The World Today for May 23, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

No Illusions

Earlier this month, global leaders and the international community at large commemorated the twelfth-annual International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia by expressing solidarity with disenfranchised lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, communities around the world.

As the day showed, the modern LGBT-rights movement has taken monumental strides in the decades since its beginnings in the late 1960’s.

Some 124 countries and internationally recognized provinces around the globe currently allow homosexual acts between consenting adults, while dozens of others recognize full marriage equality. Others still have full constitutional protections for LGBT citizens in place, the Los Angeles Times reported.

But that progress comes in tandem with a global backlash against the LGBT-rights movement, both in countries thought to be bastions of liberalism, and in those known for their strict religiosity, according to Foreign Policy.

Across Africa and the Middle East and in former Soviet states, governments engage in “preemptive strikes” against gay communities to stop equal rights movements from gaining ground.

On Monday, for example, authorities in Bangladesh and Indonesia conducted mass arrests at homosexual gatherings.

But some other countries have drawn more dramatic headlines recently.

In Uganda, homosexuality has been illegal since 1952. In 2014, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed legislation lengthening prison sentences for convicted homosexuals.

Three years later, LGBT groups aren’t even allowed to congregate, Deutsche Welle reported.

In the southern Russian republic of Chechnya, a predominately Muslim region in the Caucasus, the government has been engaging in a “prophylactic” cleansing of homosexuals, imprisoning and torturing gay men before handing them over to their families for honor killings, the New York Times reported.

While discrimination of that caliber isn’t the norm in western democracies, LGBT citizens in these countries are still fighting for their civil rights, too.

In Spain, a country with marriage equality on the books since 2005, instances of hate speech coupled with a lack of full protections and rights for LGBT citizens have dropped its standing in the latest Rainbow Report, a ranking of countries based on legislative measures protecting LGBT communities.

Even in Germany, where almost 1 million asylum seekers have taken refuge since 2015,

LGBT couples cannot marry or adopt children. Moreover, Germany only recently offered LGBT victims of the Holocaust compensation for their suffering.

All over the world, LGBT people are still fighting for equality. Despite positive developments, it’s no illusion that there’s still work yet to do.

WANT TO KNOW

Tell the Truth

The US began “extreme vetting” at Australian detention centers to facilitate a refugee trade deal that President Donald Trump once described as “dumb.”

Last month, Washington agreed to accept 1,250 asylum seekers from the Australian centers if they satisfied strict checks, Reuters reported. Australia has pledged to take Central American refugees from a center in Costa Rica in return.

Two refugees from Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island detention center told Reuters that the interviews began with an oath to God to tell the truth and went on for six hours. The discussions included questions about the refugees’ associates, families, friends and any interactions with the Islamic State militant group.

A decision on the fate of the first 70 people interviewed is expected to be reached within the next month, another source who works with refugees told the agency.

Soon after Trump’s inauguration, he briefly soured US-Australia relations with his apparent efforts to back out of the refugee deal – which was made between former President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Everything in Moderation

Newly re-elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had a characteristically moderate reaction to US President Donald Trump’s declaration Monday that Israel and its Arab neighbors have a “common cause” in staving off the “threat posed by Iran.”

Rouhani dismissed Trump’s claims that Iran supports terrorism and said it was actually Iran and its allies that were fighting terrorists, the BBC reported.

“Who can say regional stability can be restored without Iran? Who can say the region will experience total stability without Iran?” Rouhani said. “We are waiting for the new US administration to find stability and continuity in its policies.”

Though Tehran and Washington are on opposing sides of the wars in Syria and Yemen, Iran is indeed part of the fight against Islamic State.

In Syria, it’s part of the Russian coalition fighting on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad against Islamic State and US-backed forces that would like to see Assad ousted.

And in Yemen, it’s backing the Shi’ite Houthi rebels seeking to unseat internationally recognized President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi in their fight against a coalition of Sunni states led by Saudi Arabia.

Made in North Korea

North Korea – almost wholly reliant on China – isn’t known for manufacturing much of anything. But it’s ready to start mass-producing one product nobody is too keen to see: the new medium-range missile it tested over the weekend.

Claiming that the solid-fuel missile is capable of reaching Japan (including the major US military bases there), Pyongyang said Monday it’s ready to begin large-scale production ahead of an urgent, closed-door UN Security Council meeting on North Korea slated for late Tuesday, CBS News reported.

Diplomats are frustrated that 11 years of UN sanctions have had little impact on North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and failed to prevent Pyongyang from advancing its nuclear program, CBS said.

Tougher new sanctions and better implementation of the existing ones are now on the table, the news outlet cited France’s UN Ambassador as saying.

North Korea conducted two nuclear tests last year – one of which it claimed was a hydrogen bomb. Its sixth such test is expected any time.

DISCOVERIES

The Nuclear Option

With its round-the-clock nightlife, politically charged protests and eccentric residents, Berlin is famous for its permissive, anything-goes attitude.

But even the libertine German capital has its limits, at least when it comes to funding foreign dictatorships’ nuclear ambitions.

German authorities recently stepped in and shut down City Hostel Berlin when they learned the budget hostel in central Berlin had an interesting owner – the government of North Korea.

Located adjacent to the North Korean embassy in a large, gated 1970s building, City Hostel Berlin offered bunk beds in shared rooms to tourists for as little as $20 a night, wrote the Washington Post.

But unbeknownst to many a backpacker – whose complaints about the hostel are typically limited to its “spotty Wi-Fi” on sites like TripAdvisor – City Hostel was paying an estimated $41,000 per month to Pyongyang in rent in violation of UN sanctions.

With that revenue possibly financing North Korea’s nuclear program, keeping City Hostel open for business was one taboo Berlin wasn’t prepared to break.

Still, visitors can at least rest easy knowing the next time they book a hostel room in Berlin, they won’t be choosing the nuclear option.

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