“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,” the experts, a panel of five that advises the United Nations Human Rights Council, said in a statement.
The experts noted that much of the abuse was reported to have taken place at an unofficial detention center near Argun, a town about 10 miles east of Grozny, the Chechen capital.
“The arrested men are subjected to physical and verbal abuse, torture including with electric shocks, beatings, insults and humiliations,” the experts wrote. “They are forced to give contact details of other gay people and threatened with having their sexual orientation disclosed to their family and community — a move which could put them at risk of ‘honor killings.’”
Since last month, reports have circulated within Russia that local militias and security forces have been hunting down, detaining and abusing men they perceived to be gay or bisexual. On April 1, a leading opposition newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, confirmed those reports, citing Russian federal law enforcement officials, who blamed the local authorities.
Dozens of men are said to have been rounded up, but precise numbers — including a death toll — are not available.
Since 2007, Chechnya — a mountainous republic within the Russian Federation and the site of a long-running insurgency that Russia eventually crushed — has been led by a strongman, Ramzan A. Kadyrov, who has been granted significant leeway in exchange for his allegiance to the Kremlin.
In restive Muslim regions in southern Russia, Mr. Putin has empowered local leaders to enforce their interpretation of traditional Muslim values, partly in an effort to co-opt Islamist extremism, which has largely been driven underground.
A spokesman for Mr. Kadyrov issued a chilling denial on April 1, after the initial reports surfaced. “You cannot arrest or repress people who just don’t exist in the republic,” the spokesman, Alvi Karimov, told the Interfax news agency. “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.”
The Kremlin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said on April 3 that he could not confirm the newspaper’s account but added: “This is something for law enforcement to deal with. This is not on the Kremlin’s agenda.”
According to Novaya Gazeta, the persecution intensified after a group based in Moscow, GayRussia.ru, applied for permits to stage gay-pride parades in four cities in the North Caucasus region.
The group did not apply for a permit in Chechnya, but it did in another Muslim area in the region, Kabardino-Balkaria. The mere application there — denied, as usual — prompted an anti-gay counterdemonstration.
“In Chechnya, the command was given for a ‘prophylactic sweep,’ and it went as far as real murders,” Novaya Gazeta reported. As part of the sweep, investigators posed as men looking for dates or sex. Gay men have begun deleting online accounts or even fleeing the region, the newspaper reported.
The United Nations experts urged the authorities to end the persecution, saying that Chechens were “living in a climate of fear fueled by homophobic speeches by local authorities.” They also demanded that the authorities immediately release all detainees, thoroughly investigate the anti-gay campaign and hold the persecutors accountable.
The experts condemned statements by Chechen officials suggesting that gay people should be hunted down and killed. “The Russian Federation must officially state that it does not tolerate any form of incitement to violence, social stigmatization of homosexuality or hate speech, and does not condone discrimination or violence against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” their statement said.
There was little suggestion that Moscow would give the experts’ warnings much heed. Russia has been widely criticized for cracking down on the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. In 2013, a law criminalized giving minors materials promoting “nontraditional” sexual relationships — a statute that has been used to justify the arrests of gay rights activists.
The experts are Vitit Muntarbhorn of Thailand, who focuses on sexual orientation and gender identity; Sètondji Roland Adjovi of Benin, an expert on arbitrary detention; Agnès Callamard of France, an authority on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Nils Melzer of Switzerland, who focuses on torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment or punishment; and David Kaye of the United States, a specialist in freedom of opinion and expression.