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Amnesty International Condemns LGBTI Discrimination in South Korea Military

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  • A report by Amnesty International outlines the discrimination and abuse that gay men serving in South Korea’s military experience. 
  • Article 92-6 in South Korea’s Military Criminal Act criminalizes sex between two men in the military. 
  • Amnesty International says that this law opens the door for gay soldiers to be mistreated, which has included verbal taunting and sexual assault. 
  • Soldiers who spoke to Amnesty International said their experiences have been humiliating, have taken a toll on their mental health, and have even led to some attempting suicide. 

Amnesty International Releases Report

Amnesty International is calling on South Korea to appeal its law that bans same-sex relationships between men in the military after their report shows that soldiers experience abuse, assault, and humiliation as a result of it. 

In a report published Thursday titled “Serving in Silence: LGBTI People in South Korea’s Military,” Amnesty International speaks to several soldiers from South Korea’s military who detail personal experiences with discrimination. 

According to Article 92-6 of the South Korea Military Criminal Act, sexual relations between two men in the military, either on or off duty, fall under the “indecent acts” clause. This can be punishable by up to two years in prison.  

While it is still illegal for same-sex couples to marry and adopt in South Korea, homosexuality is not criminalized for all citizens. This article only applies to those serving in the military. 

Amnesty International says that by having this law, South Korea is opening the door to discrimination.

“Criminalization creates an environment where discrimination is tolerated, and even encouraged,” the report says.

“Homophobic and transphobic individuals can view this law as tacit permission to target LGBTI people inside and outside the military,” it continues. 

The report also said that the first step to ending this discrimination is removing the article.

Decriminalization does not solve the entire issue, but it is a crucial first step towards respecting, protecting and fulfilling the human rights of LGBTI people,” the report states. 

Charges Made Under Article 92-6

People have been charged under this article in the past. In 2017, authorities actively looked to identify soldiers who they believed were engaging in sexual acts with other men. They ended up charging over 20 soldiers as a result. 

One man who was charged in this, who the report identifies as “Yeo-jun Kim” told Amnesty International that investigators asked him personal questions throughout the process. 

“The investigators barraged me with outrageous questions, questions about what sex positions I used and where did I ejaculate,” he said. 

He also said that they looked through his phone and asked him to identify other LGBTI people. 

“The authorities came to me like peeping Toms,” he added. “They should have maintained confidentiality. I have lost faith and trust in people.”

Soldiers Face Abuse

In addition charges, gay soldiers are often subject to physical and verbal abuse.

The report outlines the story of one soldier they identify as “U” who served around a decade ago. 

“One night, I saw a soldier being sexually abused,” U told Amnesty International. “When he got angry, the person abusing him who was his senior started to beat him fiercely and forced him to drink from the toilet bowl. A few days later, the abused soldier made up his mind to report the incident and approached me for my help.”

When the superior learned about the possible report, he threatened to beat U. 

“I was then subjected to physical violence and humiliation for three hours,” U continued. “Which included being forced to have oral and anal sex with the original victim while the senior soldier made taunting remarks, such as: ‘Don’t you want to have sex with a woman-like man?’”

U added that this assault and humiliation drove him, and three others who experienced similar situations, to attempt suicide, which resulted in them being taken to a psychiatric hospital. Three of them were dishonorably discharged, while U was taken back to his squad and labeled as a “soldier of interest.”

Toll on Mental Health

Many soldiers say that the harassment and assault they are subject to takes a mental toll on them, resulting in many going to military health facilities. The report says that the facilities often have poor conditions, cramped spaces, and soldiers often question the qualifications of those working there. 

One soldier, identified as “Jeram” was regularly groped and assaulted. He was labeled as a soldier of interest when his unit learned he was gay. He told Amnesty International that he ended up in one of these facilities.  

The hospital deemed him “rebellious” after he did not comply with some of their requests, resulting in him losing the right to make phone calls or walk out in fresh air once a week. 

“The hospital tried to diagnose me as ‘unfit for service’ with staff members even instructing me how to act mentally incompetent so that I could get discharged,” Jeram said. “I refused to be labelled in this way. I felt I had lived my life well prior to the military and knew that I was not the source of the problem. This whole experience led me to attempt suicide because I lost the will to live.”

He then said that one panelist, who he did not think was a licensed medical professional, told him during one of his reviews, “You are so disobedient. Even if I shoot you here, it will simply get covered up as a suspicious death and that will be it. Then, the compensation your family would receive will be even lower than for a military dog.”

Amnesty International’s report is the latest in international organizations fighting for rights for gay soldiers in South Korea. In March, Human Rights Watch submitted an amicus brief urging the country to repeal Article 92-6.

“Article 92-6 violates the rights of LGBT persons in two distinct ways,” the brief said. “First, it violates the substance of fundamental rights. Second, it discriminates against service members based on their sexual orientation. The criminalization per se of consensual adult same-sex conduct is a violation of the right to privacy under international law.”

