Press Releases

     

    GA/10199
    3 November 2003

    GENERAL ASSEMBLY ADOPTS UN CONVENTION AGAINST
    CORRUPTION, OPENS TREATY FOR SIGNATURE AT HIGH-LEVEL
    CONFERENCE IN MERIDA, MEXICO, 9-11 DECEMBER

    NEW YORK, 31 October (UN Headquarters) -- Assembly President Appoints Facilitators for Revitalization Debate; President of International Court of Justice, UNESCO Director General Address Assembly

    Concerned about the seriousness of problems and threats graft posed to the stability and security of societies, undermining the institutions and values of democracy, ethical values and justice, the General Assembly today unanimously adopted the United Nations Convention against Corruption and opened it for signature at the High-level Political Signing Conference to be held in Merida, Mexico, from 9 to 11 December 2003. 

    Welcoming the accord, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said it enjoined governments to return stolen assets to the countries that owned them and, if fully enforced, removed one of the biggest obstacles to development.  Negotiating the new Convention and adopting it were "remarkable" achievements, and the accord complemented another landmark instrument, the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which entered into force a month ago.

    The Assembly also decided that, to raise awareness of corruption and of the new Convention’s role in combating and preventing it, 9 December should be designated International Anti-Corruption Day.  Determined to more effectively prevent, detect and deter international transfer of illicitly acquired assets and strengthen international cooperation in assets recovery, it also urged all States and competent regional economic integration organizations to sign and ratify the accord as soon as possible to ensure its rapid entry into force.

    The anti-corruption treaty "makes a major breakthrough by requiring Member States to return assets obtained through corruption to the country from which they were stolen", the Secretary-General said, adding that, "Corrupt officials will, in the future, find fewer ways to hide their illicit gains.  This is a particularly important issue for many developing countries, where corrupt officials have plundered the national wealth, and where new governments badly need resources to reconstruct and rehabilitate their societies".

    The 71-article Convention was annexed to the report of the Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee, which had been negotiating the treaty’s terms, scope and monitoring mechanisms for nearly three years.  The Convention, set to enter into force 90 days after ratification or accession by 30 States parties, covers topics that include public procurement, bribery, illicit enrichment, embezzlement, misappropriation, money-laundering, protecting whistle-blowers, freezing of assets and cooperation between States.

     

    The Director of Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs shared the Secretary-General’s views that the Convention could make a real difference to the quality of life of millions of people.  For Nigeria, the accord would aid the Government’s implementation of anti-corruption measures.  Corruption threatened sustainable development, the rule of law, and the enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, depriving victim countries of much needed development funds.  He called on nations harbouring proceeds of corruption to remove all obstacles and return assets stashed in their midst.

    Hailing the new Convention as a milestone achievement in the global effort to ensure transparency, fairness and justice, the representative of the United States said the accord was vital not only to the rule of law, but to the fundamental confidence citizens must have for representative government and private enterprise to succeed.

    When the Assembly turned to other matters on its agenda today, Shi Jiuyong, President of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), introduced that body’s annual report and updated Member States on its work.  Currently there were 191 States parties to the Court’s Statute, more than 60 of which had accepted its compulsory jurisdiction under the Statute.  The 15-member Court -- the principal judicial body of the United Nations that settles disputes between countries -- remained as busy as ever, he said, with 23 cases on its docket.

    As the Assembly took up issues related to cultural heritage and the return or restitution of cultural property, the Director General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Koichiro Matsuura, said that only in nourishing and invigorating diversity could the societies of tomorrow be built -- that was the key argument for the indivisibility of diversity and development, both of which fostered democracy and equity.

    Also today, Assembly President Julian R. Hunte (Saint Lucia) gave his final observations on matters related to the revitalization of the Assembly and the Organization as a whole.  He also announced the appointment of six facilitators for the revitalization debate, as the next step forward.  They were:  Abdallah Baali (Algeria); Stafford O. Neil (Jamaica); Dirk Jan van den Berg (Netherlands); Kishore Mahbubani (Singapore); Roman Kirn (Slovenia); and Dumisani Shadrack Kumalo (South Africa).

