10 November 1997


Press Release
GA/SHC/3441



DRAFTS ON RURAL WOMEN, AFRICAN REFUGEES, UNACCOMPANIED REFUGEE MINORS, INTRODUCED IN THIRD COMMITTEE

19971110
Text on Continuing Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for Five Years Also Introduced

The General Assembly would take action to improve the situation of women in rural areas and promote assistance to unaccompanied refugee minors, as well as to refugees, returnees and displaced persons in Africa, by three of four draft resolutions introduced this afternoon in the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural).

Another text, introduced by the representative of Finland, would have the Assembly decide to continue the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for a further period of five years, from 1 January 1999. It would also decide to review, not later than at its fifty-seventh session, the arrangements for that Office, to determine whether it should be continued beyond 31 December 2003.

The Assembly would invite Member States to attach greater importance to improving the situation of rural women, including older women, in their national development strategies, under a draft resolution introduced by the representative of Mongolia.

By the text on assistance to unaccompanied refugee minors, introduced by the representative of the Sudan, the Assembly would condemn all acts of exploitation of unaccompanied refugee minors, including their use as soldiers or human shields in armed conflict and their forced recruitment into military forces, as well as other acts that endanger their safety.

By a text on assistance to refugees, returnees and displaced persons in Africa, the Assembly would call upon governments, United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and the international community as a whole to strengthen the emergency response capacity of the United Nations system, on the basis of the experience of the emergency in the Great Lakes region. That draft was introduced by Lesotho, on behalf of the Group of African States.

Also this afternoon, the Committee concluded its consideration of the implementation of human rights instruments.


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The representative of Cuba said the monitoring of human rights instruments was a basic tool of the United Nations human rights machinery. However, a cooperative rather than punitive approach should be adopted with regard to such monitoring. Constructive dialogue with States parties was the only effective way towards progress. Treaty bodies were not international tribunals, he said.

The treaty bodies could fulfil their respective mandates best by entering into realistic and constructive dialogue with States, the representative of India said. An adversarial approach towards States by expert members should be avoided. There was also need to look beyond the legal approach to exploiting the full potential of available means for promoting and protecting human rights, including those based on development, ethics, culture, spirituality, morality and religion, she said.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Senegal, Chile, Benin, Mexico, Argentina, San Marino, Republic of Korea and Cuba.

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) will meet again at 3 p.m. tomorrow, 11 November, to consider the programme of activities for the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People.


Committee Work Programme

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) met this afternoon to hear the introduction of six draft resolutions on issues relating to the advancement of women and the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The Committee was also expected to continue its consideration of the implementation of human rights instruments. It had before it the relevant section of the report of the Economic and Social Council, as well as the reports of the Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture.

Also before the Committee were reports of the Secretary-General on: the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture; the status of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the status of the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families; effective implementation of international instruments on human rights, including reporting obligations under international instruments on human rights; the question of ensuring financing and adequate staff and information resources for the operation of the human rights treaty bodies; and progress towards the realization of the rights in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

In addition, the Committee had before it a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of persons chairing the human rights treaty bodies. (For additional background, see Press Release GA/SHC/3440 of 7 November.)

By a 34-Power draft resolution on improving the situation of women in rural areas (document A/C.3/52/L.15/Rev.1), the Assembly would invite Member States to attach greater importance to improving the situation of rural women, including older women, in their national development strategies, paying special attention both to their practical and strategic needs in efforts to implement the outcome of recent United Nations international conferences.

Member States would be invited to integrate the concerns of rural women into national development policies and programmes, in particular by placing a higher priority on budgetary allocations relating to the interests of rural women. They would be invited to strengthen national machineries and establish institutional linkages among governmental bodies in various sectors and non-governmental organizations concerned with rural development; to increase the awareness of rural women of their rights and their role in political and socio-economic development; and to increase the participation of rural women in the decision-making process at the local and national levels.

In addition, Member States would be invited to devise and revise laws to give women equal access to and control over land to end land rights


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discrimination. Land reform programmes should begin by acknowledging the equality of women's rights to land and take other measures to increase land availability to poor women and men.