See what others are saying: (Reuters) (CNN) (New York Times)

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Venice Mayor Blames Worst Flood in 50 Years on Climate Change

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  • The Italian government declared a state of emergency in Venice after the city experienced its second-worst flooding in almost 150 years of flood records.
  • Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro blames the floods that have grown increasingly common over the last few decades on climate change.
  • While the flood peaked at over six feet, it has receded some; however, parts of the city are still four feet underwater.
  • The flood has reportedly caused structural damage to major landmarks like St. Mark’s Basilica.

Second Worst Flood on Record

The Italian government declared a state of emergency on Thursday as 85% of Venice sits underwater.

On Tuesday night, a combination of high tide, strong winds, and a full moon led to seawater overwhelming seawalls and flooding the city. The flood, which is the second-worst on record in almost 150 years, peaked at more than six feet; however, it came only a couple of inches shy of beating the record-breaking 1966 floods.

Wind and water reportedly slammed boats onto streets in the city, which is only about three feet above sea level. In some cases, boats hit streets so violently that they dislodged bricks and stones. By Wednesday morning, many of those boats sat on the streets. 

As water gushed into the city, it flooded homes, stores, and hotels. In some instances, water spewed out of toilets as pipes backed up. 

There have also been reports of power outages across the city. Reportedly, one 78-year-old man died after being electrocuted by a short circuit in his home.

Schools were canceled on Wednesday and again on Thursday. 

“The disaster that hit Venice is a blow to the heart of our country,” Italy’s Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte said in a Facebook post. “It hurts to see the city so damaged, its artistic heritage compromised, its business activities on its knees.”

All of that presents another massive problem as floodwater damages major landmarks in the city. People described St. Mark’s Square as a lake, with the floodwater also reaching St. Mark’s Basilica, which along with Venice is part of a World Heritage Site. 

The archbishop of Venice, Francesco Morgalia, said St. Mark’s is now suffering structural damage and that the water is causing “irreparable harm.” The flood has also further damaged marble that was already showing signs of water and salt damage.

Although the basilica has only flooded six times since it was built in 1063, the last four of those times have all been within the past 20 years, with the most recent being in November 2018.

Venice is an emblem for the whole country,” Venice’s mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, said in a press conference on Wednesday. “We are no longer talking about a local problem, but a worldwide one.”

“There were people who were crying today because they’ve lost everything, and we’re not talking about the poor,” he added. “The point is that there is no longer certainty. You no longer know how to live, and if we want to repopulate, we want to give certainty. It’s the life of the city itself, the future of the city.”

The Floods’ Connection to Climate Change

On Twitter, Brugnaro also said that the floods are a result of climate change, and climate scientists have agreed.

Similar to the current fires in Australia, scientists say the world is seeing more extreme weather events.

As polar ice caps continue to melt, ocean and sea levels have begun to rise. In Venice alone, city officials said the sea level is four inches higher than it was 50 years ago. In addition to that, Venice sunk five inches between 1950 and 1970 and continues to sink at a rate of half an inch per year.

Climate scientists predict the city will be underwater by the end of the century.

Venice’s expected flooding season, known as “acqua alta,” also carries strong winter winds that can be made even stronger by the effects of climate change. 

All of those factors can then produce higher and more devastating tides. 

Since the record-breaking 1966 flood, Venice has seen almost 20 floods peaking at over four-and-a-half feet.

“The [increased flooding] is a trend that jibes with the extremization of climate,” the former head of Venice’s Tide Monitoring and Forecast Centre said. “If we look at the course of history, we have documents dating back to 1872, and we can see that these phenomena didn’t used to exist.”

Venice’s Floodgate Project

While Venice does have seawalls to help reduce flooding, there’s actually been a lot of controversy around the city’s new floodgates. 

Since 2003, the city has been trying to complete a more than $6 billion dollar effort to build 78 underwater floodgates. That project, MOSE, would temporarily isolate the lagoon from the sea during flood season, but it has also been plagued by cost burdens and corruption scandals.

Because of that, it has been delayed multiple times and even missed its 2018 deadline. Currently, MOSE is projected to be completed by 2022. 

Following the flood, Brugnaro said MOSE must be completed soon. On Thursday, Regarding the MOSE project, Conte also said that the “commitment to Venice is total”.

He said he hopes the floodgates are at least partially functional by the 2022 deadline. 

“The situation in this unique city is dramatic,” he added. “Lots of money has been spent.” 

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (Fox News) (NPR)

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Hong Kong Police Battle Protesters on College Campus as Chinese Students Flee the City

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  • University students in Hong Kong won control of a bridge from riot police Tuesday night after a day of dramatic and violent clashing. 
  • The situation follows the first official death in Hong Kong where a student fell from a parking garage while protesters were being dispersed by police.
  • Some universities have canceled their semesters early and others have suspended classes, prompting many students originally from mainland China to flee over the Hong Kong border.

