Human Rights Council
AFTERNOON 15 March 2012
The Human Rights Council this afternoon adopted the outcomes of the Universal Periodic Review on Venezuela, Iceland and Zimbabwe.
Temir Porras Poneleon, Vice-Minister of the People’s Ministry of External Relations of Venezuela, said the Government of Venezuela was committed to guaranteeing universal human rights for all citizens and that the Universal Periodic Review mechanism would assist the State to turn into a true democracy. Most of the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review were accepted; implementation was now underway for 80 per cent of those recommendations. The Government also took on board many voluntary commitments. Venezuela was under great pressure by external forces, it paid a huge price in order to build a true democracy by countering a transnational capital which dictated the foreign policies of the usual colonial powers.
In the discussion about Venezuela, speakers noted the achievements of Venezuela in eradicating inherited poverty and commended Venezuela for meeting the Millennium Development Goal of eradicating poverty and hunger. Acceding to a number of international human rights instruments by Venezuela would contribute to strengthening the rule of law and combating discrimination. Efforts to establish a new model for human rights were also commendable. Several speakers expressed concern about the situation of Yanomani people who were the largest group of indigenous peoples in Venezuela. The rejection of recommendations concerning freedom of expression and the work of human rights defenders called into question the willingness of Venezuela to comply with its international obligations.
The Council then adopted the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review on Venezuela.
Cuba, Nicaragua, Viet Nam, China, Uruguay, Algeria, Dominican Republic, Iran, Ecuador, and Syria spoke on Venezuela. The Ombudsman of Human Rights of Venezuela took the floor, as did the following non-governmental organizations: Indian Council of South America, Federation of Cuban Woman, World Federation of Trade Unions, Cuban United Nations Association, North-South XXI, International Volunteerism Organization for Women, Education and Development, CIVICUS, Human Rights Watch, Instituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice delle Salesiane di Don Bosco, Article 19, and Association for Prevention of Torture.
Veurlidi T. Stefansson, First Secretary of the Permanent Mission of Iceland to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said Iceland had received 84 recommendations of which three were rejected. Two of the recommendations which were not accepted focused on different legal definitions from ones existing in domestic legislation, notably, on discrimination and torture. Extensive work was taking place to create a National Action Plan on human rights with the aim of setting up a comprehensive, systematic coordinating process to follow up on all the accepted recommendations in the Universal Periodic Review, including the establishment of a human rights institution in compliance with the Paris Principles.
Regarding the Universal Periodic Review of Iceland, speakers noted with satisfaction the steps of Iceland in promoting gender equality, combating sexual and domestic violence against women and increasing the number of women in high-ranking positions, particularly in academia. They welcomed increased efforts to prevent human trafficking for sexual exploitation and forced labour, including child prostitution. One speaker remained concerned over a number of human rights violations taking place in Iceland, such as racism and xenophobia, conditions in prisons and gender-based violence. Another speaker asked the Government of Iceland to clarify what time frame it had envisaged for introducing legislation to improve the legal status of transgender people.
The Council then adopted the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review on Iceland.
Taking the floor in the discussion on Iceland were Algeria, Republic of Moldova, Iran, and Austria. COC Netherlands also took the floor.
Patrick A. Chinamasa, Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs of Zimbabwe, said that of the 177 recommendations made by Member and Observer States, Zimbabwe accepted 81 and undertook to consider 31. Zimbabwe was pleased to report all the recommendations were now accepted but two. One of these recommendations related to setting a higher age of criminal responsibility for children and taking all necessary measures to establish a specialized juvenile justice system. The other recommendation rejected concerned amending expeditiously the Births and Deaths Registration Act to ensure all children born in Zimbabwe were issued a birth certificate.
In discussing the Universal Periodic Review of Zimbabwe, speakers said Zimbabwe had made concerted efforts to promote and protect human rights by facilitating national reconciliation, enhancing the role of women and working to reduce HIV rates. They noted with appreciation the investments made in health and education. One speaker was concerned about the destructive influence on human rights of the illegal and unilateral sanctions imposed by certain Western countries. Several speakers said the Government should reconsider its decision not to investigate all credible allegations related to the 2009 presidential elections in the areas of torture, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances. Zimbabwe needed to take legal and other measures to ensure respect for rights and freedoms for all without discrimination.
