|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Sixty-sixth General Assembly
Interactive Thematic Debate
AM & PM Meetings
Citing ‘Abject Poverty’, Secretary-General Urges Social Protections for Most
Vulnerable, in Remarks to General Assembly Dialogue on Human Trafficking
Voluntary Trust Fund Needs Strong, Continued Support,
Assembly President Says as Participants Hear from Experts, Former Victims
Top United Nations officials pressed Governments, the private sector and civil society to take coordinated and consistent measures in combating human trafficking, as they gathered today for a General Assembly interactive dialogue on defeating a scourge that had trapped an estimated 2.4 million people worldwide.
During the one-day dialogue, organized with the Group of Friends against Human Trafficking and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), speakers addressed the challenges of implementing the 2010 Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, and examined prevention efforts. The event featured two panel discussions, on “Protecting the Victims of Trafficking”, and “Assistance to the Victims of Trafficking”.
“We need everyone to win this battle,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in opening remarks. National responses must be aligned with international human rights standards, he emphasized. “Where traffickers are using threats and weapons, we must respond with laws and prosecutions,” he said, urging States to adhere to the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.
Further, Governments must take a broad view of the factors that fed trafficking, he said, pointing out that only the most abject poverty could force a family to sell a child. People in such desperate conditions needed social protections, and must be brought into discussions on improving the situation. Labour and migration policies must be coordinated and the gap between commitment and action closed, he said, encouraging all countries to contribute to the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund on Human Trafficking, which provided legal and financial aid to victims. Such crimes were often described as unthinkable and unspeakable, he noted. “We must make them unprofitable and untenable.”
Echoing that call, General Assembly President Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser (Qatar) said the Fund needed strong and continued support, as the money received thus far was not enough. “Children born today — particularly girls — should not have to face the possibility of being forced into this modern form of slavery,” he stressed, expressing hope that today’s meeting would provide a solid foundation for the review of progress on the Global Plan of Action’s implementation, scheduled for 2013.
“The unfortunate reality is that violence against women and girls continues to be one of the most widespread violations of human rights,” said Deara Percaya ( Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the President of the Economic and Social Council. International and regional legal instruments had clarified States’ obligations to eradicate and punish violence against women, but the problem called for stronger political commitment and greater resources.
Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), noted that criminals were earning $32 billion a year running trafficking operations, and 17 per cent of those trafficked each year had been targeted for forced labour, and 80 per cent for sexual exploitation. Children, women, migrants and refugees were particularly vulnerable, he said, adding that there must be a meaningful response, coordinated at all levels and based on the Palermo Convention on Transnational Organized Crime. Progressive law enforcement must also be balanced with activities to combat the market forces driving trafficking in destination countries, he added.
Rounding out the opening ceremony, Mira Sorvino, United Nations Goodwill Ambassador against Human Trafficking, pointed out that where strong legislation existed, it often was not implemented. There was also a need to harmonize central Government policies with local ones. In the United States, for example, state legislation lagged sorely behind federal law, as evidenced by the fact that only 10 per cent of police stations had any protocol for dealing with trafficking. Globally, confusion abounded over what constituted trafficking, she noted.
During the morning panel discussion, delegates from origin, transit and destination countries outlined national efforts to combat human trafficking, underlining that it was a crime of such magnitude that it could not be tackled solely at the national or regional levels. Governments faced several challenges, including a lack of reliable data and weak State capacity, as well as difficulty in aligning national laws with international legal norms and in creating synergies between States and with international organizations.
Speakers in the afternoon panel focused on the role of Governments, international organizations, the private sector and civil society. Several countries announced new donations to the Trust Fund, including the Russian Federation ($30,000) and Luxembourg ($40,000). Australia’s representative announced an initial grant of $200,000 while reporting on the 2011 visit to his country by the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, during which the Government had learned about areas needing improvement.
Protecting the Victims of Trafficking: Partnerships and Innovation
Co-chaired by Libran N. Cabactulan, (Philippines) and José Filipe Moraes Cabral (Portugal), the first panel discussion featured presentations by: Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary General and Executive Director, UN-Women; Alyse Nelson, President, Vital Voices Global Partnership; Cherif Bassiouni, Professor of Law Emeritus, DePaul University College of Law; David Arkless, President of the Board, EHTN and President of Corporate Affairs, Manpower Group; and Somaly Mam, President and Co-Founder, Somaly Mam Foundation.
