December 2021 global news roundup: Queer progress and other human rights; Electoral and political highs and lows; Natural and man-made disasters

Christopher Street Day 2021 demonstration march in Stuttgart, Germany (Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash)

This roundup summarises the most important news stories around the world in the last month (December 2021).

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Queer progress and other human rights

On queer progress, in Canada, legislation to end conversion therapy – such as behavioural therapy and medical treatments – which previously failed twice, was approved. In Chile, congress passed a law legalising same-sex marriage. It is only the ninth country in the Americas to legalise same-sex marriage. And in Tokyo, Japan, the governor is planning to start a partnership system which effectively allows same-sex marriage from April next year.

Citing human rights abuses, the United States (US) will not send officials to attend the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. The US was later joined by Australia, Canada, Lithuania, and the United Kingdom. In Greece, episodes of capsized boats carrying migrants across three days killed at least 30 people, and similarly in Mexico at least 54 migrants were killed in a trailer accident. In Russia, its most prominent human rights group, Memorial International, was ordered by the supreme court to fold. And in South Africa, archbishop Desmond Tutu, who helped lead a global campaign to end apartheid in South Africa and who was consequently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, died at the age of 90.

New Zealand plans to gradually raise the age limit to buy cigarettes, thereby outlawing smoking for future generations. It hopes to reduce the smoking rate among adults from 13 to five per cent by 2025 and plans to provide help for smokers to quit.

And in the US: Starbucks baristas in Buffalo, New York voted in favour of forming the company’s first labour union. Also related to the US: The remaining 12 of 17 missionaries from an American charity who were kidnapped in Haiti were released.

Electoral and political highs and lows

Electorally, in Chile, leftist and former student leader Gabriel Boric won the country’s presidential run-off on the platform of higher corporate taxes and addressing climate change issues. The 35-year-old will be Chile’s youngest-ever president. In Hong Kong, the region’s “patriots-only” legislative election – intended to ensure stability after years of protests – drew the lowest voter turnout since a Chinese national security law was imposed last year.

Politically, in Myanmar, ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to two years in prison, following conviction on her first of 11 charges. She could be in prison for over 100 years. In the same month, Rohingya refugees sued Meta (Facebook), claiming that the platform and its algorithms amplified hate speech and failed to remove fake accounts spreading misinformation, thereby fuelling the killing of tens of thousands between 2016 and 2018. Relatedly, with the country coiled in internal conflict, more than 30 were killed and had their bodies burnt, following clashes between military forces and anti-government groups.

In Somalia, a power struggle erupted between the president and prime minister, which threatens the country’s fight against Islamist extremists. And in South Korea, former president Park Geun-hye was granted government pardon. She had served less than a quarter of her 22-year prison sentence for bribery and corruption.

Natural and man-made disasters

In Malaysia, amidst stumbling rescue efforts, at least eight died in floods. In the Philippines, a powerful typhoon killed at least 400 people, with many missing and communication lines still disrupted. In the US, at least five states were hit by tornadoes, killing at least 88 people, mostly in Kentucky.

There were record floods in Brazil, a volcanic eruption in Indonesia which killed miners, and flash floods caused by heavy rains in Iraq.

Finally, there was a fatal bouncy castle accident and a light plane crash in Australia. There was also an aircraft crash in the Dominican Republic. There were building collapses and fires (Italy, Japan), explosions (Haiti, Pakistan), fire at a chemical plant (India), a jade mine disaster (Myanmar), and deadly bootleg alcohol (Turkey).

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