The Council then adopted the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review on Zimbabwe.
Cuba, Angola, China, Algeria, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Venezuela, Morocco, South Africa, United States, Belarus, and Chad spoke on Zimbabwe. CIVICUS, COC Netherlands, Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists, United Nations Watch, Save the Children International, Marist International Solidarity Foundation Onlus, Sudwind, Amnesty International and Rencontre africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme also took the floor in the discussion on Zimbabwe.
When the Council meets at 9 a.m. on Friday, 16 March, it will consider the Universal Periodic Review outcomes of Lithuania, Uganda and Timor Leste.
Consideration of Outcome of Universal Periodic Review on Venezuela
TEMIR PORRAS PONCELEON, Vice Minister of the People’s Ministry for External Relations of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, said the Government of Venezuela was committed to guaranteeing universal human rights for all citizens and that the Universal Periodic Review mechanism would assist the State to turn into a true democracy. The Government had cooperated with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and all United Nations’ organizations. Most of the recommendations were accepted; implementation was now underway for 80 per cent of those recommendations. The Government also took on board many voluntary commitments. The war against terror, in terms of human rights, had been replaced with a military marketing product known as the ‘responsibility to protect’. Venezuela was under great pressure by external forces, a huge price it had paid in order to build a true democracy by countering transnational capital which dictated the foreign policies of the usual colonial powers. Venezuela had shifted from an authoritarian to a democratic State which was ongoing and would only deepen with the passage of time. The policy of the Government was to create a social State governed by rights and justice which led to significant accomplishments in human rights. Justice was the queen of republican virtues and it was only through her that equality and liberty could be upheld.
Cuba congratulated the Government of Venezuela and its people for its achievements in all categories of human rights. Cuba noted the achievements of Venezuela in eradicating inherited poverty and commended the country for meeting the Millennium Development Goal of eradicating poverty and hunger. Venezuela and Cuba were linked by common challenges and efforts to propel a new formula of economic, social and financial integration based on respect, solidarity and cooperation.
Nicaragua congratulated Venezuela on the deep reaching social changes made such that society could overcome the inequality gap inherited from the past. Only true, popular citizen participation could ensure progress. Nicaragua noted the success of the social model which had consolidated a solid basis for the promotion and protection of human rights. Nicaragua and Venezuela were joined by historical ties of fraternity and solidarity and their commitment to creating a fairer economic order such that human rights were a reality.
Viet Nam commended the efforts and achievements made by the Government of Venezuela. It was noteworthy that many recommendations which enjoyed the support of Venezuela had been addressed in a positive manner. Viet Nam encouraged Venezuela to continue playing an active role in the work of the Human Rights Council in order to contribute to promoting dialogue, mutual respect and cooperation. Viet Nam urged the Council to adopt the report of the Universal Periodic Review of Venezuela.
China appreciated the various initiatives adopted by the Government of Venezuela to achieve the Millennium Development Goals which had seen tremendous progress in the area of health and education. China fully understood that Venezuela was a developing country and that it faced specific challenges in the promotion and protection of human rights. China believed that with the support of the international community, Venezuela would make progress in its socio-economic development.
Uruguay said that the acceptance of 97 recommendations was evidence of the will of the Government of Venezuela to continue the promotion and protection of human rights. Uruguay had recognised the progress in poverty reduction and especially in reducing extreme poverty and Uruguay hoped that Venezuela would continue along this path. The signing of and accession to a number of international human rights instruments by Venezuela would contribute to strengthening the rule of law on the ground and to combating discrimination.
Algeria said that Algeria had long-standing ties of cooperation with Venezuela. The commitment of Venezuela to human rights was reflected in the acceptance of most recommendations it had received. Algeria was pleased to see that Venezuela had accepted the recommendations put forward by Algeria on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and on the improvement of the business environment.
