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
7 September 2001

AM Meeting



As delegates worked to complete action on the final documents on the last scheduled day of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, dozens of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) this morning urged them to address a range of issues to improve the situation of the millions of victims of daily discrimination.

This morning's meeting marked the end of the general debate. At the end of the meeting, it was announced that the Main Committee would meet this afternoon.

The 29 speakers addressing the plenary meeting covered a number of national concerns, as well as addressing more general subjects, including the double discrimination which affects black women, discrimination in the workplace, and identifying the root causes of racism. Those issues and others, the speakers insisted, should be included in the Conference's Declaration and Programme of Action, which was being discussed in an adjacent room. The Conference is scheduled to complete its work today.

Several NGO representatives spoke about the double discrimination faced by women, with some saying that certain groups of women even suffered further forms of discrimination. The Women's National Commission described the plight of AIDS widows. In some areas of the developing world, 92 per cent of those who lost a spouse were women and were subject to a wide range of discrimination and loss of rights. Several speakers talked about the effect racism had on women's health. The representative of Women's Health in Women's Hands said racism has established barriers to health-care access. The impact of racism on the health of black women, in particular, is apparent in the cases of HIV/AIDS. Black women make up 23 per cent of AIDS-related deaths, and have the fastest growing rate of infection after homosexuals and intravenous drug users.

In addition, speakers from the African and African Descent Women's Caucus said the specific discrimination suffered by black women often gets lost because human rights' agencies treat anti-black racism and anti-women discrimination as mutually exclusive. Such discrimination also affected the world of work, others said. According to the World Confederate of Labour, black women were paid 55 per cent less than white women, who already received less pay than men.

A speaker from the Roma Centre for Public Policies "Aven Amentza" called attention to the situation of the Roma people, who, she said, have suffered centuries of discrimination and abuse by European countries. The speaker said the United Nations should recognize the Roma non-territorial nations and provide for adequate Roma representation in its fora.

NGOs from all regions of the world have been a vocal presence in Durban since the Conference opened last Friday. Last weekend, they approved an NGO Declaration and Programme of Action, which were presented to the President of the Conference. But some NGOs expressed regret about the process of adopting those documents. The United Nations Association of China said Chinese NGOs were discriminated against and not listened to in the drafting process.

Before the plenary opened, Gathering Forces, a South African band, performed several songs, played with indigenous instruments, including animal horns, bells, hand drums and wooden frogs.

Also addressing the meeting this morning were: Service Peace and Justice in Latin America; The 1990 Trust; American Psychological Association; Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University; Africville Genealogy Society; Physicians for Human Rights; Marangopoulos Foundation for Human Rights; Association of Islamic Women Researchers; Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Man; Committee on Women, Population and the Environment; World Federation of Democratic Youth; Women Association Follower of Ahlul Bait; Pax Romana; African Canadian Coalition against Racism; Nucleo de Estudos Negros; Chinese Peoples Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries, also on behalf of the All-China Women's Federation; International Possibilities Unlimited; Centro de Eustudios e Defenso do Negro do Para Amador; Union of Palestinian NGOs in Israel; Universal Day of Hope Trust; Union de Negros pela Igualdade; Pan-African Movement; and Youth against Racism.

The plenary session will reconvene to conclude the Conference at a time to be announced.


WORLD CONFEDERATION OF LABOUR: Men and women are born equal in dignity and rights, and any ideas of superiority of cultures or races have been proven scientifically unfound. The world of work, which concerns us directly, remains a place of discrimination -- on the basis of gender, religion, and sometimes because of the colour of skin. Migrant workers suffer in work more than any other workers. Foreign workers often do not receive equal salary. The salary of black women is 55 per cent less than white women, whose salaries are already less than men. Each State should set up a mechanism that monitors discriminatory practices in the work place. The final resolutions of this Conference must be implemented properly. We have discrimination in the field every day, and it must be eliminated.

