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Human Rights Defenders on the Front Line
Introduction to the annual report 2004 of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders – (FIDH / OMCT) TAKE ACTION!
VOTE: Free Expression Blog Awards
CSW COUNTRY UPDATE
AUSTRALIA: Security Legislation erodes press freedom
BELARUS: Civil society activists strive for freedom to associate
COLOMBIA: Human rights defenders abducted
ECUADOR: The IACHR hears the case of the Sarayaku community
GAMBIA: New press laws restricts media
JAPAN: New Constitution draft restricts freedom of expression and association
JORDAN: Draft law on associations would muzzle civil society
KAZAKHSTAN: New law to ban demonstrations
RSF outlines seven reasons why the legislative elections were “very clearly unfair”
Human Rights Defenders on the Front Line
Introduction to the annual report 2004 of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders – (FIDH / OMCT) On 14 April 2005, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), published its annual report for 2004. Human rights stuck between relativism and denial
In April 2004 the United Nations Commission on Human Rights reaffirmed that "States must ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism complies with their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law".
Many governments who see a convenient opportunity in the fight against terrorism for strengthening their power take no notice of this recommendation. The fundamental rights enshrined in the United Nations International Bill of Human Rights, and in particular those whose inviolability is proclaimed in the text itself, are regularly trampled, including in long-standing democracies.
Such violations have always existed but the trend today is to justify them in the name of defending other values, which are also part of them rule of law, such as freedom and democracy. In this regard, the announcement of the appointment of Mr. Alberto Gonzales, a former counsel to President George W. Bush, to the position of Attorney General in November 2004, is symptomatic. As a counsel to the President, Mr. Alberto Gonzales stated in a memorandum that the war against terrorism is "a new kind of war" and "this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva's strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions". In the United Kingdom, a court ruled in August 2004 that evidence obtained under torture was "admissible", thus running counter to the obligations that this State has always endorsed.
Other States assert even more blatantly disregard of human rights obligations laid down in international instruments, when they hinder the fight against terrorism. For instance, at an informal meeting held on the occasion of the July 2004 Summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), nine member States severely criticised the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) for granting too much importance to democracy and human rights, and for, thereby, "significantly" limiting its capacity to deal with other threats.
In such a context, where human rights are either sacrificed to Realpolitik or disregarded in the name of freedom and other interests, the women and the men who defend them are more than ever on the front line.
Defenders are up against a double difficulty: on the one hand, their task increases in importance with the rise of arbitrariness, social inequalities and violations concomitant with the "security first" principle; on the other hand, the values they defend are undergoing constant erosion, their freedom of expression is considerably curtailed and their message is ever more difficult to transmit. Whereas their action is all the more necessary, they could well suffer the same fate as the rights they defend.
Repression against human rights defenders continued in 2004, and even gained in intensity in certain parts of the world, notably in Asia and some Latin American countries. This repression is sometimes directly linked to a spurious use of the fight against terrorism. In certain countries, particularly in conflict-ridden areas (Colombia, Nepal), defenders are considered as rebels or terrorists, and/or are subjected to a restrictive security legislation, like the Mapuche leaders in Chile. More generally, in many countries, like Uzbekistan or Tunisia, defenders are treated like ordinary criminals.
Human rights defenders in situations of conflict In 2004, wars and internal conflicts have continued to take a heavy toll of human rights defenders.
From Chechnya to Sudan, from Iraq to the Philippines, human rights defenders have been targeted for denouncing exactions committed by parties to the conflict, and paradoxically for advocating peaceful solutions that are respectful of human rights.
In most cases they are accused of being in favour of one side or the other, and find themselves in a seemingly inextricable situation of extreme danger. In some countries they are cut off from the outside world (Chechnya), or seriously restricted in their freedom of movement (Occupied Palestinian Territories).
Furthermore, in 2004 international humanitarian personnel were subjected to numerous acts of reprisal owing to support given to the civilian population in Iraq, Afghanistan or Sudan.