Dominican Republic said the Government of Venezuela had demonstrated its full commitment to human rights. Major progress had been made in poverty reduction, universal education and the provision of health for all, a key pillar in human rights. Successful programmes in economic, social and cultural rights had helped to overcome the serious effects of the global economic crisis. The Government should continue with its social policies aimed at assisting the neediest in society.
Iran said the Government of Venezuela had demonstrated its commitment to the Universal Periodic Review process and to the work of the Human Rights Council. Iran commended the efforts that had been undertaken by the Government to improve the living standards of its people by making investments in the social sector and by removing social inequality.
Ecuador said the Government of Venezuela had worked hard to reduce the inequality gap between rich and poor and had worked with all countries to reduce poverty. Ecuador commended efforts made by the Government to ensure gender equality and economic and social justice with the application of environmental policies. Ecuador requested that the report of Venezuela be adopted.
Syria highlighted that Venezuela accepted most of the recommendations provided in the Universal Periodic Review. Venezuela was totally committed to all international human rights mechanisms that it was a party to. Syria urged Venezuela to continue to safeguard its sovereignty, territorial integrity and the human rights of its people. Syria commended Venezuela for ensuring social justice, despite the challenges it faced, and encouraged Venezuela to keep up those efforts.
Ombudsman of Human Rights of Venezuela, said the State’s commitment to human rights had been expressed by the high-level delegation. The Ombudsman welcomed policies that allowed Venezuela to make progress on health, education and other areas of human rights. Efforts to establish a new model for human rights were also commendable.
Indian Council of South America congratulated Venezuela for its support of heating indigenous homes in North America to offset the high cost of fuel. Venezuela would host another international meeting on indigenous peoples.
Federation of Cuban Woman said that the Government of Venezuela had made a political commitment to improving gender equality with innovative institutions that coordinated women’s policies. The Women’s Bank supported women’s productive contribution to the economy.
World Federation of Trade Unions said it was in close relation with trade unions and workers in Venezuela and had seen the efforts made to combat exclusion, malnutrition among children, inequality and extreme poverty in the country. The unemployment rate in Venezuela was among the lowest in South America.
Cuban United Nations Association said that the social policies of the Government of Venezuela had put the Millennium Development Goals at the centre of its work as evidenced by the low level of illiteracy. The Bolivarian revolution had brought not only material benefit to its citizens but also had established peace and pride in the country.
North-South XXI attached great importance to Venezuela’s efforts in reducing poverty, improving access to health and education and in the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. North-South XXI also noted the strong support to the right to development and the efforts in the area of climate change and hoped Venezuela would lead the discussions in the Council next June.
International Volunteerism Organization for Women, Education and Development was deeply concerned by the situation of Yanomani people who were the largest group of indigenous peoples in Venezuela. Because they lived in very remote areas, they had very limited access to basic services, and food insufficiency was the leading cause of child mortality.
CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation said that more than 70 countries had shown interest in the human rights situation in Venezuela during its Universal Periodic Review. The rejection of recommendations concerning freedom of expression and the work of human rights defenders called into question the willingness of Venezuela to comply with its international obligations. CIVICUS hoped that Venezuela would ratify as soon as possible the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
Human Rights Watch said Venezuela had declined to respect the independence of the judiciary, comply with its international obligations and implement recommendations, resolutions and decisions of international and regional human rights protection systems.
Instituto Internazionale Maria AUsiliatrice delle Salesiane di Don Bosco noticed that there was some disparity regarding the right to education of the Yanomami people. Venezuela should continue to guarantee universal education.
Article 19 expressed concern that Venezuela rejected all recommendations related to freedom of expression. Aggression towards media and journalists had increased during election years, including attacks and harassments by party groups and the authorities. Very few of those had been investigated by the State.
Association for Prevention of Torture said that Venezuelan prisons were characterised by a high degree of violence which had resulted in an alarming number of deaths in recent years. The non-governmental organization called on Venezuela to promptly ratify the Convention against Torture and create an effective national preventive mechanism.