    The representatives of Malaysia, Kenya, Philippines, Japan, Madagascar, Russian Federation, Mexico, Italy (on behalf of the European Union), Rwanda (on behalf of the African Group), China, Switzerland, Indonesia, Peru, Jordan, Norway, Colombia, Lithuania, Egypt, New Zealand, India, Greece, Ukraine, Cyprus, Libya, Iceland and Ethiopia also addressed the Assembly today.

    The Foreign Minister of Mauritius also spoke, as did the Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for the Negotiation of a Convention against Corruption.

    The Assembly will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 3 November, to take up matters related to sport for peace and development and the Olympic ideal, as well as the report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

     Background

    The General Assembly met today to consider the following items:  the report of the International Court of Justice; follow-up to the United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage; return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin; and the report of the Ad Hoc Committee for a Convention against Corruption. 

    The Assembly was also expected to conclude its consideration of the strengthening of the United Nations system, including the revitalization of the General Assembly and other bodies.  For background on that issue, see Press Release GA/10182, issued on 27 September.

    The report of the International Court of Justice (document A/58/4 and Corr.1) covers the period from 1 August 2002 to 31 July 2003.  The principal organ of the United Nations, the Court, consists of 15 Judges elected for a term of nine years by the Assembly and the Security Council.  Every three years, one third of the seats fall vacant and the last elections to fill such vacancies were held on 21 October 2002.  In line with the increase in the number of cases, the number of judges (ad hoc) chosen by States parties has also been increasing.  It currently stands at 37, with these functions being carried out by 25 individuals.

    As of 31 July, 191 States were parties to the Statute of the Court and 64 of them had deposited with the Secretary-General a declaration of acceptance of the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction in accordance with the Statute.  Over the past year, the number of cases pending before the Court has remained high.  As opposed to the 1970s, when the Court only had one or two cases on its docket at any one time, as of 31 July it had 25.  Among the judgments handed down in the past year were decisions relating to the land and maritime boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria, and sovereignty over Pulau Ligitan and Pulau Sipadan (Indonesia/Malaysia).

    Beginning in 1997, the Court has taken various measures to rationalize the work of the Registry, to make greater use of information technology, to improve its own working methods and to secure greater collaboration from the parties in relation to its procedures.  These efforts have continued, states the report.  The Court has also taken steps to shorten and simplify proceedings.  In 2002, the Court reviewed its working methods again; they are subject to permanent re-examination.

    In December 2001, the Assembly approved the Court’s budget for the present 2002-2003 biennium, and adopted all the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) regarding personnel requirements.  The Assembly did not, however, approve all the other recommendations of the ACABQ, particularly regarding programme support.  That had created difficulties for the Court.

    For the biennium 2004–2005, the Court has, in view of its ongoing and increased reliance on advanced technology, requested the expansion of the Computerization Division from one to two Professional Officers.  The Court further requested the conversion of five law clerk posts, to conduct research for the 15 members of the Court, from temporary to established posts, and the creation of two security posts, as recommended by the United Nations Security Coordinator. In making these requests, which are presently under consideration by the ACABQ, the Court has restricted itself to proposals which are financially modest but also of the utmost significance for the implementation of key aspects of its work.

    The report on the Secretary-General’s Trust Fund to Assist States in the Settlement of Disputes through the International Court of Justice (document A/58/295) highlights the significance of the Trust Fund that was established in 1989.  In accordance with the Terms of Reference, financial assistance is to be to States for expenses incurred in connection with a dispute submitted to the Court by way of a special agreement or the execution of a judgment of the Court resulting from such special agreement.