Defenders of economic, social and cultural rights Many defenders have been assassinated or threatened for being an obstacle to certain economic interests. Many trade union activists, for instance, have paid with their own lives for defending workers in their negotiations with employers. In China, where the justification invoked for a productive system based on absolute discipline on the part of underpaid workers has been the need to attain growth targets, union leaders are subjected to systematic repression. Representatives of indigenous communities (Ecuador) have suffered the same fate for protesting against the establishment of firms and businesses on their territory, as well as defenders who have denounced grave harm to the environment exposing local populations to serious risks (Thailand).
In certain countries, large landowners continue to subject representatives of the landless populations (Brazil) or of the indigenous population (Bolivia) to severe reprisals.
Although the government is not always directly implicated in such violations, its implicit support, at national or local level, to those who hold economic power places human rights defenders in an extremely precarious situation: not only do they lack adequate protection, but most crimes committed against them remain unpunished.
Fight against impunity Impunity, which unfortunately remains the rule in many authoritarian regimes, as in those eroded by paramilitarism, more than ever calls for courageous efforts on the part of human rights defenders for the victims to obtain judicial redress.
The possibility of initiating legal proceedings or of participating to judicial or quasi-judicial actions as plaintiffs, at national and international level, opens up new perspectives for defenders.
The International Criminal Court (ICC), which has now started to function, enables victims and their supporting NGOs to refer any situation implying war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide to the Prosecutor. Under the Rome Statute, they can also participate and be represented in the framework of the Court proceedings.
Unfortunately, these historical breakthroughs might not be put into operation as long as victims and supporting NGOs are not guaranteed any protection against persecution and intimidation, as was the case in 2004 in the affairs of the "Disappeared of the Beach" in Congo-Brazzaville and the Relizane militia in Algeria.
Women defenders In many countries, the fundamental rights of women – reproductive health, the fight against female genital mutilation, polygamy and conjugal violence, etc. - are denied. Unfortunately, women often find themselves very much alone when it comes to fighting for the respect of these rights. In doing so they run considerable risks (assassination, disappearance, arbitrary detention, threats, harassment) and are often subject to discrimination and stigmatisation, like in China, where they are fighting drastic family planning policies, or in Pakistan and Iran where Islamic religious groups consider their struggle to be contrary to religion.
Beyond speech-making, women's rights are not really a priority for governments, who too often consider their claims to be too specific to be an element of general policy.
In addition, women defenders, i.e. women who defend fundamental women's rights and fight against gender violence, but also the ones who more generally defend human rights, also meet resistance within human rights movements themselves.
Ten years after the Beijing conference, the "women's rights are fundamental human rights" slogan still needs to be hammered out in order to overcome inter-association barriers and to give renewed vigour to the fight for women's rights.
Regional and international protection Undeniable progress has been made in the regional and international protection of human rights defenders. In 2004, the Observatory welcomed the appointment of Mrs. Jainaba Johm as Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, as well as the adoption of the European Union (EU) Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders.
The question remains, however, of the effectiveness of some mechanisms and instruments. In the case of the European Union for instance, although the question of human rights defenders is raised in most intergovernmental meetings (Commission on Human Rights, UN General Assembly), it should be much more addressed at the bilateral level, in coherence with the recent adoption of the Guidelines and in order to complete in effect the "discreet diplomacy" the EU is engaged in. In 2004 for instance, the situation of human rights defenders was mentioned in none of the final declarations of the association and co-operation councils (Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan), or of the EU-China, EU-Russia and ASEM (Asia-Europe meetings) Summits.
Furthermore, the impact of the "Defenders" Unit of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), set up in 2001, appears to be somewhat limited, in that States often neglect to implement the protective measures (medidas cautelares) laid down by the IACHR, while the IACHR is lacking the necessary funds for the Unit to engage in effective action.
The strategies applied by States for exercising national control over independent civil society are frequently extended to international or regional bodies.