The Assembly would invite Member States to promote and strengthen micro-financing programmes, cooperatives and other employment opportunities. It would also invite them to ensure that women's unpaid work and contributions to on-farm and off-farm production, including income generated in the informal sector, were visible, and recorded in economic surveys and statistics at the national level.

The draft is sponsored by Bangladesh, Belgium, Bhutan, Burkina Faso, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Georgia, Greece, Guinea, Haiti, Indonesia, Ireland, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Madagascar, Mauritania, Mongolia, Mozambique, Myanmar, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Philippines, Portugal, San Marino, Senegal and Turkey.

By the terms of an 18-Power draft resolution on assistance to unaccompanied refugee minors (document A/C.3/52/L.26), the Assembly would condemn all acts of exploitation of unaccompanied refugee minors, including their use as soldiers or human shields in armed conflict and their forced recruitment into military forces, and any other acts that endanger their safety. The Assembly would express deep concern at the continued plight of unaccompanied refugee minors and emphasize once again the urgent need for their early identification, as well as for timely, detailed and accurate information on their number and whereabouts. The Office of the UNHCR and all concerned organizations would be urged to take appropriate steps to mobilize resources to care for and reunify unaccompanied refugee minors.

The draft is sponsored by Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burundi, Congo, Costa Rica, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Iran, Liberia, Malawi, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, Philippines, Qatar, Sudan, Syria and Turkey.

By a draft resolution on assistance to refugees, returnees and displaced persons in Africa (document A/C.3/52/L.27), sponsored by Lesotho on behalf of the Group of African States, the Assembly would call upon governments, United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and the international community as a whole to strengthen the emergency response capacity of the United Nations system on the basis of the experience of the emergency in the Great Lakes region. It would call upon them to continue to provide needed resources and operational support to refugees and countries of asylum in Africa until a permanent solution can be found.

The Office of the High Commissioner and other concerned entities would be called on to intensify protection activities by such measures as supporting


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the efforts of African governments through appropriate capacity-building activities. The Assembly would appeal to governments, the United Nations, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations and the international community to create conditions to facilitate the voluntary return and early rehabilitation and reintegration of refugees.

By other terms of the text, the Assembly would appeal to the international community to respond positively to the third-country resettlement requests of African refugees, in the spirit of solidarity and burden-sharing. The governments of the Great Lakes and west African regions and of the Horn of Africa, along with the Office of the High Commissioner, would be commended for their initiatives to promote repatriation within the framework of tripartite agreements on voluntary repatriation of refugees in the regions. The international donor community would be called on to provide material and financial assistance for the implementation of programmes intended for the rehabilitation of the environment and infrastructure in areas affected by refugees in countries of asylum.

By terms of an 18-Power draft resolution on follow-up to the 1996 Regional Conference on refugees and displaced persons in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and relevant neighbouring States (document A/C.3/52/L.28), the Assembly would urge international financial and other institutions to contribute to the financing of projects and programmes within the framework of the Programme of Action adopted by the CIS Regional Conference. It would also urge the UNHCR to take into account relevant elements of the Programme, in coordination with the Office of the High Commissioner, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The Assembly would also ask the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees to enhance its relationship with other key international actors, such as the Council of Europe, the European Commission and other human rights, development and financial institutions, to better address the wide-ranging and complex issues in the Programme.

The draft is sponsored by Armenia, Belarus, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Kyrgyzstan, Luxembourg, Norway, Portugal, Russian Federation, Sweden, Tajikistan and the United States.

By the terms of a 71-Power draft resolution on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (document A/C.3/52/L.29), the Assembly would condemn all acts that pose a threat to the personal security of refugees and asylum-seekers. It would call upon States of refuge, with international organizations where appropriate, to take all necessary measures to ensure that the civilian and humanitarian character of refugee camps and settlements is maintained. It would deplore the immense human suffering and loss of life


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that have accompanied refugee flows and other forced displacements, in particular numerous serious threats to the security or well-being of refugees, refoulement, unlawful expulsion, physical attacks and detention under unacceptable conditions. It would call upon States to take all measures necessary to ensure respect for the principles of refugee protection, including the humane treatment of asylum-seekers, in accordance with internationally recognized human rights and humanitarian norms.

