
Kadyrov denies any such campaign has taken place in the mainly Muslim region -- and has said that homosexuality does not exist in Chechen society.
Since the Novaya Gazeta report early last month, gay men from Chechnya have given personal accounts to RFE/RL and other media of their escape from the abuse they faced in the region in the North Caucasus.
Putin has said he would speak to top law enforcement officials about the allegations, which Western governments have called on Russia to investigate. He has also suggested that the reports are merely "rumors."
Rights watchdogs say Russian authorities are unlikely to thoroughly investigate the allegations against Kadyrov, who has ruled Chechnya with an iron hand and strong Kremlin support for a decade.
Putin last year formally withdrew Russia's signature from the founding statute of the ICC, which was established to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
The French LGBT rights groups argue that the court still has a mandate to investigate the matter until November 2017, when Moscow's withdrawal formally takes effect.
Etienne Deshoulieres, a lawyer representing the groups in the matter, said in a statement that it is the first time that the ICC "will have to deal with a genocide committed against homosexuals."
"The court has jurisdiction to hear the case. It is its duty to initiate an investigation," he said.
Russia, like the United States, has never ratified an agreement to join the ICC. Moscow has called the court "one-sided and inefficient."
The announcement of the ICC complaint came on the same day as a debate in the European Parliament in Brussels on LGBT rights in Chechnya.
Christos Stylianides, the European commissioner for humanitarian aid, said during the debate that "we have seen Chechen authorities implicitly justifying the violence and the Russian federal authorities downplaying it, dismissing the reports as exaggerations and fake news."
"We will continue to call on the Russian authorities for an effective and thorough investigation into the reports of abduction and killings of gay men in Chechnya," Stylianides said.
"This is indispensable so that anyone found guilty of or complicit in such crimes are brought to justice. This is our strong conviction."
With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels, Le Monde, and RTS.ch