World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance

Department of Public Information - News and Media Services Division - New York
Durban, South Africa
31 August – 7 September 2001
2 September 2001

AM Meeting


As the United Nations World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance entered the second day of its general debate, top government officials from Africa and the Middle East called on the international community to recognize the far-reaching significance of past indignities and persistent violation of human rights through foreign occupation, while stressing the need for broad cooperation and understanding to find durable solutions.

Jacob Zuma, Deputy President of South Africa, the host country, said all should be mindful of the untold damage caused by slavery and colonialism in the developing world. Poverty and underdevelopment were deeply rooted in the African history. The Conference should not avoid confronting those issues that were critical to the solution of the present problems of the developing world and rooted in the colonial past. "We need to rise above narrow national group positions and begin to work as partners in order to facilitate consensus", he said. The New African Initiative was a proper vehicle for this partnership, he said, a view reiterated by a number of other speakers.

Kolawolé A. Idji, Benin's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Integration, said humanity could only make headway if it acknowledged and drew on lessons from the evils of the past, particularly from slavery, the slave trade and colonialism. Those crimes must be acknowledged, not to twist the knife in the wound, but to better realize that their lethal germs still persisted. "If we want to overcome racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, we must restore the truth regarding the history of African peoples, who today find themselves on the bottom of the pile."

Yusril Ihza Mahendra, Minister of Justice and Human Rights of Indonesia stressed the link between the legacy of slavery and colonialism and the failure of globalization to spread its benefits worldwide.

Also stressing the notion that globalization was exacerbating historical inequities Jan Kavan, Deputy Prime Minster and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, said the widening gap between rich and poor posed new risks to the fight against discrimination. In an era of rapidly developing technologies, there was a pressing need to improve the protection of human rights and to tackle the phenomena that threatened the basic rights of all human beings.

Mohamed Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Kuwait, said colonization by settlers and foreign occupation constitute sources, causes and forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Today, all had witnessed the repugnant practices of racial discrimination by the Israeli occupation forces against Palestinians and the other inhabitants of the occupied Arab territories. Those practices constituted a serious violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, a crime against humanity. No just peace in the Middle East could be attained unless legitimate Arab rights were recovered.

At the opening of the session, the President of the Conference, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Foreign Minister of the host country, South Africa, announced that the General Committee this morning had endorsed the African Group's nomination of Najat Al-Hajjaji (Libya) as the Rapporteur of the Main Committee. She added that the election of officers for the Conference was now complete.

The Conference is being held in Durban, South Africa, and is scheduled to run from 31 August to 7 September. The event provides the first opportunity in the post-apartheid era for the global community to deliberate a broad agenda to combat racism and related issues with aim of producing a strong practical action plan to forge an alliance between governments and civil society and serve as a blueprint for all nation's efforts to promote tolerance and combat racial discrimination.

Jozo Krizanovic, President of Bosnia and Herzegovina, also addressed the Conference this morning.

Interventions were also made by Mohamed Benaissa, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Morocco; Vartan Oskanian, Minster of Foreign Affairs of Armenia; Ahmed Maher El Sayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt; and Thinley Gyamthso, Minister of Home Affairs of Bhutan.

Amre Moussa, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States; Said Djmit, Deputy Secretary-General of the Organization of African Unity (OAU); Martin Belinga-Eboutou (Cameroon), President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC); and Mats Kalsson, Vice President of United Nations Affairs of the World Bank, also spoke.

The general debate will continue this afternoon at 3 p.m.


JOZO KRIZANOVIC, President of Bosnia and Herzegovina: Achievements in the struggle for equality have contributed to spreading understanding that there is no alternative to promoting full respect for basic human rights, principles as the cornerstone of both domestic and international stability. Unfortunately, despite much positive change, we have to express serious concern that the basic goals of three decades of international efforts aimed at combating racial discrimination and intolerance have not been accomplished. Sadly, in recent years we have been shocked by reports of countless human rights violations. Indeed my country -- where massive human rights violations and ethnic cleansing left hundreds of thousands dead and nearly half a million more displaced -- serves as an example in that regard.