Ms. BACHELET, launching the discussion, said it was difficult to think of a crime more hideous and shocking than human trafficking, and noted that an estimated 80 per cent of all trafficked persons were abused as sexual slaves. Sellers were driven largely by the huge demand and profits involved, whereas poverty, gender inequality and the subordinate position of women and girls all provided fertile ground for the illicit trade. There was also a growing demand for sweatshop work within and across national borders, she said, adding that restrictive migration policies rendered women and girls even more vulnerable.
For its part, UN-Women was focusing on gender, human rights, justice and development, she said, pointing out that its strategy placed human rights and justice for victims at the centre of all its anti-trafficking efforts. Human trafficking could not be disassociated from economic marginalization, and according to the Human Rights Council, Governments created the conditions for it to flourish by failing to protect the political, economic and social rights of women. “We have to crack down on the large trafficking syndicates” and provide real justice to victims and survivors, she emphasized, pointing out that they needed counselling and social support.
Innovations included the creation of special courts — including mobile courts — and increased representation of women in police and justice systems, she said, stressing that efforts must also home in on prevention, gender equality, empowering women, and zero tolerance for violence against them. Stronger efforts must be made to increase their access to education, decent jobs and social protections, and a pervasive culture of respecting human rights must be fostered. She concluded by underscoring that Governments must support the presence of survivors at the policy table so they could testify. “Let’s face it, it’s only by listening to those trafficked that we can mount a response that is effective,” she said, expressing UN-Women’s strong commitment to prosecuting traffickers and providing services to survivors. “Let’s take action now,” she declared.
Mr. BASSIOUNI said: “There is no human rights subject on which Governments have said so much, but have done so little.” It was amazing that most criminal law around the world today criminalized the victim — under prostitution laws – and almost never the perpetrator. Criminal activities were driven by supply and demand, but where were the laws to curb that trend? he asked, pointing out that there was an enormous gap between practices and policies with respect to enforcing laws criminalizing supply. Law enforcement policies placed the lowest priority on human trafficking. For all practical purposes, those driving demand could do so with impunity, while those driving supply faced minimum risk, he said, adding that there were also problems involving values and attitudes.
Pointing out that prostitution was not only tolerated in most societies, but indeed justified, he emphasized that, without overcoming the historical belief that there was something benign or tolerable in the practice, countries would never come to grips with it. Most women who were exploited, trafficked or held against their will did not allow such treatment, and there was no justification for benignly accepting it by recognizing the validity of certain aspects of those practices. “We must reassess who is a victim and a criminal in the situation, and redistribute the role of criminal law,” he stressed. Governments must reconsider that women forced into prostitution were not criminals. Noting that every Government had shown a significant linkage between corruption and law enforcement, he called for finding ways to take the profit motive out of the equation by enhancing banking controls to prevent money-laundering. The attitudes prevailing in male-dominated police departments must also be changed, he added.
Ms. MAM said she was a Cambodian woman who had been sold into slavery by a man who had posed as her grandfather. “I know exactly what it means to be a victim and a survivor,” she said, noting that her Foundation was working to rehabilitate trafficking survivors. Recalling that she had had no support after having escaped from a brothel in 1990, she said: “Today, if I can help one girl that is great.” In Cambodia, the Foundation was empowering victims to be survivors, she said, recalling that people had been talking on her behalf for more than 10 years and now she needed to have her voice heard. It could take five minutes to save a girl from a brothel, but what would happen afterwards? One year, or even twenty, was not a long enough time for them to recover from their wounds. “Love can heal them, trust can help them,” she said.
Empowering victims was not easy, she continued, adding that survivors understood suffering and thanking the United States Department of State and Alyse Nelson for having saved her life. She asked Governments attending today’s event to find ways to support and protect trafficking victims. “We don’t want to lose our voices,” she said. “I could lose my life tomorrow, but my voice — I don’t want to lose it.” Emphasizing that traffickers were very organized, she said Governments must be more strategic and stand up to help others. She said she had set up three centres in Cambodia, pointing out that survivors had experiences to share and wished to work with Governments. Urging everyone to listen to them, she said she was working with 12 survivors in Cambodia, where a radio talk show discussed how to end the sex trade.