At the level of the African Union (AU), a first "Draft Code of Ethics and Conduct for African civil society organisations" was presented in June 2003. This Draft Code specifies a number of obligations imposed on civil society organisations seeking accreditation with the AU. Furthermore, the Statutes of ECOSOCC, the standing consultative body composed of representatives of civil society organisations in AU member States, which were adopted in 2004, have been revised and made more restrictive, in particular regarding the eligibility requirements for ECOSOCC membership.
At the level of the United Nations, an increasing number of initiatives aim at restricting the reactions of the protection mechanisms to allegations of violations transmitted by independent NGOs.
2004 is characterised by the evident lack of political will to respect human rights, and by the same token, those who defend them. As the last bastion against the multiform increase in arbitrary power, defenders continued to pay a heavy price for their commitment to the defence of our universal rights. Our solidarity with these exemplary men and women, to quote Lida Yusupova in Grozny, "is of immediate importance, and gives [them] the strength to persevere in [their] action". It is up to all of us to be worthy of their trust.
Repression against human rights defenders The Observatory's 2004 Annual Report addresses the cases of 1,154 defenders and nearly 200 human rights organisations (NGOs, trade unions, institutions, etc.) targeted by acts of repression in about 90 countries.
Although this report does not pretend to be fully exhaustive, the doubling of the number of cases handled by the Observatory in 2004 compared to the 2003 Annual Report is revealing of the deteriorating situation of human rights defenders - and thus, of the erosion of human rights in the world.
In 2004, the Americas, where the number of assassinations and death threats was the highest (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico and Peru), remained the most dangerous region for human rights defenders. Moreover, the intensified criminalisation of social protest, notably through numerous infringements to freedoms of demonstration and assembly, as well as arbitrary judicial proceedings, particularly targeted defenders of economic, social and cultural rights (Chile, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico).
In Asia, an increasing number of defenders were assassinated in 2004 (Afghanistan, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines and Thailand), whereas the record of arbitrary detentions remained high (in particular in China and Vietnam). Further, defenders' security seriously deteriorated in Nepal.
In Africa, defenders carried on their activities under high pressure and hostility: they were subjected to threats, defamation and intimidation (Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea-Bissau, and Mauritania), as well as to serious acts of violence (Gambia, Zimbabwe). The adoption of restrictive pieces of legislation became also more systematic as part of methods to neutralise civil society, whose role is still far from being accepted (Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Zimbabwe).
In Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the crackdown against independent NGOs mainly consisted in hindering defenders' freedoms (Belarus, Russian Federation, Uzbekistan), thus confirming the governments' will to control civil society in the region, where violence and impunity were still the rule in 2004 (Azerbaijan, Russian Federation, Kyrgyzstan and Serbia-Montenegro).
Lastly, certain countries in Maghreb and the Middle East continued to deny the right to freely operating in favour of democratic reforms and the rule of law (Gulf States, Libya and Syria). The rights to create associations and to receive foreign funding were almost systematically retaliated, while freedom of expression remained blatantly violated.
See full Report:http://www.fidh.org/article.php3?id_article=2355
VOTE: Free Expression Blog Awards
Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) invites Internet-users to vote online for the best blogs that defend the right to freedom of expression. Sixty blogs have been selected as finalists in the competition.
There are six categories: Africa and the Middle East, the Americas, Asia, Europe, Iran and International. The blogs are in English, French, Russian, Arabic, Farsi, Spanish and German.
Each Internet-user may vote for only one blog in each category. Votes will only be counted if users click on the acknowledgement of receipt which will be sent by email.
Voting closes on 1 June 2005 and the prize-winners will be announced two weeks later.
To vote now, visit: http://www.globenet.org/rsf/voteblog.php?lang=en
CSW COUNTRY UPDATES
AUSTRALIA: Security Legislation erodes press freedom 25 March 2005 – The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) from Australia made a submission to the Parliamentary Joint Inquiry on ASIO (Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation), ASIS (Australian Secret Intelligence Service) and DSD (Defence Signals Directorate).