Recalling the well-known and tragic consequences of chauvinistic policies based on ethnic intolerance aimed at members of ethnic groups within the same country leads us to wonder what is wrong with existing systems aimed at fighting racism and discrimination. Can the prevention of human rights violations be addressed separately from prevention of wars? And how do globalization and contradictions in social development affect the stability of individual countries or influence the emergence of racial discrimination? While the Conference may not provide answers to all those questions, we hope all participants will take part in cooperative efforts in searching for favourable solutions. We also hope this Conference will contribute to eliminating drastic human rights violations in the future.

I wish to express full support for the portions of the proposed plan of action that relate to the enormous significance of education and the media in achieving the goals of the Conference. Perhaps an international media forum, under the auspices of the United Nations, can be a way to ensure the suppression and elimination of modern forms of racism. To that end we invite all south-eastern European countries to implement the charter on free media as an instrument of the stability pact in South-East Europe. Bosnia and Herzegovina also stands as a reminder of the potential evils that can arise from the belief that variety and diversity in a society is a weakness instead of a source of enrichment. No less attention should be given to the prevention of violations of human rights in the areas of economic development and labour. In order to be successful, we need continuous efforts aimed at strengthening national institutions, democratic values and the rule of law at all levels.

JACOB ZUMA, Deputy President of the host country, South Africa: It is an honour for South Africa to host a United Nations conference of this magnitude and importance. The subject of the Conference has a lot of relevance for South Africa, given our own struggle against apartheid. Having learned from that experience, we have put in place measures to ensure that racism is removed from the books forever. The Constitution champions democracy, freedom and responsibility, among other things. Although we have legislated against racism, it has not disappeared from our communities. We therefore approach the deliberations and the outcome with great expectations.

The challenges are immense. We need to rise above narrow national group positions and begin to work as partners in order to facilitate consensus. The Conference should not avoid confronting issues. Most of those issues are critical to the solution of the problems of the developing world, rooted in the colonial past. We meet here, mindful of the untold damage caused by slavery and colonialism in the developing world. Poverty and underdevelopment are deeply rooted in the history of slavery and colonialism. The world has to contend with globalization. Unfortunately, the threats of globalization are greater than the opportunities. A huge gap between rich and poor, a byproduct of globalization, continues to pose a huge problem for the South. Multilateral institutions need to be reconfigured, as they were founded in a time when those problems did not exist.

The Conference should also address other negative tendencies such as the rise in child labour, slave labour and gender discrimination, including the caste system and people living with HIV/AIDS and other contagious diseases. The rise of xenophobia is also a cause of concern. We expect this Conference to discuss those issues and come up with concrete recommendations about immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. The final document should lay a firm basis for practical, forward-looking and action-oriented approaches against the scourge of racism. It should be used as a living document within the United Nations system and should unite the world community to take concerted action.

To reverse the effects of the legacy of colonialism, the New African Initiative serves as a platform to achieve concrete actions and results. We feel that this initiative will address this issues that we are dealing with. It contains a programme aimed at ensuring the eradication of poverty, ensuring sustainable development, human rights and sound economic management, among other things. We are attempting to deal with the legacy of centuries of oppression and exploitation and to provide a response to globalization. The task before us is to ensure that meaningful progress is made in laying the foundation for the fight against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

JAN KAVAN, Deputy Prime Minster and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic: We are living at a time of accelerating globalization. And globalization opens up before mankind not only immense, unthinkable opportunities, but also presents grave new risks. It widens the gap between those who participate in the globalization processes and those who do not. It widens the gap between rich and poor. In an era of rapidly developing technologies, we are fully aware of the pressing need to improve the protection of human rights and to tackle the phenomena which threaten the rights of human beings. In spite of the 40-year long existence of human rights standards and more than 30 years of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, we are still grappling with racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

If mankind is to be able to exploit all the immense opportunities offered to it in the twenty-first century, it must be able to challenge and successfully tackle those serious social pathological phenomena. If it fails to do so, there is the risk that it will be permanently pulled down in its development, that it will be dragged into crises and conflicts at both national and international levels. National, regional and local bodies are the front-lines in the fight against racism and discrimination. The main emphasis should be on preventive measures -- through education and through working with the media. Energetic and forthright measures are needed in cases when preventive measures have proven ineffective and when the manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance become more frequent and acquire organized forms. The Government, in the course of the preparatory process, suggested that all this should be reflected in the final document of this Conference.