The Assembly would stress the importance of international solidarity and burden-sharing in reinforcing the international protection of refugees, and urge all States and relevant non-governmental and other organizations, in conjunction with the Office of the High Commissioner, to cooperate in efforts to lighten the burden borne by those States that have received large numbers of asylum-seekers and refugees. All States and relevant organizations would be urged to support the High Commissioner's search for durable solutions to refugee problems.

Other terms of the draft text would call upon States and all concerned parties to refrain from any actions that could prevent or obstruct the High Commissioner's staff and other humanitarian personnel in the performance of their functions. They would also be called on to take all possible measures to safeguard the physical security and property of those staff, to investigate fully any crime committed against them, to bring to justice persons responsible for such crimes and to facilitate the discharge of the mandated functions of the Office of the High Commissioner, as well as of other humanitarian organizations.

The draft resolution is sponsored by Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mali, Malta, Monaco, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

By a 71-Power draft resolution on continuation of the Office of the High Commissioner (document A/C.3/52/L.30), the Assembly would decide to continue the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for a further period of five years, from 1 January 1999. It would also decide to review, not later than at its fifty-seventh session, the arrangements for that Office, to determine whether it should be continued beyond 31 December 2003.


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The draft resolution is sponsored by Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Mali, Malta, Monaco, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Introduction of Draft Resolutions

SUC-OCHIR BOLD (Mongolia) introduced the draft resolution on the situation of women in rural areas, with oral revisions. The eighth preambular paragraph would be changed to read as follows: "Mindful also that despite the global trend towards rapid urbanization, many developing countries are still largely rural,". (It had stated that "developing countries are still largely rural and will continue to be so in the years to come".)

In operative paragraph 2 (b), the words "policies and" would be added. The section, in which Member States are invited to take certain actions, would now read as follows: "Promoting and strengthening micro-financing policies and programmes, cooperatives and other employment opportunities;".

The following countries were added to the list of co-sponsors: Canada, Cote d'Ivoire, Germany, Finland, Lesotho, Malaysia, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Sweden, Thailand, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia.

IRMELI MUSTONEN (Finland) introduced the draft resolution on the continuation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees. The following countries were added as co-sponsors: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Cote d'Ivoire, Croatia, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Morocco, Mozambique, Nepal, Nicaragua, Suriname and Uganda.

SHAHIRA H. WAHBI (Sudan) introduced the draft resolution on assistance to unaccompanied refugee minors. Added as co-sponsors were Georgia, Dominican Republic and Jordan.

LIPUO MOTEETEE (Lesotho), speaking on behalf of the Group of African States, introduced the draft resolution on assistance to refugees, returnees and displaced persons in Africa, with oral revisions. A new paragraph was added, to become the seventh preambular paragraph, as follows: "Welcoming the outcome of the Ministerial Meeting of the Security Council on the Situation in


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Africa, held on 25 September 1997, and the attention that was given, among other things, to the issue of refugees, returnees and displaced persons in Africa;".

In operative paragraph 2, the words "declining socio-economic situation, compounded by" would be added, to read as follows:

"Notes with concern that the declining social and economic situation, compounded by political stability, internal strife, human rights violations and natural disasters, such as drought, have led to increased numbers of refugees and displaced persons in some countries of Africa;".

Statements

IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal) said the struggle for human rights had become a political struggle. When Senegal ratified the Convention against Torture, it also adopted a law that punished torture. His country was implementing human rights measures on a daily basis, linking it with good governance, transparency and participation. The right of citizens to speak their views was assured in Senegal, as was the right to appeal a case.

Senegal had a national committee for human rights since 1970, as well as a human rights monitoring group charged with coordinating between the Government and the international instruments to which Senegal was party, he said. It also undertook educational activities for the promotion of all rights, including those of women, children and the family. Senegal also had a family code, which gave a choice between Muslim and common law, as well as free, democratic elections. His country was also active in regional human rights activities, such as the newly established Africa Commission on human rights.

