The United States has voiced concern over the reported persecution of gay men in Chechnya and urged officials in the Russian region to investigate, while a senior lawmaker called on President Vladimir Putin to make clear that violence based on sexual orientation is unacceptable.
"We continue to be disturbed by reports of kidnapping, torture, and murder of people in Chechnya based on their sexual orientation," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on April 17.
"If true, this violation of human rights cannot be ignored," she said. "Chechen authorities must immediately investigate these allegations, hold anyone involved accountable, and take steps to prevent future abuses," Haley added.
"We are against all forms of discrimination, including against people based on sexual orientation," she said.
Human rights groups and a Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, say that gay Chechens have been rounded up because of their sexual orientation, beaten, blackmailed, and in some cases killed.
Three gay Chechen men have given accounts of their escape from abuse in the mostly Muslim North Caucasus republic.
Haley, who holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council, said that on April 18 she would lead the council's first-ever meeting on human rights "to underscore our commitment to addressing human rights abuses wherever they threaten international peace and security."
Haley's statement came after former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on April 7 urged the White House to prod the Kremlin to intervene and stop the reported abuse. In dismissing the reports, authorities in Chechnya have not focused on the allegations of abuse, instead claiming that there are no gay men in the region.
Meanwhile, more U.S. lawmakers spoke out against the reports of abuse.
Senator Ben Cardin said he was "gravely concerned" about threats facing gays in the northern Caucasus region.
Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, laid blame on Chechnya's Kremlin-backed strongman leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.
"The calloused, inhuman behavior of...Kadyrov is well-known, and he has created an atmosphere of terror" for gays and bisexuals, Cardin said.
While Haley's statement made no specific mention of Russia or its leadership, Cardin said that "in the Russian Federation, the buck stops with President Vladimir Putin -- who must immediately signal that any violence against individuals on account of their sexual orientation or gender identity is unacceptable."
Republican U.S. Senator Thom Tillis called Kadyrov a "Putin loyalist" and accused Putin of denying that "shameful" human rights violations are occurring in Chechnya.
"Chechnya officials are kidnapping and torturing gay men. I condemn this gross violation of human rights," Tillis said on Twitter.
Kremlin critics say Putin has long given Kadyrov free rein to rule the region with violent, abusive, and unconstitutional methods in exchange for suppressing separatism and insurgency in the wake of two devastating wars since the Soviet collapse of 1991.
The state-run Russian news agency RIA reported on April 17 that regional prosecutors in Chechnya will investigate the reports of persecution of gay people.
With reporting by AP, AFP, Time.com, and Advocate.com