The MEAA expressed serious concern about Division III of the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation Act 1979, as amended by the ASIO Amendment (Terrorism) Act 2003. It contains provisions that seriously threaten journalists’ freedom of speech and in turn, the public’s right to information. The MEAA is principally concerned with provisions that allow for the imprisonment of journalists for five years who disclose any information relating to an ASIO warrant.
View Source and read more:
http://www.alliance.org.au/leadstory/2005/asio.htm BELARUS: Civil society activists strive for freedom to associate 22 March 2005 – The Assembly of Belarusian NGOs coordinated a joint plan of action to promote amendments to legislation related to public organisations. These issues were considered in a round table discussion which took place on 19 March 2005 as part of the campaign “Our Solidarity”. The representatives of various civil society organisations made recommendations on how to restore the right of association in Belarus and agreed to file an appeal to the Constitutional Court with these concerns.
See Document for Discussion:
http://www.belngo.info/cgi-bin/e.pl?d=nasa2/en&i=1 View Source:
http://www.belngo.info/cgi-bin/e.pl?id=750 COLOMBIA: Human rights defenders abducted 5 April 2005 – Human rights organisation, Amnesty International, reported the abduction of five members of the NGO ‘Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz’ (Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission) on 31 March 2005. These human rights defenders are working with the Afro-descendant community of Jiquiamiandó and Curvaradó in the department of Chocó. It is said that the gunmen who allegedly abducted these activists identified themselves as members of the guerrilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
http://amnesty-news.c.topica.com/maadm3pabMNDbea7Mwb/ ECUADOR: The IACHR hears the case of the Sarayaku community
29 March 2005 – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged the Government of Ecuador to take all necessary steps to protect the life and integrity of members of the Sarayaku indigenous community, reported the activist organisation Global Response. The IACHR summoned the parties to a hearing on 11 May 2005 to consider the arguments regarding the Government’s continuing non-compliance. After a concession granted to the Argentinean based oil company, CGC, to explore almost 500,000 acres for oil within the boundaries of the Sarayaku’s ancestral land in 1996, this indigenous community from the tropical rainforest in south-central Ecuador has maintained that the extradition of oil from their territory will damage their environment and way of life. It has also been reported that leaders of this community, including the President of the Sarayaku Association, have been intimidated, including receiving death threats and physical and verbal abuse, as they are opposed to these concessions.
Read IACHR October 2004 ruling: http://www.cidh.oas.org/annualrep/2004eng/Ecuador.167.03eng.htm
http://www.globalresponse.org/updates.php?record=2060 GAMBIA: New press laws restricts media 10 March 2005 – IRINnews informed about two new press laws signed by President Yahya Jammeh to muzzle freedom of expression as the country gears up for elections next year. The Criminal Code Amendment Bill 2004 makes press offences, such as libel, punishable with imprisonment and the Newspaper Amendment Act cancels existing publication and broadcasting licenses, forcing the media to re-register at five times the cost, said the news agency.
http://www.irinnews.org/print.asp?ReportID=46051 JAPAN: New Constitution draft restricts freedom of expression and association 1 March 2005 – News agency, Japan Today, informed that a subcommittee of the constitutional drafting committee of the ruling party in Japan, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), is aiming to restrict the freedom of expression and assembly guaranteed under the current Constitution. It is reported that this subcommittee is attempting to restrict or ban the sale of books that have detrimental effect on ‘young people’s upbringing’. It is also said that in the basic policy stance of the subcommittee includes that there should be restrictions on forming associations that aim at damaging the state or social order.
http://www.japantoday.com/e/tools/print.asp?content=news&id=329230 JORDAN: Draft law on associations would muzzle civil society
7 April 2005 – Human rights organisation, Human Rights Watch (HRW), expressed concern about the “Professional Associations draft law” presented to the Jordanian parliament on 6 March 2005. HRW reported that this draft law would require professional associations to obtain pre-written approval from the Interior Ministry to hold public gatherings and to limit their topics of discussion at any of their professional meetings, councils and committee meetings exclusively to “professional matters”. It is also alleged that this law covers 12 professional associations that have more than 120,000 members.