    As at 31 July, the total balance of the Fund was $1,863,162.  This amount excludes awards which have already been paid.  Despite numerous appeals by the Secretary-General, the Fund has had decreasing resources since its inception.  States and other entities are, therefore, urged to give serious consideration to contributing to the Fund.  With a view to encouraging States to apply for grants from the Fund, a review of the existing procedures governing the use of the Fund is being undertaken in consultation with the Registry of the Court and the Controller.

    Also before the Assembly is a note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Director-General of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the United Nations Year for Cultural Heritage, 2002, and its follow-up (document A/58/402).  The report provides an overview of activities carried out by UNESCO in the framework of the Year for Cultural Heritage.  Three objectives were set for the celebration of the Year, including to intensify the implementation of programmes, activities and projects aimed at promoting and protecting the world cultural heritage; to promote education and raise public awareness to foster respect for national and world cultural heritage; and to encourage voluntary contributions to finance and support activities aimed at promoting and protecting national and world cultural heritage.

    For UNESCO, protecting tangible and intangible cultural heritage means ensuring its capacity for renewal.  Safeguarding cultural heritage does not solely imply preserving cultural monuments, but also reviving living culture worldwide, traditional festivals, performing arts and crafts, re-establishing theatres and cinemas, and promoting cultural industries to help people to recover their cultural identity, preserve their timeless traditions and invigorate their artistic and intellectual creativity.  The results of the Year will not be immediately measured, but there is no doubt it offered a unique opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of safeguarding cultural heritage worldwide.

    By the terms of a related draft resolution (document A/58/L.11), the Assembly would invite UNESCO, in collaboration with States, observers, relevant United Nations bodies and other international and non-governmental organizations, to continue to intensify the implementation of programmes, activities and projects aimed at the promotion and protection of the world cultural heritage.  The Assembly would also invite Member States and observers to continue to promote education and raise public awareness so as to foster respect for national and world cultural heritage.

    The note by the Secretary-General transmitting the report of the Director-General of UNESCO on the return or restitution of cultural property to the countries of origin (document A/58/314) states that in its work for the return of cultural properties to nations of origin, UNESCO has promoted the legal and moral arguments favouring such restitution, increased public awareness of the issue and assisted in specific cases as appropriate.  In particular, efforts have been made to implement recommendations adopted by the Intergovernmental Committee for Promoting the Return of Cultural Property to its Countries of Origin or its Restitution in Case of Illicit Appropriation, at its session held in Cambodia in March 2001.

    Among the specific cases before the Committee during the period under review was the issue of the return of the Parthenon Marbles from the United Kingdom to Greece, in which context Greece had submitted a proposal to reunite the Marbles for exhibition to coincide with the 2004 Olympic Games.  There was also the issue of the return to Turkey of the Boguskoy Sphinx, currently on display in the Berlin Museum, in which context the Committee invited both parties to continue meeting with a view to bringing the issue to a mutually acceptable solution.

    Moreover, as the consequences of the recent war in Iraq included increased looting and illicit evacuations and trafficking in cultural property, the secretariat of UNESCO had contacted the United States Secretary and Department of State, the United Kingdom, countries neighbouring Iraq and Interpol, among others, and had requested them to take all necessary measures against that illicit traffic.

                                                                                                                                                 

    The Assembly was also expected to take action on a draft resolution contained in the report of the Ad Hoc Committee for a Convention against Corruption (document A/58/422, chapter IV, para. 103 and A/58/422/Add.1).  The Ad Hoc Committee recommends to the Assembly the adoption of a draft resolution, entitled “United Nations Convention on Corruption”, annexed to which is the text of the Convention.  By the terms of the draft, the Assembly would adopt the Convention and open it for signature at the High-level Political Signing Conference to be held in Merida, Mexico, from 9 to 11 December.

    The Assembly would also decide that, in order to raise awareness of corruption and of the role of the Convention in combating and preventing it, 9 December should be designated International Anti-Corruption Day. It would also urge all States and competent regional economic integration organizations to sign and ratify the Convention as soon as possible to ensure its rapid entry into force.