CARMEN HERTZ (Chile) said that implementation of human rights instruments was critical. The highest standards must be applied, because that was the basis for universality. Her country was concerned over the recent trend to give national legislation precedence over international instruments. That must be reversed, because it gave opportunity to violate international human rights.

The document on the persons chairing human rights treaty bodies reflected the main problems facing implementation of international instruments, she said. It was not necessary to merge all six treaties. Nevertheless, there was a clear difference between those States which submitted reports on time and those which did not. The former were scrutinized, while the latter were not. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should be strengthened, she added.


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CYRILLE OGUIN (Benin) said the enjoyment of human rights was necessary for development. Building a state of law, observing human rights, ensuring the good functioning of government and the holding of elections had made it possible for the democratic process to become rooted in Benin, where fundamental human rights were enjoyed. Benin was party to international human rights conventions and was assuming its responsibilities as far as resources allowed, both in follow-up and in training. An agreement for technical cooperation relating to human rights, signed in 1984 between Benin and the United Nations, served as the basis for better understanding of human rights as well as for training.

Donor countries must provide resources for technical strengthening of the rule of law and for human rights development in countries which lacked sufficient means, he said. States must protect all rights, including both social and political rights. Poverty was an obstacle to implementing human rights safeguards. In Benin, a national economic conference had produced important guidelines. In addition, a strategy was designed, in keeping with recommendations of the Copenhagen World Summit for Social Development, to make it possible to meet people's needs, including their need for food and education.

No State, however powerful, could remain blind to the poverty of the most of the world's population, he said. The solution was to develop international solidarity regarding the right to development. The fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights next year would be an opportunity to assess the progress made and to ask which obstacles remained to be overcome. It would also be a time to plan for the future, remembering that the observance of human rights was multi-dimensional and could not be separated from issues of peace and social justice.

BEGUM NOOR BANO (India) said her country valued its relationship with the human rights treaty bodies. With its signing of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment last month, her country was now a signatory to all six core international human rights treaties. Human rights now occupied an increasingly central place in international law and in United Nations activities. Its evolution had taken place on two distinct, related tracks -- one "legal and expert", the other "political and intergovernmental". Both approaches had their advantages and disadvantages. The advantages of the treaty bodies were that they were a product of open-ended negotiations among nations, and therefore represented some measure of international consensus on human rights standards which could be considered universal. As expert bodies elected by States parties, they inspired a high measure of trust and confidence.

On the whole, the human rights treaty bodies had functioned well, she said. However, they faced problems from outside the system as well as from


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within. Problems from within included excessive and detailed reporting obligations which imposed a heavy burden, particularly on developing countries; poor follow-up; a lack of adequate emphasis on improving procedures for ratification and for the withdrawal of reservations; and a lack of adequate resources to service treaty bodies. India supported many of the measures recommended in the report of the treaty chairpersons, such as the reduction of lengthy reports and duplication, and the provision of specialist training for the staff of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights.

It was increasingly recognized that an unbridled enthusiasm for standard setting at the expense of patient implementation had resulted in a proliferation and growth of instruments which attracted a limited number of adherents and threatened to overload the system, she said. The treaty bodies could fulfil their respective mandates best by entering into realistic and constructive dialogue with States. An adversarial approach towards States by expert members should be avoided. There was also need to look beyond the legal approach to exploiting the full potential of available means for the promotion and protection of human rights. Member States should look more closely at development-based, ethics-based and culture-based approaches, as well as at spiritual and moral and religion based approaches.

GUSTAVO ALBIN (Mexico) said his country was building a more open, free and just society. The strengthening of institutions was crucial in achieving those objectives. A commission had been set up to coordinate human rights activities, improve international communication and improve dialogue with international human rights bodies and non-governmental organizations in the field of human rights. Much remained to be done internationally. Mexico supported the merging the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Centre for Human Rights, which would strengthen the treatment of human rights issues.

The thousands of migrants who, emigrating in search of a better life, faced violence, racism and xenophobia, were of concern to Mexico, he said. The Assembly should adopt concrete measures to strengthen the rights of migrants. Mexico would submit a draft resolution calling on governments to consider the ratification of the International Convention for the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. The use of the death penalty was also a matter of concern. The United Nations had an important role to play in monitoring and controlling respect for human rights. International cooperation with respect to human rights must be strengthened.