AFRICAN AND AFRICAN DESCENT WOMEN'S CAUCUS: We share a common history of colonization and slavery. While we experience gender discrimination and anti-black racism, the fact that we are women who are black often makes the experience different. While all women are subject to sexual violence, African women suffer through race-based discrimination that affects their standing in society. While HIV/AIDS has affected millions of people, men and women, black and white, gender-based practices have heightened its discrimination suffered by women. Too often, our suffering gets lost because human rights agencies treat anti-black racism and anti-women discrimination as mutually exclusive. Another issue that needs to be addressed is traditional practices. Pygmy women in the Congo are still buried alive as a traditional practice.

SERVICE PEACE AND JUSTICE IN LATIN AMERICA: We are working in 10 Latin America countries and our focus is human rights, violence, conscientious objection, demilitarization and alternative economic projects and networks for peace. We strive to eliminate the structural causes of injustice, which are the same that cause racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. Many of our governments are weak on legislation, resulting in weak oversight of working conditions. We are concerned about the Plan Colombia, which is remilitarizing our continent. Our people have not been consulted, certainly not the indigenous peoples. We ask for peace through demilitarization.

WOMEN'S NATIONAL COMMISSION: We would like to address the problems of widows in the AIDS era. In some areas of the developing world, 92 per cent of those who lost spouses were women. Widows face double discrimination. The myth in some areas that sleeping with a virgin cures AIDS leads to child brides who become AIDS widows. In other areas, AIDS widows are not allowed to remarry and are used as sexual objects by the community. Rape in armed conflict will add to AIDS and the number of widows. Ritual cleansing through sex helps spread the infection. Widows are forced to leave their land, leading to prostitution and forced labour. That kind of treatment has led to human rights violations of women. We ask the United Nations agencies, and NGOs to address the plight of widows, including its racial dimension.

1990 TRUST: I am a Pakistani shopkeeper, living and working in Lancashire, England with my wife Linda. We live over the shop. It was always our dream to own our own business but since that first day we arrived, we have been subjected to violence and racist attacks. That has been the case for 10 years. We have since turned our home and shop into a fortress. Our existence is worse than any prison sentence. Despite that we have tried very hard to work with our neighbours. When nothing happened, we used the media to shame the local officials into helping us. That worked and the Lancashire authorities have made marginal attempts to help us. Still, local police are in denial. They say the risk to our lives is low. The legal system has also displayed racist attitudes towards me. Indeed, I regret to say that all State agencies have failed us -- they see me, the Pakistani, as the problem. Making real progress in combating racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance can only happen if we share information on victimization and change the perception in Britain that you are only a victim if you have been murdered.

AMERICAN PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION: We are committed to the eradication of the intolerable weight prejudice, bigotry and intolerance has on those that suffer such treatment. Racist attitudes serve to rationalize the domination of some groups over others. Race-based privilege disrupts the psychological heath structures of both victims and perpetrators. We urge world leaders to include psychological and positive mental health concerns into the framework of the Conference. We urge Governments and NGOs to establish and endorse organizations that promote mental health care. It is our view that all international instruments and mechanisms should be upgraded to include mental health-care initiatives on par with other health-care concerns within the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations.

BRAHMA KUMARIS WORLD SPIRITUAL UNIVERSITY: Racism lies solely in the human mind. The root cause of racism and discrimination is thus a crisis of identity at the individual and collective level. Bringing about the required change in attitudes and ways of life, and in equality and justice, requires a process of healing, accompanied by the rediscovery of the true self and re-identification with the unity of the larger human family. In that regard, it is both parties involved in discriminatory action who must be healed. Abuse defiles the victim, but its perpetrator also debases and dehumanizes himself. Ultimately, only we can deprive ourselves of our own self-respect. Understanding the sacredness of each person opens the door to perceiving the essential oneness of the human family. There is but one race - the human race.

AFRICVILLE GENEALOGY SOCIETY: During the entire history of African Canadians, we resisted all attempts to take our land, culture and heritage from us. Participants in two recent conferences held in Halifax, Nova Scotia, identified several components of institutional racism: displacement, denial of essential services, environmental degradation, segregation, denial of justice in the courts, unemployment/underemployment, economic inequality, cultural assimilation and denial of education. The residents of Africville had been subject to the same taxation mechanisms as citizens of Halifax, but they were never provided with basic amenities.