The Government views the demand to deal with historical events that lead to racism and racial discrimination as fully justified. It is clearly both desirable and necessary to spell out the historical injustices and to define their relation to the current manifestations of racism and xenophobia. Responsibilities for historical injustices must be accepted by the perpetrators and this should lead to concrete consequences. The victims fully deserve that. To handle historical wrongs correctly and sensitively is, however, neither a simple nor easy task. We should learn from the past to ensure a better future, but not dwell too much on the past and endanger the future.

MOHAMED BENAISSA, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Morocco: Fanaticism, hatred and preconceptions are the horrible symptoms of a scourge that humanity has always suffered everywhere in the world. Racism constitutes a flagrant violation of human rights and a serious prejudice to human dignity. It should be abolished. The struggle against racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance was part of the core of the United Nations mission when it was created in the aftermath of the horrors of the Second World War. Undeniably, progress has been achieved in making the dream of equality a reality.

Yet, the objectives are far from being totally realized. While technology continues to narrow the distance between world populations, and while the political barriers are disappearing, racial discrimination, xenophobia and other forms of intolerance continue still to affect societies. In recent years, the world has witnessed the revival in some regions of ethnic cleansing. Undoubtedly, the problems that relate to racism and racial discrimination do not date from today. The collective memory of Africa is marked by the horrors of slavery, apartheid and colonial oppression. The impact of that past weighs heavily on the present and future relations between African States and other nations. The African continent cannot forget the slave trade, colonialism or apartheid.

One of the situations that had an international dimension at the time of the creation of the United Nations was the Palestine issue. Since then, and despite the efforts undertaken, the numerous resolutions by the Security Council and other organs, Israel has persisted in its persecution policy against the Palestinian people, and in using its military machinery to kill infants and women indiscriminately. The World Conference cannot remain indifferent to the deterioration of the human rights and humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel.

VARTAN OSKANIAN, Minster of Foreign Affairs for Armenia: We must all stand together in the fight against racism and all forms of intolerance, if only because throughout history each of our nations has been affected by those phenomena, and with their eradication we can all thrive and prosper. Armenia has first-hand knowledge of the profound linkage between the ultimate expression of racism -- genocide -- and the right to self-determination. The ramifications of the genocide Armenians suffered at the hands of Ottoman Turkey in 1915 still reverberate today. Sadly, those ramifications were being dismissed by many as nothing more than the justifiable massacre of rebels and renegades. We also understand that genocide can be used as a political tool. And if the international community was not responsible for the crime, it is responsible for the condemnation of the crime. In that regard, I salute those that have condemned this, the first modern expression of genocide.

Today, we continue to combat the consequences of past wrong-doings. Armenians living in Nagorno-Karabakh have been struggling for decades for freedom from discrimination, harassment and arbitrary rule, begun in the days of the Soviet empire. A vivid example of the consequences of bigotry and xenophobia is the history of the subjugation of Nagorno-Karabakh to the authorities of Baku, Azerbaijan, in 1921. As a result, Armenians were subjected to systematic massacres, deportations, discrimination and other expressions of intolerance. The only way to escape Azerbaijani discrimination and oppression was to achieve self-determination for Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan's rejection of the civil and humanitarian rights of Armenians living in the territory has continued throughout the ages. One of the lasting effects of all those actions was that Armenia became home to many thousands of refugees during the 1980s and 1990s. While we have accepted such persons, we see that the Azerbaijani Government continues to use refugees as pawns. In our own neighborhood, however, we stand ready to practice tolerance.