Mr. ARKLESS, noting that he represented the global business community, said: “If ending human trafficking was a commercial business, you all would be fired.” The End Human Trafficking Now campaign had enlisted thousands of corporations to promote the Athens Ethical Principles against human trafficking. The Luxor Protocol had then been adopted to outline how companies could implement the Principles by assessing their supply chains, for example. For its part, the Manpower Group had partnered with the Microsoft Corporation to train the employees of companies taking part in the campaign, he said, adding that a global business leader award had been created to recognize those making outstanding contributions to fighting trafficking.
He went on to say that on 1 May, the Manpower Foundation would launch the Business Coalition against Human Trafficking in the United States, noting that Exxon Mobil, Ford, Coca-Cola, CNN and Delta had all signed on to stop human trafficking. The Athens Ethical Principles did not make sense for small businesses, so the Washington Best Principles had been launched last week. More sophisticated mechanisms were needed to stop the trade, he said, calling on lawmakers to craft better legislation. He also urged Governments to ratify and implement Convention 181, which banned illegal labour agencies and which had been ratified by fewer than 30 countries.
Ms. NELSON, recalling that she had met Ms. Mam 10 years ago, said: “We do have champions and we can’t forget that.” The challenge now was to consolidate efforts to combat human trafficking. Traffickers were smart, well resourced and well networked. “We are constantly behind,” she said. “Without resources, we must be creative.” Countless women and girls were depending on people to step up and tackle the issue. The only way to make progress was by working within and between States, as well as other partners in civil society and the media, she said, adding that working with women leaders in the private sector could be a huge help.
However, the biggest obstacle was not the lack of comprehensive legislation, but implementing it, she said, adding that it was easier to get a law onto the books than to implement it. Today, 129 countries had anti-trafficking laws, and in 2010, 6,017 human-trafficking prosecutions had taken place around the world, yet, there had been only around 3,000 convictions. “We must teach the criminal justice system why those laws are important,” she stressed, adding that the biggest threat to achieving the Global Plan of Action was the lack of political will and accountability.
When the floor was opened for discussion, Government representatives from origin, transit and destination countries outlined national efforts to combat human trafficking, describing it as a rising multidimensional human rights problem requiring a comprehensive response. It was a crime of such magnitude that it could not be tackled solely at the national or regional levels as such efforts had largely been fragmented and had seen limited success. Global cooperation was required, they added, pointing out that Governments faced several challenges, including a lack of reliable data, weak State capacity and difficulty in aligning national laws with international legal norms, as well as in creating synergies between States and with international organizations. Some representatives cited a lack of political will on the institutional, legislative and operational levels, while others pointed out that sophisticated criminal groups were constantly modifying their recruiting methods. Still others said that political, economic and social uncertainty fed the problem.
The representative of Greece said prevention efforts must guarantee that perpetrators were prosecuted, adding that his country, considered a transit and destination country in trafficking terms, had ratified the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime and put a victim-oriented anti-trafficking plan in place. Greece had also seen results in proactive law enforcement, legislative reform and victim protection. Cross-border cooperation, which had brought together police task forces and prosecutors, had led to the identification of victims and the dismantling of criminal networks.
The representative of Ukraine said efforts must go beyond crime control and prosecution, underlining that his country’s Minister for Social Policy was the national coordinator of anti-trafficking activities for all State agencies. Cooperation with other countries, and with non-governmental organizations, was critical, he stressed.
Ms. BACHELET, responding, said that, while she had heard delegates discuss their efforts to fulfil their international commitments, and agreeing that more must be done, the question to ask was: “Am I doing everything I can?” Survivors could help Governments understand what more could be done, she said, emphasizing: “Let’s put women and children at the heart of our interventions.”