PHYSICIANS FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance deeply harm the health and shorten the lives of millions of people through their health status, access to health and quality of health services. Racism affects health status as measured by infant and child mortality, life expectancy and the extent of morbidity in the population. The crisis of the AIDS pandemic exemplifies racial disparity in health. Twenty-five million of the 36 million people living with HIV/AIDS are in Africa. At the national level, racism and discrimination directly impede equal access to health services by excluding groups from health-care systems. Women, immigrants and refugees who are members of racial, ethnic or national minorities are especially subjected to discrimination. The Declaration and Programme of Action should commit governments to adopt plans with specific targets and strategies for eliminating racial disparities in health, collect information on morbidity and mortality rates disaggregated by race, sex, ethnicity, class and caste, and monitor and report on discrimination in health status, access to quality of health care and health outcomes, again disaggregated by group.

MARANGOPOULOS FOUNDATION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: In Europe today we are confronting a new wave of racism resulting from the failure of rich countries to provide adequate, human rights-based economic assistance to poor nations. The increase we have seen in racism and xenophobia is a reaction to massive waves of migrant workers attempting to escape the desperate conditions in their own countries caused by poor governance and exacerbated by the negative effects of globalization. Bad governance exacerbates violation of human rights, oppression, conflict and misery. Unchecked globalization can also lead to marginalization and exploitation. A human rights-based approach to development assistance and a renewed undertaking by the United Nations to draft codes of conduct and rules regulating globalization may be the answer in the mid-term. The establishment of a migrants assistance fund by rich countries may also be a short-term remedy.

ASSOCIATION OF ISLAMIC MUSLIM WOMEN RESEARCHERS: Almost 10 years have passed since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing and it is time to evaluate the outcomes of that international event. International statistics and other available information clearly show the disinterest of the Western world in pursuing genuine human progress and development. Statistics also show that Western schools of thought have chosen to take for granted or blatantly neglect the "principle of dignity", one of the most important principles of the United Nations. Instead, the technological advancement of countries is emphasized as a sign of progress. The fact that the basic rights of women in places like Bosnia and Herzegovina and Palestinian women were violated clearly denotes the ineffectiveness of laws and regulations that are haphazardly formulated without taking into account man's true nature. We would urge further research and study in the following areas: women's poverty, education for women and youth, religious intolerance and, most importantly, stereotyping of women in the media.

AL-HAQ, LAW IN THE SERVICE OF MAN: The Israeli military occupation affects every facet of Palestinian life. Travel restrictions and pass laws, curfews, land confiscation, house demolitions, school closures, assassinations, torture and arbitrary arrest are all actions taken against the Palestinian population as Israel attempts to retain control of Palestinian land and resources. Since last September, Israel's actions have increased in brutality and have resulted in the killing of more than 640 Palestinians, over one third of whom were children under the age of 18. In the same period of time, 18,000 Palestinians have been injured. Israeli practices in occupied East Jerusalem provide clear evidence of the systemic racism faced by Palestinians.

COMMITTEE ON WOMEN, POPULATION AND THE ENVIRONMENT: In many countries, indigenous women, women from minorities, women with disabilities and poor women are targeted for involuntary sterilization, long-acting hormonal contraceptives, criminalization of their pregnancies, and involuntary caesarean sections. They are subject to population control policies promoted by both government and the private sector because they are unwanted populations. The Conference should address the reproductive health policies that adversely affect indigenous women and other racially marginalized women.

WORLD FEDERATION OF DEMOCRATIC YOUTH: Our organization of the world concludes that racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are growing to dangerous levels. We are concerned about our situation around the world, particularly for people of African descent. The wrongs of the past, such as slavery, the slave trade and colonialism should be acknowledged. We are distressed by the attitude of some countries. One example of the atrocities caused by racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance is the situation of the Sindh in Pakistan, who are discriminated against in all sectors of society.