This Conference has the unique capacity to lay out a blueprint for partnerships between governments and civil society to combat all manifestations of discrimination and intolerance. A dialogue of tolerance and mutual understanding is required to lead us to the adoption of a comprehensive and holistic action plan and declaration. We must promote the benefits of diversity, and work to build a brighter and better society for generations to come.

AMRE MOUSSA, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States: Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are among the main grounds for the struggle being waged at the international level, despite enormous efforts made, and despite the three Decades to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination In All Its Forms. Africa must be compensated for policies of slavery, the slave trade and colonialism. We must recognize that slavery, slave trade and colonialism were the major causes of racism and racial discrimination and also of the marginalization of people, one of the main causes of poverty. We must all determine that they were crimes against humanity. Policies carried out against the poor and against migrants have often been based on oppressive ethnic approaches. Other kinds of oppression are religious discrimination and persecution.

I will now talk about colonialism by settlers in the Middle East and policies against Arab peoples. The right to self-determination, a universal right of all peoples, has been denied the Palestinian people. Israeli leaders have said that Arabs are scorpions and that they multiply like rabbits. Some religious persons in Israel accuse all Palestinian people of being terrorists. Can there be more serious racism than this? Yet we are told that we should not speak out on this and just forget.

We, the Arab States, came here united and are all resolved to work for the success of this Conference. The success of the Conference will be a success for every human being. We are not here to stop anybody from complaining about what has happened to them. We want to support those people and we want to call for compensation. Some have been compensated for what has happened to them in the past. Why not others? We, as Arabs, condemn what has happened to the Jews and would stand side by side with the Jewish people to prevent it from happening again. Yet, we want to prevent it not only from happening to them, but from happening to anybody. We should not select just certain issues to speak clearly upon. The Conference cannot be selective in the kind of racisms it focuses on. We reject calls for selectivity.

SAID DJIMIT, Deputy Secretary General of the Organization of African Unity (OAU): The dignity and integrity of Africans has been flouted, and the scars still hurt today. The suffering imposed on us is a challenge to our collective conscious. Tribute has to be paid to what happened. That duty, to speak the truth, cannot be sidestepped. That is the only way to ensure that such human suffering will not surface again. The developed countries provide large-scale help to the African countries that today are struggling. The goal is to make sure that Africa catches up, so that the continent can retake its proper place in the world economy. This Conference represents a chance to have a dialogue that can lead to that.

But racism, unfortunately, still exists in many parts of the world, particularly in the Palestinian occupied territories. Migrant workers, refugee, and women and children also suffer every day from intolerance. In 1994, there were the atrocities of genocide in Rwanda. In Durban, we should strive for a global alliance so all human beings know what is needed. It is important to make sure that this happens.

MARTIN BELINGA-EBOUTO (Cameroon), President of the Economic and Social Council: The international struggle against racism and racial discrimination requires a sensitive approach. Each voice in the international community must have a say. Debate must be promoted. The Economic and Social Council has placed Africa at the heart of its agenda. Africa, a crossroads for races, religions and cultures, has undoubtedly demonstrated openness to the rest of the world. Sadly, they have never benefited from that openness. Indeed, they have suffered all forms of oppression. We cannot wholly grasp the dimensions of the horrors of the continent today if we do not bear in mind the still visible traumas of the slave trade and slavery. While some have refused to acknowledge the importance of those past events in the continent's present history, Africa's "anthropological poverty" -- the very denial of the true history of an entire people -- cannot be denied.

Recounting those events should lead the international community to pay close attention to the requests for reparations. We are not calling for history to be re-written but merely to be written correctly. We want Africa's past to be duly taken into consideration, politically and legally, with the full support and solidarity from the international community. That should not be considered compassion or charity, it is merely an affirmation of basic human rights. It is my hope that the Council, through it various subsidiary bodies, can serve as a think tank for the General Assembly for further discussion of the critical issues that are before the Conference.

