UK aid budget cuts, the Supreme Court's ruling, and a global cease-fire: This week in development

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The U.S. Supreme Court Building in Washington. Photo by: Geoff Livingston / CC BY-NC-ND

U.K. aid organizations report budget cuts are already underway, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that local affiliates are not protected by the right to free speech, and the United Nations adopts a global cease-fire. This week in development:

U.K. aid organizations say they are already being asked to make budget cuts in the wake of the financial crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic and the government’s decision to merge the Department for International Development with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. While DFID’s leadership maintains that no decisions about funding cuts have been made, some of the department’s implementing partners told Devex they have received requests to make cuts of up to 30% or more on some programs. One such case is a nutrition and livelihoods program run by the U.K. charity United Purpose that is already 18 months in. “We've cultivated that relationship with these communities. There was a promise ... on the basis of a grant agreement with the British government, and they are now pulling that ... which means the things that we talked about with those communities cannot be delivered within our current contracts,” said Peter Sargent, the organization’s chief operations officer, who spoke to Devex in a personal capacity. Devex has learned of several other programs that are currently under threat of cuts. One in the Central African Republic had already pivoted to focus on COVID-19 but has now been paused “subject to DFID review.” U.K. aid advocates have described an uncertain situation, in which DFID’s message that nothing has been decided conflicts with what organizations are already experiencing in their programs.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that local affiliates of U.S.-based organizations are not exempt from the requirement to adopt policies expressly opposing sex trafficking and prostitution, in order to receive government funding. U.S.-based organizations are not required to adopt such policies — known as the “anti-prostitution loyalty oath” — since the court previously ruled this would be a violation of their First Amendment rights to free speech. On Monday, the Supreme Court announced its decision in the latest episode of this long-running debate, ruling by a vote of 5-3 that organizations’ local affiliates are separate entities incorporated in the countries where they operate, which are not protected under the U.S. constitution. The NGOs that brought the case argued that because they and their foreign affiliates often share the same names, branding, and missions, it would be unreasonable for the U.S. government to require foreign affiliates to take positions that contradict those of their U.S.-based counterparts and that doing so would jeopardize the free speech of those U.S.-based organizations. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who wrote the majority opinion, concluded that the NGOs’ arguments ran counter to two “bedrock principles of American law” — that foreign citizens do not have constitutional rights and that separately incorporated entities are legally distinct. “The Supreme Court upheld the U.S. government’s quest to impose its harmful ideological agenda on U.S. organizations and restrict their right to free speech,” said Patrick Gaspard, president of the Open Society Foundations, in a statement, adding that “condemnation of marginalized groups is not a public health strategy.”

The U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution Wednesday calling for a global cease-fire so that countries can focus their efforts on responding to the spread of COVID-19. The agreement came 100 days after U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres proposed it, having been plagued by diplomatic squabbles — particularly between the United States and China over references to the World Health Organization. “China and the U.S. embarrassed themselves and hurt the council by squabbling over whether the resolution should refer to the World Health Organization (WHO), rather than taking a unified stance on COVID-19,” Richard Gowan, U.N. director for the International Crisis Group, told Voice of America. Through the resolution, the U.N. Security Council called on countries that are party to conflict to enact a 90-day humanitarian pause and requested the secretary-general ensure that all parts of the U.N. system accelerate efforts to combat the pandemic.

Update, July 3: This story was amended to clarify that Peter Sargent is chief operations officer of United Purpose.

About the author

  • Michael Igoe

    Michael Igoe is a Senior Reporter with Devex, based in Washington, D.C. He covers U.S. foreign aid, global health, climate change, and development finance. Prior to joining Devex, Michael researched water management and climate change adaptation in post-Soviet Central Asia, where he also wrote for EurasiaNet. Michael earned his bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College, where he majored in Russian, and his master’s degree from the University of Montana, where he studied international conservation and development.