Mr. BASSIOUNI recommended that Governments include a human-trafficking curriculum in their police and judicial training. “It does not really require much effort to implement,” he said. It also would not be difficult for interior ministries to communicate the importance of prioritizing trafficking to police and prosecutors. At the legislative level, laws must be reviewed to de-criminalize victims, who, as things stood now, had no incentive to testify against traffickers.
Ms. NELSON said a more holistic approach to trafficking was needed. While it was understood that an unjust cycle enabled trafficking, in the wake of the global financial crisis, women employees of textile factories suddenly found themselves out of work and the prey of traffickers. How could they be empowered to develop products and access markets? he asked, stressing that the economic environment must complement changes in legislative frameworks.
Ms. MAM underlined the importance of Governments and non-governmental organizations working together, noting that Cambodia observed Anti-Trafficking Day annually on 12 December.
Mr. ARKLESS said few global issues united employers, trade unions, non-governmental organizations and Governments like human trafficking, noting that Bahrain and the Philippines cooperated well with the business community. “We are there and ready to help Governments,” he asserted.
Also speaking today were representatives of Belarus, Egypt, Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Gabon, Greece, Uzbekistan, Ukraine and Italy. A representative of the League of Women Voters also spoke.
Assistance to Victims of Trafficking: the Role of Governments, International Organizations, Private Sector and Civil Society
Co-chaired by Antonio Pedro Monteiro Lima (Cape Verde), and Sylvie Lucas (Luxembourg), the second panel featured presentations by Aleya Hammad, Chair, Board of Directors, United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for Victims of Trafficking in Persons; William Lacy Swing, Director-General, International Organization for Migration (IOM); Rani Jong, Founder, Tronie Foundation; Maryam Al-Maliki, Director-General, Qatar Foundation for Combating Human Trafficking; and Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children.
Mr. LIMA said that, while the morning’s panel had revealed the depth of many societies’ commitment to combating human trafficking, it had also highlighted how far the world had to go to end the scourge fully. Anti-trafficking laws had been created but often were not properly enforced, he noted.
Ms. HAMMAD said the Trust Fund was unique because it gave financial help to victims directly, rather than through a bureaucracy. It worked with grass-roots organizations to identify victims. Of the 200 applications it had initially received, it had been able to identify 50 feasible projects that could do something right away with minimal funds. Among other things, they aimed to reintegrate victims into society, rescue children trafficked through circuses, and to provide legal defence for trafficking victims. The Fund also helped child labourers in the fishing and other industries, she added.
Pointing also to the illegal trafficking of young African footballers to Paris and London through FIFA, the international soccer federation, she said non-governmental organizations were doing “magnificent work” to rescue them. She called on Governments to support the Trust Fund. “We are not asking for much; we are asking for whatever donations can be given,” she said. “We promise you we will make the outcomes known to you as soon as possible.” She cited the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report, which showed the remarkable progress that the Trust Fund had made in just one year with limited funding.
Mr. SWING said the IOM had started work in the area of counter-trafficking about 20 years ago, when little was known about the modern-day form of slavery. “The actors were few, funding was slight and the initiatives were modest,” he said. However, despite progress, the world was yet to come up with an answer to a simple question: “Since the advent of the Trafficking Protocol, have we made a significant impact on addressing the problem?” The international community still did not know how many people were trafficked every year, he noted, adding that there was no indication that human trafficking was any less prevalent than it had been nearly two decades ago. He listed three areas in which a more concerted effort was required — improving protection, private-sector involvement and more effective prosecution.
He went on to call for more action in improving the level of protection, pointing out that, despite some successes, the number of beneficiaries remained small in proportion to the hundreds of thousands of people thought to be trafficked annually. As for the need for greater private-sector involvement, he warned of a rise in labour trafficking, especially in the agriculture, construction, fisheries, textiles and domestic service sectors. He also urged Governments to improve their capacity to investigate and prosecute sex and labour traffickers, explaining that prosecution for labour trafficking might be a bigger challenge because it was so easily disguised within legitimate commercial activity. “We talk a lot, but we need to act more,” he said.