TEMIR PORRAS PONCELEON, Vice-Minister of People’s Ministry for External Relations of Venezuela, said the statements heard today were confirmation that the Universal Periodic Review was the main mechanism of the Human Rights Council that allowed countries to promote and protect human rights with cooperation. Venezuela had entered voluntary commitments, in addition to recommendations it had accepted. It was important to note that Venezuela had rejected only those recommendations whose implementation would violate the constitutional and legal order of the country or which were based on false premises. Venezuela also rejected those recommendations which were so far removed from reality that there would be no point in implementing them.
The Council then adopted the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review on Venezuela.
Consideration of Outcome of Universal Periodic Review on Iceland
VETURLIDI THOR STEFANSSON, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of Iceland to the United Nations Office in Geneva, said Iceland had received 84 recommendations of which they rejected three. The recommendations focused on the rights to equality and non-discrimination, racism and intolerance, the gender pay gap, violence against women and children, improvements of the prison system, international human rights obligations and improving the structural mechanism for protection of human rights in the country. Two of the recommendations which were not accepted focused on different legal definitions from ones existing in domestic legislation, notably, on discrimination and torture. The Government recognized that prevention of sexual abuse against children needed to be strengthened and had presented a legislative amendment to the General Penal Code in order to ratify the Council of Europe Lanzarote Convention and attributed financial resources specifically for a prevention and awareness raising campaign. The establishment of Barnahus, a child friendly, interdisciplinary centre where different professionals under one roof could investigate cases of sexual abuse of children had had a positive impact. Beginning in 2008, as a result of the global financial crisis, the Government had put an emphasis on protecting the statutory fundamental services of the welfare system concerning education, protection and healthcare and had established a consultative group consisting of all relevant stakeholders to monitor the situation and make recommendations. Extensive work took place creating a National Action Plan on human rights with the aim of setting up a comprehensive, systematic coordinating process to follow up all the accepted recommendations in the Universal Periodic Review including the establishment of a human rights institution in compliance with the Paris Principles.
Algeria noted with satisfaction the acceptance of a number of recommendations by Iceland. Algeria had formulated four of them and appreciated that three of those enjoyed the support of Iceland. Algeria welcomed the adoption of the Strategy for Iceland’s Development Cooperation to 2014 in which development assistance programmes were prescribed as in the addendum of the Working Group report.
Republic of Moldova noted with satisfaction Iceland’s steps towards the promotion of gender equality, in combating sexual and domestic violence against women and in increasing the number of women in high-ranking positions, particularly in academia. The Republic of Moldova welcomed increased efforts to prevent human trafficking for sexual exploitation and forced labour, including child prostitution.
Iran remained concerned about a number of human rights violations taking place in Iceland, such as racism and xenophobia, conditions in prisons and gender-based violence. Iceland should, among other measures, ensure access for immigrants to professions reflecting their educational level and combat domestic violence by taking more effective measures against perpetrators.
Austria commended the constructive participation of Iceland in its Universal Periodic Review. Austria welcomed the many recommendations that were accepted and noted the voluntary commitments made by the Government. Austria looked forward to the implementation of the recommendations.
COC Netherlands asked the Government of Iceland to clarify what time frame it had envisaged for introducing legislation to improve the legal status of transgender people. Iceland should share best practices in the field of combating discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity with other countries.
VETURLIDI THOR STEFANSSON, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of Iceland to the United Nations Office in Geneva, in concluding remarks, thanked all Member States for the views and comments and said that the Universal Periodic Review had given the Government an opportunity to reflect on how to improve the promotion of human rights. The Government had already begun implementation of the accepted recommendations and would continue to cooperate with civil society organizations in the implementation process.
The Council then adopted the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review on Iceland.
