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International news briefs

U.S. cuts funding for UN refugee agency

The United States discontinued funding to a United Nations agency that aids Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria on August 31 2018. The U.S. has been a major contributor to the The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for decades; in 2017, the United States donated $350 million to the agency, and was planning to make the same contribution this year. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency, offers a multitude of health, educational, and social services to Palestinians. The UNRWA helps attain schooling for over 500,000 children in the area, and grant medical aide to 9 million. The Trump administration also recently cut $200 million in aid to other agencies helping Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. To explain this cut of funding, the U.S. government described the UNRWA as “irredeemably flawed,” and said their business strategy is “unsustainable.” In response to the United State’s decision, the UNRWA stated that “the international […] community, our donors and host countries have consistently praised UNRWA for its achievements and standards.” The U.S. used to supply 30% of its total budget, meaning that the elimination of funding from the U.S. could have disastrous results for millions of Palestinian refugees. In response to the actions of the US., Arab and European countries have promised to continue to defend the UNRWA, and Germany has pledged to increase its aid for the program. In May of this year, President Trump moved the U.S. embassy in Israel to the much disputed city of Jerusalem, a decision critics believe is in line with the funding cut, and an overall shift towards a more pro-Israel stance.

Trans Migrant Sex Worker Vanessa Campos Murdered in France

content warning: death, anti-sex work sentiment, transphobia

Vanesa Campos, a trans Peruvian migrant sex worker, was murdered by seven to eight men while trying to protect a client from being robbed at the Bois de Boulogne (West of Paris, France), the night of August 16. A new protest in honour of Vanesa Campos is scheduled for September 22 2018. 5 men are currently being detained for “organised group murder” and “group thefts with hurt.” Associations, like Acceptess Transgenres (AcceptessT) and STRASS (a French sex worker union), have been protesting the government’s silence, especially that of Marlène Schiappa’s, France’s Secretary of Equality between women and men. They particularly criticize France’s laws on sex work, which penalize clients and push sex workers into precarity. Activists also decry the general treatment of trans people, sex workers, and migrants in French society. On the matter, a representative of STRASS wrote: “our [sex workers’] deaths are normalised. […] A trans woman who dies remains a ‘tranny’.”

Journalists arrested in Myanmar

Two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, are being sentenced to prison for 7 years for the possession of official Myanmar documents. They were investigating the massacre of 10 Rohingya men in the Burmese village of Inn Din. The verdict is being considered a roadblock for the country’s free press and transition to democracy. Multiple governments and International Human Rights groups are calling for the reporters’ immediate release.

The reporters pleaded not guilty to violating Myanmar’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act, which is an offence punishable by up to 14 years in prison. They claim that they were framed by the police: the reporters told the court that two police officials handed them the papers at a restaurant in Yangon just prior to their arrest by other officers. Testimony presented by prosecution witnesses was contradictory. Another police witness testified the restaurant meeting was a set-up to block, or punish, the journalists for their reporting on the mass killings of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine by Burmese military officials.

UN investigators have called for senior Burmese military officials to be prosecuted for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi has remained silent on the issue, and has been criticized for failing to stand up for the free press after having championed the rights of journalists during her own house arrest.

India overturns section 377

The Indian Supreme Court decriminalized the “carnal intercourse” clause under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code on September 6 2018, in what experts are calling a “landmark decision”. While Section 377 still exists, it can no longer be used to punish consensual gay sex. This law originated from the British colonization of India in the mid-1800s, and continued to be used for prosecution, despite Britain decriminalizing homosexuality in 1967. In a public statement, Chief Justice Dipak Misra described the law as being “irrational, indefensible and manifestly arbitrary.”

In 2008, a High Court in New Delhi overturned the law and decriminalized homosexuality. However, in 2013 this order from the New Delhi High Court was brought to the Supreme Court and ruled unconstitutional, reinstating Section 377. The Supreme Court decided to revisit the legality of Section 377 through the lens of privacy; in 2017 the Supreme Court ruled that privacy was an essential human right and that “sexual orientation is an essential attribute of privacy.” Following this decision, the recent revision to Section 377 focused on protecting the privacy of consenting adults. Currently, gay marriage and the adoption of children by same-sex couples is still criminalized, but many LGBTQ+ activists have been invigorated by the recent developments and are hopeful for future change. Dhrubo Jyoti, a queer LGBTQ+ activist, told CNN in an interview that the decriminalization of Section 377 “not just affirms one’s faith in the Constitution, but it also means that the gloom and the despair in this atmosphere of abuse for many of us, hopefully, for a new generation of queer people, it won’t be there.”