Ms. HONG recounted her personal experience of having been stolen at age 7 from her family in southern India and sold into slavery. Beaten, starved and tortured by her captors, she had been near death by the age of 8 years. In a $32 billion industry, she had then been sold illegally by her captors and adopted by a family in Washington State, United States, that had not known that she had been stolen. At age 17, her adoptive mother had died of cancer, leaving her alone, vulnerable and struggling to survive. In high school, she had met her future husband, also a trafficking victim recruited by the Viet Cong as a child soldier at age 9, and later rescued by the Indonesian Government before being adopted by another Washington State family.
She said that she and her husband had founded the Tronie Foundation, adding that upon returning to India in 1999, she had been reunited with her birth mother, who for years had searched for her daughter in vain, with little support from the court system. “Millions of children right now are walking around in the streets,” she said. “Like the little girl that I was, many of them are imprisoned, silenced and not able to tell their stories. But I demand that we are heard.” She stressed the importance of empowering victims to effect positive social change. “We inspire new ideas, unlock new solutions. We turn a geopolitical and economic issue into a human one,” she said, calling on the international community to work with victims to empower women and girls.
With assistance from the United States Department of State, she had recently travelled to Brazil, Nepal and India to implore Governments to bolster efforts to end human trafficking, she said. In Nepal, she and other survivors had sponsored a conference to conduct training for survivors in order to generate awareness about human trafficking. The Governor of Washington State had just signed into law 12 bills concerning human trafficking, she recalled, encouraging others to follow suit. “You hold the power of change for children like me; don’t take that for granted,” she said. “Every day we can do something.”
Ms. EZEILO stressed the importance of channelling anger at what was happening to trafficking victims into action to change that state of affairs. While everyone agreed that human trafficking was evil and modern-day slavery, different people were doing different things to fight it, she said, noting the discrepancies among and within countries in terms of trafficking statistics. Government sources provided different figures from non-governmental ones, and some States were still in denial, she said. The truth was that trafficking knew no borders, traffickers still enjoyed impunity, victims still went unprotected and were even being re-trafficked.
She said her 2011 report was devoted to the right to effective remedy for victims. Legal aid was very important, but States often did not finance it, forcing victims to rely on the support of non-governmental organizations. Victims also needed psycho-social support and restitution. Most important, responses must be tailored to each victim’s specific circumstance, she emphasized. For example, sending victims who had been trafficked overseas at a very early age back to their countries of origin may not be the right solution, she cautioned. “It’s important that we begin to grant permanent and temporary residence status to trafficked persons, especially when return is not possible.” The international community must provide real recovery for victims, she said, stressing that international cooperation was crucial for capacity-building, intelligence sharing and mutual assistance.
Governments must not only ratify the Palermo Convention, but apply and enforce it, too, she continued. It was necessary to improve the tracking of proceeds from human trafficking and to channel funds into helping victims. With new technologies, trafficking had become increasingly sophisticated and difficult as traffickers made their arrangements online. She called for alternative ways to collect evidence, as well as for better witness protection, particularly during post-trial periods, to shield whistleblowers from harm. “Human rights must be seen as the core of any intervention to combat human trafficking,” she stressed. The lack of human security was fuelling trafficking, and greater efforts were needed to address its root causes, notably the demand for cheap labour.
Ms. AL-MALIKI said that, despite many success stories, millions of women had not escaped trafficking. Victims were usually society’s poorest and most marginalized. International cooperation was essential to the adequate protection of victims and to support for development efforts to erase poverty, she said, adding that the fight against trafficking also required innovative, effective solutions. The Qatar Foundation had adopted a new approach, in accordance with the United Nations Action Plan, she said, recalling that in 2011, her country’s Government had adopted law 15 on anti-trafficking.
The Government had also established shelters for victims which provided legal, social, counselling and rehabilitation services, as well as voluntary return for victims to their homelands, she continued. In partnership with UNODC and the League of Arab States, it had launched a regional Arab initiative to build the human capacities of people working to combat human trafficking. Moreover, it had proposed the idea of building national alliances to complement State efforts, thus maximizing efforts to combat human trafficking, she said. Qatar sought to exchange information and experiences with other States, she said, noting that its 2010-2015 National Action Plan to fight human trafficking focused on providing protection to victims nationally while strengthening international cooperation to that end.