Battle at the Chinese University of Hong Kong

Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong gained control over a bridge near the Chinese University of Hong Kong Tuesday night after a day-long dramatic clash with police. 

The incident started when police began to occupy the bridge, signaling a shift in an unspoken rule to leave universities alone. 

Student protesters then set up a barricade on campus to keep police from entering. Following that, the two groups began to clash, with students throwing bricks and Molotov cocktails while police fired multiple rounds of tear gas at the protesters. Police also physically wrestled some of the protesters to the ground as students yelled at police to leave the campus.

After the first clash, the protesters retreated to an athletic field and locked the gate. Police then continued to fire tear gas by lobbing it over the gate. At one point, the field reportedly caught fire and the students retreated to bleachers.

The ongoing violence then prompted the university’s president, Rocky Tuan, to try and act as a common ground between students and police. 

At one point during those negotiations, a man walked down the street while revving a chainsaw, but a group of protestors then convinced that man to put down the chainsaw and enveloped him in a hug.

Later, Tuan struck a deal with police, saying that university security would guard the bridge instead of police if students dispersed and stopped throwing objects onto the highway below the bridge. That then prompted students to ask why police were even on campus. Refusing to disperse, protesters then asked about the safety of those who had been arrested.

The battle over the bridge continued into the night as more clashes broke out with protesters carrying umbrellas, shields, barricades while police filled the area with tear gas and fired rubber bullets.

Other protesters threw more Molotov cocktails at police in an attempt to gain ground while people used leaf blowers to blow away the tear gas. Some students even practiced firing flaming arrows from bows.

Students later retreated after police fired a water cannon.

Soon after, however, they then came back and ultimately forced police to retreat. Students pushed forward and built more barriers with golf carts and a burned-out car to hold their ground gained. 

Protesters remained on the bridge throughout the night while passing supplies to each other and making more Molotov cocktails in case police came back. 

Chinese Students Flee Hong Kong

On Wednesday morning, the Chinese University of Hong Kong ended its semester early. It was originally scheduled to end its semester on Nov. 30.

 Another university also suspended its on-campus semester and switched to online classes. At the same time, other universities suspended classes for a week. 

Additionally, Hong Kong canceled all schools in the city on Thursday due to transportation and safety reasons.

As universities canceled classes, students originally from mainland China fled over the Hong Kong border with the help of police.

While those students said they had felt safer on campus than in the streets, some said many of them didn’t openly express pro-China views on campus. Those students also said they felt the need to avoid talking loudly in Mandarin, which is the main language in China.

On the other side of the border, hotels offered those students free rooms, with some of those hotels filling to near capacity.

What Led to Tuesday’s Clash?

Tuesday’s clash between student protesters and riot police comes after the death of student Chow Tsz-lok, who went by the name Alex. Chow’s death is the first death from clashes that have been consistently escalating since they began nearly six months ago. 

Chow died while demonstrating with other protesters at a parking garage on Nov. 4. When police tried to break up that crowd, Chow reportedly fell one story from the structure.

Chow sustained head and pelvis injuries and was rushed to the hospital; however, he died from his injuries on Nov. 8. 

Later that same day, students at Chow’s university held a vigil and an on-campus march for him. Protesters held other vigils across the city, including at the parking garage where Chow fell.

Protesters called for an investigation into the use of force by riot police, which has been one of the five key demands of the protesters.

As protesters called for revenge, some of the demonstrations that night once again became violent.

On Monday, another protester was shot several times, this time at point-blank range. Other protesters shouted at that officer and called him a murderer. That officer then doused the crowd with pepper spray.

That same day, protesters set a different man on fire after he reportedly yelled at them, telling them they lacked patriotism for mainland China.

Hospital officials said both those men were in critical condition.

In October, both an 18-year-old man and a 14-year-old boy were shot by police.

What is the Hong Kong Government Doing?

Last month, the extradition bill that sparked the protests was finally formally withdrawn. Still, that’s not enough for these protesters. They are also calling for complete amnesty, a retraction of the official characterization of the protests as “riots,” and the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

On Nov. 24, Hong Kong is scheduled to hold elections; however, those elections have also faced controversy as Hong Kong has barred a prominent pro-democracy activist from running. Other pro-democracy lawmakers and candidates have been arrested, and one pro-China lawmaker was stabbed.

Also because of all of the violence, there is some worry that those elections might not end up happening. Lam has said she will do everything possible to ensure that elections are fair and safe, saying on Tuesday that the government “hopes that the elections can continue as planned.”

Also on Tuesday, the pro-China newspaper The People’s Daily—which has acted as a mouthpiece for Beijing—said that elections should only proceed if calm is restored to Hong Kong. 