ROMA CENTRE FOR PUBLIC POLICIES "AVEN AMENTZA", (also on behalf of Together Into the Future): We, the Roma people are known as Gypsies of Tsiganes or Gtanos, a non-scientific pejorative which, in the prejudiced eyes of others stands for: dirty, criminal, outlaw or slave. We totally reject that outside stigma and call ourselves Roma, worldwide nation, with a common identity and aspirations. We were slaves in Romania for hundreds of years, being sold and bought, sometimes at prices less than land or animals. During the Second World War we were murdered during the Nazi Holocaust because of our ethnic origin, but we are still not recognized as victims of that Holocaust. Nowadays, we suffer ongoing hardship, degradation and oppression. We urge States to condemn anti-Tziganism, the specific form of institutionalized racism and racial discrimination against Roma. We urge the United Nations to recognize the Roma non-territorial nation and to provide for adequate Roma representation in relevant international and intergovernmental organizations by receiving seats in the United Nations on equal footing with other nations of the world.

WOMEN ASSOCIATION FOLLOWER OF AHLUL BAIT: For true followers of any of God's prophets, all kinds of racism are vigorously condemned. We must all acknowledge the grave situation of the Palestinian people. Actions of the State of Israel have put the safety of the world at risk. That State's distortion of the truth through the mass media has served its own purposes. But one wonders if the rest of the world will continue to stand by as the atrocities continue. We must put an end to Zionist racist crimes. I would like to add that there are many delegations that have strong reservations to the inclusion of sexual orientation as grounds for discrimination throughout the final documents.

PAX ROMANA: Member States should fulfil their duty to promote the right of all peoples to self-determination. The United Nations is urged to create mechanism and procedures to hear the self-determination claims of victims, so that those can be addressed and, where possible, peacefully resolved. Member States are also asked to delete the racist paragraph from the Programme of Action that violates the unqualified right of indigenous peoples to self-determination. Another issue is the Dalits. The NGO Forum affirmed the conclusions of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the Subcommission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights that untouchability, bonded labour, manual scavenging and other caste-based abuses are repugnant and insidious forms of racial discrimination. There have been efforts to ensure that caste be kept out of the Conference's documents and to dilute, or even drop, the original references to work and descent.

AFRICAN CANADIAN COALITION AGAINST RACISM: Canada has a history of sweeping its racism under the rug. It is a fact that Canada was involved in the slave trade. What we have witnessed is a systematic erosion of equality. Canadian human rights institutions have failed to recognize neo-colonial attitudes and anti-black racism and failed to pursue key human rights commitments. That has been made even more clear by the position Canada has taken during this Conference, particularly on issues related to reparations. It is time for Canada to acknowledge that the transatlantic slave trade is a crime against humanity regardless of the time it took place. It is time to develop and implement national and international mechanisms to ensure the rights of Africans and African descendents, particularly in order to address anti-black racism.

WOMEN'S HEALTH IN WOMEN'S HANDS: My organization is a feminist pro-choice anti-racist health centre for women of colour in Toronto, Canada. We prioritize the women from African, Caribbean, Latin American and Asian countries. We enhance well-being holistically by placing health in the hands of the women we serve. Informed decision-making on health requires non-biased information. Gender, class and race impact on the health of women. Racism is a determinant of health for black women. In Canada, racism has established barriers to health-care access. The impact of racism on health of black women is particularly apparent in the case of HIV/AIDS. Black women make up 23 per cent of AIDS-related deaths and have the fastest growing rate of HIV/AIDS after men practicing sex with other men and intravenous drug users. With the reality of the changing face of Canada, we can no longer exclude valuable members of society from health care. Nor can we continue to deny health care to migrants and refugees. Adequate institutional mechanisms are required for inclusive, racist-free policies and programmes.

NUCLEA DE ESTUDOS NEGROS: The slave trade was one of the cruellest acts ever invented by humanity. There is no doubt that slavery and the slave trade are crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, in Brazil there is still a strong reluctance to the idea of reparations. In Brazil 8 million people are black. The poor quality of life of those people is linked directly to racism. Poverty does have a colour and that colour is black. A black child has a 67 per cent chance of dying before the age of five. In universities, only 3 per cent of students are black. We are sure that the final document will not reflect our struggles, but it will be an instrument for which we will continue to mobilize ourselves.