During the ensuing discussion, Government representatives, from origin, transit and destination countries, outlined their respective national efforts to combat human trafficking as several countries announced new donations to the Trust Fund, including the Russian Federation ($30,000) and Luxembourg ($40,000). The representative of Australia announced an initial grant of $200,000 and described the 2011 visit to his country by the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, during which the Government had learned about areas in need of improvement.
A UNODC official announced that the Assembly President and his wife had made a private donation of $10,000.
The representative of Japan asked how best to tackle the new phenomenon of traffickers using increasingly sophisticated information technologies to provide victims with fake documents as a way to conceal their crimes.
The representative of Thailand — an origin, transit and destination country — said the efficacy of anti-trafficking efforts called for the highest level of political commitment, noting that her country’s Anti-Trafficking in Persons Committee was chaired by the Prime Minister. She asked what more could be done to engage the private sector in anti-trafficking efforts, pointing out that the Thai Government provided manpower agencies with incentives to keep a watchful eye on where their workers were sent overseas. She also asked what more could be done to curb trafficking demand.
The representative of Luxembourg asked Mr. Swing if cooperation on the ground between United Nations actors was on the right track and whether there was progress in that regard.
The representative of Kazakhstan asked what steps could be taken to improve the collection of disaggregated data on human trafficking.
Ms. HAMMAD replied that the Trust Fund chose not to criticize the business community, but rather to work with it in a positive way while highlighting its successes and efforts. “We don’t impose; we don’t try to know it all. We try to learn much more from the field and see where we can be supportive,” she said. As a result, large multinational firms like Microsoft, with anti-trafficking programmes in Bangkok and other areas of South-East Asia, had joined the Trust Fund, which had also partnered with CNN and the BBC to publicize the good efforts of the business community, she said, citing a broadcast segment on programmes by The Body Shop beauty products company to help victims in Africa. The Trust Fund also worked with businesses to help ensure that trafficked victims were not working in their supply chains.
Ms. AL-MALIKI, stressing that Governments were duty-bound to cooperate and coordinate to help the most vulnerable people, called on more countries to donate to the Trust Fund.
Mr. SWING said that, as cross-border movements of people increased, so did border controls, which made it more difficult to reach people in need. That development, coupled with inexpensive cheap flights and the digital revolution that gave one third of humankind instant access to information, facilitated trafficking. Such factors would not go away and must be dealt with through Government policies, he emphasized. He also stressed the importance of an open, positive attitude towards working with the private sector to create some type of anti-trafficking code of conduct. He suggested that the United Nations hold a conference with the private sector on anti-trafficking methods.
Ms. EZEILO said Governments must take their oversight of the private sector seriously. Some countries had good practices in that regard, whereby they revoked the business licences of any company found to be cooperating or involved with trafficking networks. To address the demand side, it was important to provide safe migration for semi-skilled labourers sent to countries in great need of their services, she said.
Ms. HONG said that, as a survivor, she wanted to work with Member States for accountability. The presence of survivors at the table sent a strong message to victims that they were important. “Survivors are prevention leaders,” she stressed. “We’re here to stand with you, to answer your questions, to bring perspective.”
Mr. AL-NASSER ( Qatar) highlighted several important points raised today, stressing the need for coordinated and comprehensive responses at the local, national, regional and international levels to counter traffickers who were becoming extremely organized and sophisticated. “As we respond to their acts, we must ensure to remain one step ahead of the traffickers,” he added. He also called for strengthening the implementation of anti-human-trafficking laws by educating law enforcement agents, prosecutors, attorneys and judges, while constantly reviewing legislation. “We have heard that survivors and experts explain that most criminal codes omitted criminalization of the demand side of human trafficking, and instead treated victims as criminals under the law,” he said.
“We must ensure that women have a leading role at the negotiating and policy-making table, particularly survivors of human trafficking,” he continued, stressing also, among other points, the need for an inter-agency, multi-stakeholder strategy involving the private sector and local non-governmental organizations. He also called on Member States for assistance, acknowledging the donations pledged by the Russian Federation, Australia and Luxembourg. “We have to make sure that our strategic response to human trafficking is well resourced and well funded”, he emphasized, adding that the Trust Fund had not received the necessary resources.
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