http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/04/06/jordan10430.htm KAZAKHSTAN: New law to ban demonstrations 11 April 2005 – Various opposition leaders protested against a new law to ban demonstrations, claiming that the bill was seriously restricting civil rights and freedoms ahead of presidential elections in 2006, reported IRINnews. A representative from the Kazakhstan International Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law (IBHRRL) stated that this new law does not comply with international standards and there is a clear political context because the authorities will not allow any scenarios like those in Georgia, Ukraine and now in Kyrgyzstan.
http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=46573 LAOS: Wolfensohn supported the dam project despite protests
6 April 2005 – In March, more than 150 civil society organisations from 42 countries sent a communication to the World Bank former President James Wolfensohn calling on him not to support the dam project in Laos, the Nam Theun 2, informed Terraviva from the Inter Press Service (IPS). It is also reported that dozens of local villagers protested the new project. The International Rivers Network raised concerns about the Nam Theun 2 dam which would displace more than 6,000 villagers and affect the livelihood of 100,000 people living downstream along Xe Bang Fai. The project was approved nonetheless.
http://www.irn.org/programs/mekong/namtheun.html NEPAL: Transport strike may stop development activities
5 April 2005 – Local and international civil society organisations in Nepal expressed their concern over the humanitarian consequences that a nationwide transport strike may cause. The news agency IRINnews reported that Maoist rebels would block the routes to the capital Kathmandu and other major cities from 2 April and set to last 11 days.
http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=46464 NIGER: Civil Society leaders arrested at food price hike strike 31 March 2005 – An alliance of civil society groups called the Coalition Against Costly Living was formed to protest the imposition of 19 percent value added tax (VAT) on basic goods and services. IRINnews informed about a number of demonstrations in various parts of the country. It is also said that five key leaders of the Coalition were arrested with charges of plotting against the state and forming an illegal association. If convicted, they could face up to 20 years imprisonment.
http://www.irinnews.org/report.asp?ReportID=46405 SUDAN: Government threatened aid agencies in Darfur 5 April 2005 – Human Rights Watch documented the arbitrary arrest and detention of more than 20 foreign and local aid workers from at least seven NGOs over the past four months. The organisation said this is the Sudanese government’s attempt to intimidate humanitarian relief agencies. It is also reported that the alleged offences which led to these arrests and detentions are minor infractions such as lacking the correct authorisation for transport of commodities and violating curfew. Aid workers have been also detained for what the government perceives as “suspect activities”, HRW informed.
http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/04/05/darfur10417.htm TURKEY: Excessive use of force against Women’s Day demonstrators
7 March 2005 – Amnesty International expressed concern about the excessive use of force by police officers against individuals gathered in Istanbul on 6 March to celebrate Women’s Day. Around 500 demonstrators were dispersed by the police of which 63 were detained and at least 3 were hospitalised, said the human rights organisation.
http://amnesty-news.c.topica.com/maadgm9abeSKVbea7Mwb/ UZBEKISTAN: Government started criminal proceedings against NGO 6 April 2005 – The Uzbek authorities started a judicial procedure against the Tashkent office of the international media support NGO “Internews”, reported IRINnews. The organisation is charged under the Uzbek Criminal Code with operating without a license. The news agency IRINnews also informed that in September last year, the work of a local branch of Internews set up in 2001 was suspended by the authorities in the capital Tashkent for six months for failing to follow internal regulations and for breaching the country’s complicated laws on NGOs. It is also said that in 2004 the office of Open Society Institute was closed down for breaching the country’s laws and warned two other US-funded international NGOs to refrain from supporting local opposition movements.
http://www.irinnews.org/print.asp?ReportID=46482 VENEZUELA: Amendments to Criminal Code stifle freedom of expression 24 March 2005 – Human Rights Watch warned that the recent amendments to Venezuela’s Criminal Code may stifle press criticism of government authorities and restrict the public’s ability to monitor government actions. These amendments extend the scope of existing provisions that make it a criminal offence to insult or show disrespect for the president and other government authorities. It is also said that anyone convicted with these charges could go to prison for up to 20 months and who gravely offends the president could face imprisonment for up to 40 months. Other amendments also increase the penalties for defamation and libel.