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Wall Street Journal) (BuzzFeed News)

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As Two Australian States Declare Emergencies, Scientists Warn that Climate Change is Making the Country’s Fire Season Worse

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  • Fires raging in Australia have forced officials to declare a state of emergency in New South Wales and Queensland.
  • The greater Sydney area is facing a “catastrophic” level warning, the highest level in the country and the first time it has been issued in the city since implemented after the 2009 Black Saturday fires.  
  • While scientists have said the fires are a result of worsening climate change, Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister has said the concern should be on people losing their homes, not “the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital city Greenies.”

States of Emergency Declared

Nearly 90 fires are raging in New South Wales, Australia, with more than half of them considered uncontained, promoting Australian officials to declare a state of emergency Monday.

Fear mounted on Tuesday over a concern that a cold front might shift the direction of the fires that span along 620 miles of Australia’s eastern coastline. 

The fires, which began in early September, have forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes with more being warned to be prepared to leave, if necessary. More than 150 properties have been destroyed since the beginning of the fire season.

Over the weekend, the death toll rose to three people.

According to the BBC, authorities called this week “the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen.” 

Alongside New South Wales’ state of emergency, around 600 schools have shut down. Planes are spraying some homes and trees with flame retardant. 

On Tuesday, as the fires encroached upon Sydney, Australia’s most populous city. The city’s skyline sat under a blanket of smoke as some of the fires reportedly reached suburbs as close as nine miles away from the city center.

Experts compared the day’s forecast to the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in the state of Victoria, which killed 173 people.

The greater Sydney area is now under a “catastrophic” level-warning, which is the highest level warning for fires. It is also the first time Sydney has been hit with such a grave warning since the system was implemented after the Black Saturday Fires.

Queensland, which has also declared a state of emergency, reported 55 fires on Tuesday. While its fires were not considered as severe at the moment, officials warned that could change with little notice.

Bushfires Start as Bad “Omen” in September

While the bushfires started as part of Australia’s expected fire season, they were exacerbated by drought and high winds. 

This season’s drought is particularly bad, but Australia’s east coast has actually seen below-average rainfall over the past two years.

In Queensland, more than 50 fires burned in early September.

Reports estimated more than 20 buildings destroyed within days of the start of the season. The destroyed property also included the historic Binna Burra Lodge in Lamington National Park.

“We’ve never seen this before in recorded history, fire weather has never been as severe this early in spring,” Andrew Sturgess, an inspector with Queensland emergency services, said in September. 

Sturgess also called the fire a potential omen for worse to come, which proved to be true. 

How Are the Fires Related to Climate Change?

Climate scientists have associated Australia’s worsening fire season with climate change. Those scientists predict Australia’s bushfires will only continue to become more frequent and more intense as climate change worsens.

They also say that Australia is particularly susceptible to climate change because of its vast interior desert combined with rapidly-heating ocean currents surrounding the country.

“There’s a human fingerprint on the temperature increases since 1950 — all the weather patterns are occurring in a planet that is warming and warming because of human activity,” Joëlle Gergis, a climate scientist and writer from the Australian National University, told the New York Times.

“We’re really missing the opportunity to prepare for future life in Australia. It’s going to be a lot warmer, and we’re going to see a lot of prevalence of extreme fire conditions,” she added. “The further we kick the can down the road and avoid these conversations, we’re really missing the opportunity to get the Australian public ready for what is upon us.”

Australia’s Reliance on Coal

On top of climate change, Australia is at odds with its deep ties to coal, with the country’s primary energy consumption still being dominated by coal.

According to the Australian government, the country still relies on coal for 40% of its energy. It’s also the largest coal exporter in the world and has fallen behind on its promise in the Paris Agreement to reduce emissions.

Because of that, Australia has seen a number of dramatic protests over the last couple of months. In October, a man chained himself to railroad tracks while holding a sign reading, “Australia has the worst record of species extinction in the whole world.”

A couple of weeks ago, protesters locked arms to stop people from entering a mining conference. They were then forcibly dispersed by police using pepper spray.

Speaking with ABC Radio National on Monday, however, deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack denied that these fires are related to climate change. 

“We’ve had fires in Australia since time began, and what people need now is a little bit of sympathy, understanding and real assistance – they need help, they need shelter,” he said.

“They don’t need the ravings of some pure, enlighted, and woke capital city Greenies at this time when they’re trying to save their homes,” he added after he was asked why it was wrong to discuss climate change while the fires raged.  

Following McCormack’s interview, the mayor of the New South Wales town of Glen Innes challenged his statement. 

“It is not a political thing — it is a scientific fact that we are going through climate change,” Mayor Carol Sparks said. “I think that Michael McCormack needs to read the science.”

See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (Weather) (Sydney Morning Herald)

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