Consideration of Outcome of Universal Periodic Review on Zimbabwe
PATRICK A. CHINAMASA, Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs of Zimbabwe, said of the 177 recommendations made by Member and Observer States, Zimbabwe accepted 81 and undertook to consider 31. The recommendations that had not enjoyed the support of Zimbabwe but were now supported related to the Human Rights Commission, criminalisation of torture, submission of periodic reports to treaty bodies, cooperation with Special Procedures, prevention of politically-motivated violence and intimidation, monitoring places of detention, ratification of international human rights mechanisms and ensuring equality between men and women. Zimbabwe was pleased to report all recommendations but two had now been accepted. One of those recommendations related to setting a higher age of criminal responsibility for children and taking all necessary measures to establish a specialized juvenile justice system. The recommendation did not enjoy the support of Zimbabwe because children below the age of twelve did not commit serious offences like rape. Nevertheless, a legal assistance programme to provide children with all forms of legal assistance was in the process of being formulated. The other recommendation rejected concerned expeditiously amending the Births and Deaths Registration Act to ensure all children born in Zimbabwe were issued a birth certificate, regardless of their parent’s origin. Each child was issued an appropriate birth certificate in accordance with its status. An Action Plan and Strategy for implementing the accepted recommendations was being crafted in consultation with stakeholders.
Cuba said the independence of Zimbabwe had been a long and difficult struggle and the efforts of the Government to improve the human rights of their citizens had been limited by the unfair sanctions imposed on the country. Cuba noted the existence of a national health strategy and measures to guarantee food security at the national level and in homes. Cuba restated its solidarity with the people and Government of Zimbabwe and wished them every success in meeting the challenges they faced.
Angola said it was satisfied to see that the drafting of the Universal Periodic Review report in Zimbabwe had included a consultative multi-sectoral process with the participation of all interested parties. The Government had created a national human rights commission and had initiated legislative efforts to promote and protect human rights in the areas of education, work and health. Angola called on the international community to lift the economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe and to support the country in its reforms.
China noted with appreciation the investments the Government of Zimbabwe had made in health and education, the significant progress in HIV AIDS prevention and the reduction in illiteracy. China fully understood the difficulties and challenges that the country faced and said that the sanctions imposed by certain countries had inserted a break on Zimbabwe’s economic growth. China called for the lifting of economic sanctions against Zimbabwe.
Algeria noted Zimbabwe’s determination to emancipate and liberate itself. Zimbabwe had made concerted efforts to promote and protect human rights by facilitating national reconciliation, enhancing the role of women in decision-making processes and working to reduce HIV rates. Algeria wished Zimbabwe success in implementing the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review.
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said in spite of economic challenges arising out of illegally imposed sanctions Zimbabwe remained committed to the protection and promotion of fundamental rights and freedoms. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea appreciated the positive steps taken by the Government to build a united, strong democratic and prosperous nation with a high quality of life for all Zimbabweans.
Venezuela appreciated the opinions and constructiveness showed by Zimbabwe in facilitating the flow of information during the Universal Periodic Review. Venezuela also appreciated Zimbabwe’s efforts in health, education and assistance to the elderly as well as the strides taken to promote and protect human rights despite the economic hardship caused by illegal sanctions.
Morocco noted the policies adopted by Zimbabwe for the promotion and protection of human rights. The Government had also taken efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and to reduce maternal and infant mortality. The Government had accepted 29 recommendations and had agreed to provide more information on the remaining ones. Morocco encouraged the Government in its decision to put in place an action plan on the implementation of the accepted recommendations.
South Africa commended all the efforts made by Zimbabwe aimed at attaining the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 in education and health, and underscored the need to lift the crippling sanctions and to provide technical assistance and capacity building through bilateral and multilateral cooperation. South Africa wished Zimbabwe well in its Constitutional Review Process and with the implementation of the accepted recommendations.
United States remained deeply concerned about the ongoing lack of human rights protection in Zimbabwe. The Government should reconsider its decision not to support the recommendation made by South Africa to investigate all credible allegations related to the Presidential elections in 2009 in the areas of torture, arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances in order to prevent a recurrence of political violence.
Belarus said the Universal Periodic Review made it possible to document Zimbabwe’s success in economic, social and cultural rights and in improving its legislation, fighting against poverty, preventing epidemics, improving education and combating trafficking. Belarus was concerned about the destructive influence on human rights of the illegal and unilateral sanctions imposed by certain Western countries. The sanctions should be immediately and irrevocably cancelled because they were in violation of international law.
Chad noted with satisfaction that Zimbabwe had accepted a great number of recommendations addressed to it during its national report, including the recommendation made by Chad. Given that fact, it was desirable that the international community provided it with the necessary technical and financial assistance to learn from the work of others and better assure the promotion and protection of human rights.