CHINESE PEOPLES ASSOCIATION FOR FRIENDSHIP WITH FOREIGN COUNTRIES, (also on behalf of the All-China Women's Federation): In today's world, many issues and problems exist. There are various kinds of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance of which old and new colonialism is the root. Those responsible for colonialism and slave trade should make compensation for their actions without forced preconditions. Women, particularly in developing countries, face multiple forms of discrimination. We call on all NGOs to promote sexual and gender equality. We call on the Chinese Government to deal with the stereotypical portrayal of women in textbooks and school curricula. While we applaud the work of some NGOs during the Conference, we condemn the actions of others that would urge the inclusion of intolerant or exclusionist language in the final documents.

UNITED NATIONS ASSOCIATION OF CHINA: The United States regards itself as a world of democracy, but the fact is, it is a model of racism. It is a shame that the Government walked out of this Conference. In Europe, xenophobia has become a serious social problem. Asians and Asian descendants face deep-seated racism, and a lack of access to political, economic and social opportunities. Chinese and Chinese descendants are often the targets of racism. In South Africa, apartheid was abolished in 1994. However, the whole continent is still poverty stricken. The very reason of its underdevelopment is its colonial history, as well as economic exploitation today. African countries are entitled to reparations. In the Middle East, the Palestinian people are being killed every day. Their legitimate right to self-determination is being denied. There should be an end to the violence against our Palestinian brothers and sisters. The NGO Forum was not democratic, and the whole process was not transparent. The working method was not in line with the usual practice of NGO conferences. The final document was adopted without consensus and its credibility is challenged. The paragraphs relating to the issue of Tibet are distortions and cannot be accepted. We struggled to be heard at the Forum, but our right to expression was denied, not only in the Asia-Pacific Caucus, but also in the NGO plenary. We were victims of discrimination at the Forum simply because we are from China.

INTERNATIONAL POSSIBILITIES UNLIMITED: We recognize environmental racism as a human rights violation and a form of discrimination caused by government and private sector policy, practice, action or inaction which intentionally or unintentionally, disproportionately targets and harms the environment, health, biodiversity, climate, local economy, quality of life and security of communities, workers, groups, and individuals based on race, class, colour, gender, caste, ethnicity and/or national origin. In Ecuador, cancer rates, spontaneous abortions and respiratory infections among indigenous peoples have increased dramatically, from 1971 to 1992, due in part to the dumping of more than 20 billion gallons of toxic waste water and 16 million gallons of crude oil into the Amazon. Other places such as Vieques, Puerto Rico; the United States-Mexico border; the United States; Guyana; Subic Bay, Philippines; and the Niger Delta, Nigeria, also contain many manifestations of environmental racism. Governments must establish, comply with and enforce international conventions, treaties, declarations, national laws and policies that ensure the fundamental rights of all peoples to clean air, land, water, food and safe and decent housing.

CENTRO DE ESTUDIOS E DEFENSO DO NEGRO DO PARA AMADO: We are a people working in the Brazilian Amazon region to improve living conditions for black people, particularly women. It is a scandal to think that the Brazilian ruling class can sleep easily while half of the population lives in poverty. The ruling class would claim that there is equality. But what sort of democracy condones such marginalization and exclusion from the social, economic and development framework within its own borders. The Brazilian ruling class must identify the initiatives, programmes and policies it intends to implement in order to redress that serious issue. Sadly, the situation of blacks in Brazil is accepted as something natural. No one, not Government and State officials, nor community leaders, sees anything wrong with the degradation, humiliation and exclusion of black Brazilians face on a daily basis. We can no longer continue to accept that situation. It is essential that the State take a decision to correct that situation. Education facilities and universities must play a key role in helping to destroy those attitudes. We want reparations, affirmative action and equal employment and education. Above all, we want to be recognized as true Brazilians.