MATS KALSSON, Vice-President for United Nations Affairs of the World Bank: One of the most enduring equations of history has been the tragic interplay among poverty and racism, xenophobia and intolerance. The World Bank Group was born in the shadow of the Second World War with the overarching premise that poverty is at the heart of the inhumanity that becomes war. Our mission is developmental. Our mission is to create values that can withstand those forces that diminish, demean and destroy. And we do so in practical ways that reflect the hard-won wisdom of experience, not the false promise of perfect models.

A carpenter can build a house, but it takes culture to make a home. That is why we have put strong safeguards in our policies to protect indigenous cultures. Experience has taught us that global economic integration is an engine of prosperity. But integration must allow greater room for choice. Each country and community must be allowed to strike its own balance between those choices and we, as partners in development, need to respect those decisions.

We are an institution made up of human beings from more than 170 nations. We have known failure and we regret any action of ours, however well intentioned, that may have worsened the plight of those suffering from discrimination and dispossession. It would be naive to claim that we will not make mistakes in the future. But institutions are capable of building upon the insights of experience. The people of our nations -- through their international institutions like the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and others -- can combine their strengths, evolve and learn. In that way, the tragic equation of racism and poverty will be replaced by the vibrant equation of prosperity, peace and empowerment.

AHMED MAHER EL SAYED, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Egypt: We should work to ensure that the Conference is a success in order to prevent the recurrence of horrible events in the dark past that is our shared history. It is our hope that we can free ourselves of the effects of past crimes against humanity while moving forward towards a better future for all. We must work together with strong political will in order to reach substantial conclusions. After allowing all those that have experienced the painful effects of discrimination to share those experiences with us, our work must reflect respect, as well as an acknowledgement of the vast variety of human experience.

The African Group has shown great flexibility in ongoing negations. That spirit should engender equal flexibility on the part of other groups so that the continent can successfully close a painful chapter in its history. It is time for the ex-colonialist -- who has become a partner today -- to sit down with the colonized. The African Initiative should be the framework for our work in that regard. The Arab Group and the Islamic Group have also shown flexibility. Deliberations have moved beyond the ideological consideration of Zionism and racism in order to focus on specific issues. Egypt has participated in discussion on the situation in Palestine and the occupation that prevents the Palestinian people from living sided by side in freedom and equality with their neighbours. That occupation and many of the views that surround it show how some can openly stand against the noble principles that are at the heart of the work that we are doing at this Conference.

Occupation is an evil, and when it is accompanied by killings, sophisticated military actions and subjugation it is even more so. Is it possible that in the face of all this, the declaration and the plan of action under consideration this week will not include such manifestations of intolerance? Is it possible that the declaration, which includes references to anti-Semitism does not address anti-Arabism or Islamophobia, which are becoming more and more prevalent in today's society?

YUSRIL IHZA MAHENDRA, Minister of Justice and Human Rights of Indonesia: Slavery, slave trading, colonialism and apartheid are major historical sources and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination and related intolerance, with enduring consequences for the peoples of African and Asian descent. The contemporary effects of those past practices and policies manifest themselves in the form of poverty, underdevelopment, marginalization and socio-economic exclusion which, despite the much-vaunted merits of globalization, have worsened in developing countries over the last few years. Those effects not only seriously threaten global security, they also deny a large fraction of the world's population its human rights, dignity and fundamental freedoms. In that regard, we join in the appeal to the international community to adopt appropriate and remedial action, including reparation and compensatory measures, in order to halt and reverse the consequences of those past policies and practices.

As a multicultural, multi-ethnic and multilingual society, Indonesia takes pride in its mosaic of peoples, which has evolved from our country's long history of tolerance and solidarity, born of a centuries-old cohabitation. However, the political transformation in today's nation-building process, combined with the economic crisis currently besetting Indonesia, have had a significant impact on the overall situation there. The May 1998 riots and the recent communal conflicts in some parts of the country, many of which have ethnic and religious overtones, are an unfortunate case in point and have frequently been associated with horrendous human rights abuses. We have drawn the lesson from those human tragedies and, for the sake of our national unity, have rediscovered the value of harmony and tolerance between the different ethnic and religious groups making up Indonesia. The Government is determined to act on those lessons by addressing the root causes of domestic conflicts arising from racial, ethnic or religious differences and thus hopefully prevent their recurrence. The new Government continues to take legislative, judicial, regulatory, administrative and other measures to eliminate racism and related discrimination in the country. In that respect, the Government is concentrating on establishing and maintaining a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect between the country's diverse communities through education programmes and reconciliatory dialogue.