CIVICUS was concerned that the Government still rejected recommendations related to the reform of laws that curtailed liberties and freedoms and the need to address the issue of impunity and the rule of law.
COC Netherlands was concerned about the rejection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in Zimbabwe and said that the State needed to recognize and accept their contributions towards the development of the country. Zimbabwe should take legal and other measures to ensure respect for rights and freedoms for all and without discrimination on the basis of race, gender or sexual orientation and gender identity.
Human Rights Watch said that Zimbabwe continued to commit serious abuses and little progress had been made on promised human rights reforms. Human rights defenders and critics of the Government continued to be harassed and arbitrarily detained. Human Rights Watch regretted that Zimbabwe had rejected crucial recommendations to investigate allegations of violations and had failed to investigate widespread abuses committed during the presidential elections three years ago.
International Commission of Jurists said that the lack of political commitment to reform envisaged in the power-sharing agreement had hindered the restoration of the rule of law and respect for human rights. The Government had remained reluctant to investigate widespread abuses including extra-judicial killings, torture and disappearances that had occurred during and after presidential elections in 2008.
United Nations Watch said various reforms had been declared, but it was with profound regret that United Nations Watch saw that the people of Zimbabwe continued to face serious threats to the enjoyment of their human rights.
Save the Children International called on the Government to ensure timely and appropriate support to child victims of abuse, ensure all children born in Zimbabwe were issued with birth certificates and to demonstrate its commitment to access to education through action plans and budgetary allocations.
Marist International Solidarity Foundation Onlus, in a joint statement, was concerned about the limited scope of the curriculum in Zimbabwe. Access was limited to many children because of the existence of school fees. The Government should significantly increase its education budget.
Sudwind expressed concern related to recommendations rejected by Zimbabwe, particularly those on torture, which should not exist in a civilized world. Zimbabwe should do its utmost to ensure that torture was eradicated. Sudwind believed that gender equality was a fundamental human right and asked Zimbabwe to improve the rights of parents and right to property. Sudwind called for a moratorium on executions in Zimbabwe with a view to abolishing the death penalty.
Amnesty International welcomed the establishment of the national human rights commission in Zimbabwe and hoped that the Government would provide it with the resources and support it needed. It was disappointing that Zimbabwe refused to amend the public safety act and that many human rights defenders were now in custody simply for exercising their activities. Amnesty International welcomed the commitments of Zimbabwe to protect people from forced evictions and suggested that Zimbabwe develop a comprehensive housing programme to provide those evicted from land with decent housing.
Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme welcomed the creation of the human rights commission in Zimbabwe and the national policy to promote gender equality which had advanced the cause of women. In the wake of recent violence during the elections, main perpetrators still enjoyed impunity for violations they committed. Zimbabwe should prepare the conditions so that the upcoming elections were conducted in a calm, free and transparent environment.
PATRICK A. CHINAMASA, Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs of Zimbabwe, said that Zimbabwe was a small peace loving country that did not pose a threat to anybody, let alone to the interests of the United States. Zimbabwe could not understand why the United States continued sanctions against this small peace loving country whose only crime was that it wanted to be in charge of its destiny, its resources and its foreign policy. Zimbabwe was surprised when delegations mentioned the Global Political Agreement, as it was purely internal matter of Zimbabwe. On the current public safety act, Mr. Chinamasa said that it was a result of negotiations by the three political parties who were the signatories of the Global Political Agreement. Zimbabwe did not understand the reference of the United States to demilitarize the diamond industry, when the Kimberley process had cleared Zimbabwe of all allegations. Zimbabwe expressed gratitude for the support received from the United Nations family, which had made commitments to assist in the crafting of the National Action Plan and the national strategy for the implementation of the recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review. It was hoped that non-governmental organizations would work with the Government and other stakeholders in the implementation of those recommendations. Zimbabwe was committed to working with all non-governmental organizations as long as they did not embark on the bandwagon for regime change.
The Council then adopted the outcome of the Universal Periodic Review on Zimbabwe.
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