MONICA PINTO (Argentina) said that within the United Nations reform process, human rights was considered as integral to all areas of the Organization's work, reflecting the accumulated experience gained over the past few decades. The 1990s had shown that effective action must accompany the discussion of issues in the area of human rights. Democratization in


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Argentina had led to the adoption of human rights treaties and the gradual integration of the norms embodied in human rights instruments. Constitutional rights had been granted to a number of international human rights instruments, including those relating to forced disappearances.

Some international human rights instruments were not as universal as they should be, she said. It was difficult to avoid the issue of reservations. It was timely to reflect upon the value of the treaty bodies in protecting human rights. There was a need to find other ways to ensure that those rights are guaranteed. The work of the monitoring bodies had led to a uniform practice in interpreting protective rights. Although it had not been easy, Argentina had submitted its reports to treaty bodies on time and had also responded to comments made regarding its reports. She did not agree that States which had not submitted reports should remove themselves from the monitoring process.

GIAN NICOLA FILIPPI BALESTRA (San Marino) said the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights would be the best time for everyone to assess the world human rights situation. There was still concern that human rights were not universally observed, and it was time to move beyond concern.

Promoting human rights was a high priority in San Marino, which was the first to abolish the death penalty, he said. All children were provided with a human rights school kit, and educating children in tolerance was a government priority. Texts on fundamental human rights should be disseminated at schools everywhere. He said that San Marino wanted to host an international conference on human rights and supported establishment of a human rights task force in New York and Geneva. It also supported mounting a Web site on the Internet, where the text of the universal human rights would be readily available.

RODOLFO REYES RODRIGUEZ (Cuba) said the monitoring of human rights instruments was a basic tool in the United Nations human rights machinery. However, a cooperative rather than punitive approach should be adopted with regard to such monitoring. Constructive dialogue with States parties was the only effective way towards progress. Treaty bodies were not international tribunals.

It was important to remember the legal basis of treaties and to provide a formula for equitable geographical representation on the treaty bodies, he said. That was the only way to guarantee true representation of all cultures and societies. The use of languages was another challenge; it was unacceptable to have only one working language in a treaty body. Also, States parties should be the only sources of information. Transparency in the


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information process was necessary, and division of work should be based on the distinct nature of each treaty body.

The overlap in human rights instruments was increasingly recognized, he said. The solution was strict respect for the mandates of the treaty bodies. It should be remembered that reports were made by human beings, who were fallible. Individuals who worked on the treaty bodies should come from the staffing table of the Human Rights Commission or from the Secretariat. The current reporting system should be reformed, as developing countries could not keep up with it.

CHANG BEOM CHO (Republic of Korea) said the universal ratification of human rights treaties was critically important, because such universality was the only means to translate the international community's commitment to human rights into action. Nearly 30 per cent of States had yet to become party to either of the two international covenants on human rights, despite their centrality to the overall human rights regime. Most disturbing was the announcement by a State that it was withdrawing from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, an unprecedented unilateral action which constituted a serious challenge to the integrity of the entire human rights treaty system. The international community should use every effort to stem that threat.

Universal accession was important, but implementation of obligations undertaken was equally important, he said. States should undertake legislative and administrative measures which conformed to international standards and should report to the relevant treaty bodies.

To improve the reporting system, an advisory services programme should be established to address the needs of States prior to ratification, as well as in the preparation of reports, he said. Comprehensive periodic reports should be replaced by specific reports which addressed a limited range of issues, reflecting the State's particular situation. A single consolidated report should be prepared to satisfy the reporting requirements for each treaty to which a State is party.

Mr. REYES RODRIGUEZ (Cuba) said that advanced copies of the statements of certain special rapporteurs had been distributed today. Why had that not ben done in the case of all special rapporteurs, such as the rapporteur on racism? Why was it done in the case of special rapporteurs on specific countries?

ALESSANDRO BUSACCA (Italy), Committee Chairman, said that advanced texts of some but not all of the statements had been made available to the Committee.

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