ZANZIBAR: Police banned political rallies 26 March 2005 –The South African news agency, Mail&Guardian reported that Zanzibar’s police chief banned all political rallies and meetings because he said his force was too busy with other duties (crucial national assignments), just six months before general elections. A representative from the opposition Civic United Front insisted that this was unconstitutional. Under the law, rally organisers must notify the police to provide security, but the police do not have the authority to ban political activities.
http://www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleId=200354&area=/breaking_news/breaking_news__africa/# ZIMBABWE: 250 Women arrested during prayer 1 April 2005 – Amnesty International informed about the arrest of 250 women after the police disrupted a peaceful post-election prayer gathering in the capital Harare. According to the report, police physically assaulted several women after being arrested. The prayer was organised by Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), of which activists have been arrested for the fourth time this year for engaging in peaceful protests, Amnesty said.
Mugabe refuses to sign NGOs Bill By Caiphas Chimhet, The StandardPRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has refused to sign the controversial Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Bill in its present state and has referred it back for further consultations, The Standard can reveal.
Sources said Mugabe felt the NGO Bill, which was crafted largely by vindictive former Minister of State for Information and Publicity in the President's Office Jonathan Moyo and Justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, was "too obnoxious" and would portray government in bad light in the eyes of the international community.
If signed into law, it will bar NGOs from receiving foreign funding for governance programmes. Most NGOs depend on foreign funding for most of their programmes.
The sources said Mugabe had tasked the Minister of Labour, Public Service and Social Welfare, Paul Mangwana, and Zanu PF spokesperson, Nathan Shamuyarira, to hold further consultations with civic organisations.
The Bill will be referred back to Parliament but the Zanu PF duo would be working on a parallel process, said one source.
"We have met Shamuyarira and Mangwana as civic organisations on a number of occasions and we have made our submission," said the source.
Constitutionally, a Bill lapses after 21 days of being presented to the President. The NGO Bill was passed by Parliament on 9 December 2004 and Mugabe has not signed it.
Shamuyarira confirmed that he met some NGO representatives "some four weeks ago", but he referred all questions to Mangwana.
"I can't say anything on a bill that is in Mangwana's ministry, talk to Mangwana. He will give you the story," Shamuyarira said. Magwana said: "What I know is that the Bill is still under consideration by the President."
Findings on Human Rights in Zimbabwe by UN and regional bodies
This document was prepared by the International Commission of Jurists to address the situation of human rights in Zimbabwe at the 61st Session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. It contains excerpts from the report of the fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, special procedures of the UN Commission on Human Rights, United Nations press releases explicitly referring to the human rights situation in Zimbabwe published between 2000 and 2005 and a chart on the reporting status of Zimbabwe to the human rights treaty bodies.
Read full Document:http://www.kubatana.net/docs/hr/icj_overview_hr_stmts_zim_2000-05.doc African Commission to hear AIPPA challenge
The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) will hear an application against the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) at its 37th Ordinary Session in Gambia next month.
Read full article:http://www.theindependent.co.zw/news/2005/March/Thursday24/1943.html RSF outlines seven reasons why the legislative elections were “very clearly unfair”
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said the 31 March legislative elections in Zimbabwe were "very clearly unfair" from the press freedom viewpoint, being marred by oppressive legislation, biased media coverage, almost systematic censorship of dissent and recurrent violence against critical journalists.
Read the Capsule Report:http://www.rsf.org View Source:
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