UNION OF ARAB COMMUNITY BASED ASSOCIATIONS: We are the indigenous people of historic Palestine, Palestinians who remained inside the borders of the new Jewish State in 1948. Almost overnight, we became an unrecognized national minority in our homeland. Despite our formal citizenship, we lived under military rule for 18 years, during which harsh restrictions on our civil liberties were imposed. The military rule ended in 1966, but there are still over 20 racist and discriminatory laws in Israel that address such issues as citizenship, access to land and adequate housing, political participation and education, among other things. Those laws emphasize the Zionist and Jewish ethnic character of the State. Israel's response to the October 2000 demonstrations, in which 13 Palestinian citizens were killed and hundreds injured, also provides a clear indication of the State's treatment of its Palestinian citizens. Today, our struggle is focused on our demand for full rights, both individual and collective, and for recognition of our status as a national minority. That recognition must include acknowledgement of our history, our national memory, our historical land claims, our culture and language, and our right to full and equal political participation. We will not be silenced.

UNIVERSAL DAY OF HOPE TRUST: Our organization is dedicated to the pursuit of justice and world peace. To assist in ongoing efforts to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance we have submitted proposals to over 178 world leaders and a number of international civil society organizations. To assist the work of the Conference, I will present that proposal today. It includes the issues of exploitation through expansionism that has led to wars, conflicts and human suffering since 12 October 1492, Columbus' landing in the Americas. It notes further that since that date, the notion of the superiority of one race over another has evolved, leading to social injustice, exploitation and slavery. While the proposal notes mankind's efforts to ensure and promote peace, including tearing down the Berlin Wall, the end of the cold war and the end of apartheid, it also calls for the world to become a "zone of peace" and that the United Nations set aside 12 October annually as a worldwide "Day of Universal Hope". That day will especially promote social justice, world
peace, economic and political cooperation between nations and the elimination of ideological warfare and environmental destruction.

UNION DE NEGROS PELA IGUALDADE: The tension surrounding the Conference, and the talk of boycotting it, stems from the inability to talk about slavery. Blacks make up 45 per cent of the population of Brazil, and suffer racism. The Government covers up racial tensions in society. The Government says Brazil is the cradle of racial harmony in the Americas. We are the main victims of unemployment, policy violence, lack of access to education, housing and health care. We are outside most of the economic structures of our country. One of the main causes of social exclusion is racism, and that needs to be addressed in the documents. States which partook in the slave trade and colonization should accept their full responsibility and should also immediately pay compensation or make reparations. There needs to be an International Plan of Compensation for victims of the slave trade. It is hoped that the document that is the product of this Conference will help us get over the many obstacles we face in society on a daily basis.

PAN-AFRICAN MOVEMENT: Anyone at this Conference who does not understand crimes against humanity or reparations should not be at this Conference in the first place. About United Nations reform, the headquarters should be rotated throughout every region of the world. There should also be a United Nations special committee, including NGOs and Youth Forum delegates, to recommend the implementation procedures of that proposal. That committee should be set up within one year of the end of this Conference, and it should present its final report within the next five years.

People's culture and behaviour are conditioned by their total environment and the length of time in that environment. The United Nations Headquarters has been located in New York for 56 years. New York is also the leading financial center of the world. That sets up a relationship that the operational profits of the stock market are far more important than the well-being of millions of villages around the world. At intervals of 25 to 30 years, the United Nations headquarters should move, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and then to the Indian Ocean. That action establishes unity in our diversity -- it is global universal democracy. In 1999, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees budgeted 10 cents per day per refugees in Africa, and $1.60 per day for refugees in Yugoslavia. That might have been an administrative oversight, but at this Conference, it also could be mistaken for racism.

YOUTH AGAINST RACISM: This Conference triggers an explosive advancement for the contributions of young people in the world. Because of our age, we have a unique view on the situations of our neighbours around the world. We rejoice for the freedom of our brothers and sisters in South Africa, and we cry for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. At the same time, we are realistic about the vagaries of change and what real change requires. We care about the conditions of our brothers and sisters around the world. We care about the effects of globalization on the world's children.

When necessary, we will rise up and fill the streets of cities in order to be heard. We will face the clouds of tear gas and storms of plastic bullets. We will stand up against police dogs and police brutality. We do all that in the name of a better world. But let us avoid those violent avenues. Let us forever work as we are now, together, on a level platform. May our union together continue towards development and our fight against racism continue towards success.

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