THINLEY GYAMTSHO, Minister of Home Affairs of Bhutan: Political movements in certain parts of the world openly expound racist ideas. The dissemination of racist ideas is tolerated in the name of freedom of expression. The Internet is misused to propagate racial hatred. Globalization, which has so much potential to spread prosperity, can also result in economic disparity, cultural homogenization and marginalization of certain countries. We must ensure that globalization contributes to the overall well-being of all people in the world while at the same time respecting the uniqueness of different cultures and traditions.

In Bhutan, tolerance and compassion are core values in society. Our development philosophy of "Gross National Happiness" is one where the individual well-being is the focus of all development initiatives. As a small and vulnerable country, Bhutan continues to face many challenges to its security and sovereignty. Those include the problem of illegal immigration and the presence of foreign armed militants who have infiltrated the thick jungles of the south-eastern parts of my country. The resolution of those problems is a high national priority in order to ensure the full enjoyment of human rights of all our people. Bhutan fully subscribes to and respects, both in spirit and in practice, the principles enshrined in the main international human rights instruments.

MOHAMMED SABAH AL-SALEM AL-SABAH, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Kuwait: Islam has affirmed the principle of equality and human fraternity for 15 centuries in the Koran. The Kuwaiti Constitution enshrines the principles of the Sharia and clearly affirms that justice, freedom and equality are the pillars of society. Women in Kuwait, like men, enjoy the same rights guaranteed by the Constitution, namely the right to work and to choose her profession, the right to education, at all levels, and the right to assume public functions. Kuwait has culminated its efforts in the decree issues in May 1999 granting women their political rights. That decree did not secure the required majority in parliament, but the Government is determined to continue its efforts for the passage of the law.

The colonization by settlers and the foreign occupation constitute sources, causes and forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Today, we witness repugnant practices of racial discrimination by the Israeli occupation forces against Palestinians and the other inhabitants of the occupied Arab territories. Those practices constitute a serious violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, a crime against humanity and a serious threat to international peace and security. No just peace in the Middle East can be attained unless legitimate Arab rights are recovered.

The principle of non-discrimination is also considered as the basic tenet not only of international human rights law, but also of international humanitarian law, obliging parties to an armed conflict to treat prisoners of war and civilians without distinction of any kind and with humanity at all times. Kuwait still endures the pain of having Kuwaitis and third country nationals detained by the Iraqi Government since 1990 without any knowledge of their fate. Kuwait will spare no effort until all Kuwaitis and third country national prisoners of war and detainees are released.

KOLAWOLE A. IDJI, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Integration of Benin: The infamous triangular trade in slaves over centuries was the expression of a cruel denial of human dignity. The slave trade led to direct colonialism. Today, Benin is being built under an effective democracy, but it cannot forget its past. Our Constitution clearly sets up the rule of law and a pluralistic democracy and places upon every citizen the obligation to respect, without discrimination, his or her neighbour. It places foreigners on an equal footing with citizens. Civil society can play its proper part in a society where intolerance and frustration could lead to inter-ethnic conflict. We have signed and ratified most international conventions.

Humanity can only make headway if it acknowledges and draws on lessons from the evils of the past, in particular slavery, the slave trade and colonialism. We must acknowledge those crimes, not to twist the knife in the wound, but to better acknowledge that their lethal germs still persist. We are not here to humiliate anyone, but humanity can only take a decisive step forward if the whole truth of history is brought to light. If we want to overcome racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, we must restore the truth regarding the history of African peoples, who today find themselves on the bottom of the pile. We are not thinking about any kind of vengeance. Reconciliation not only asks for forgiveness, but also for repentance, sincere repentance. Sincere repentance must be active repentance.

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