    Statements

    SHI JIUYONG, President of the International Court of Justice, said that currently there were 191 States parties to the Court’s Statute, more than 60 of which had accepted its compulsory jurisdiction under the Statute.  The 15-member Court itself remained as busy as ever, he said, with 23 cases on its docket.  Those cases came from all over the world, with four being between African States, one between Asian States, 11 between European States and three between Latin American States.  The subject matter of the cases was varied, and covered territorial disputes between neighbouring States over either land or maritime boundaries, and disputes where a State complained of the treatment of its citizens in another State.

    For example, Guinea had petitioned on behalf of its nationals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Liechtenstein against Germany; and Mexico against the United States, he said.  Other cases related to events which had been addressed by the Assembly and Security Council, namely Iran’s proceedings brought against the United States for the destruction of oil wells in the late 1990s, and in two separate cases, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia had sought condemnation of Serbia and Montenegro -- formerly the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia -- for war crimes and genocide.  Finally, in two separate cases, the Democratic Republic of the Congo contended that it had been a victim of armed aggression on the part of Uganda and Rwanda, respectively.

    He said the Court’s decisions in 2002-2003 included in particular three judgments on merits and two orders on request for provisional measures.  He went on to highlight the specific cases, which included an October judgment on the maritime boundary between Cameroon and Nigeria, in which the Court found for Cameroon, and a January 2003 order indicating provisional measures by which the United States “shall take all measures necessary to ensure that [three Mexican nationals, who are at risk of execution next month] are not executed pending final judgment”.

    In June, he continued, the Court issued another order on a request for provisional measures by which it rejected a request of the Republic of Congo seeking the annulment of the investigation and prosecution measures taken by judicial authorities in France, following a complaint for crimes against humanity and torture allegedly committed in the African country.  Various human rights groups against Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso and other senior officials filed the case in France.  In its decision, the Court said it saw no urgent need for the measures sought by the Congo, and added that its decision in no way prejudged the question of its jurisdiction to deal with the merits of the dispute.

    He said in order to improve efficiency, the Court’s internal mechanisms were constantly under review.  But he called for the cooperation of parties before the Court to help the justices achieve their goals.  For example, the Court had issued a number of Practice Directions, including one aimed at limiting the late filing of documents.  The Court was also aware of the importance of keeping pace with technology to improve the internal functioning of its Registry.  The Court’s well-regarded Web site and intranet were in the process of being redesigned to make them more dynamic and easier to use.

    He said that while the Court carried out its work far from the hustle and bustle of New York, its activities directly contributed to the overall aims and objectives of the United Nations.  Its work also had wide-ranging impact on the international community.  In particular, the role it played in resolving disputes between States was widely recognized and evidenced by the number of cases on its docket.  Furthermore, it was not uncommon for cases to deal directly with issues concerning international peace and security.  The impartiality of the Court’s judicial procedure and the equality which it guaranteed to the parties before it contributed to the effective resolution of such disputes.  The Court acted as a guardian of international law and ensured the maintenance of a coherent international legal order.

    SARAH AL BAKRI DEVADASON (Malaysia) said the role of the International Court of Justice should not be underestimated in its effort to promote peace among nations.  The Court had handed down judgments and opinions of excellent quality, and the increasing recourse by States to judicial settlement of their disputes had granted the Court centrality in the administration of international justice. Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore had submitted their respective territorial disputes for adjudication by the Court.  She welcomed the judgment delivered in December 2002 on the dispute between her country and Indonesia regarding sovereignty over two islands.  Malaysia’s dispute with Singapore was currently on the Court’s docket and would begin its pleadings stage. 

    The number of cases currently on the Court’s docket stood at 23, and augured well for the progressive development of international law and the role of the Court as a dispute settlement mechanism, she said.  With an increased workload, the Court was faced with the challenge of responding speedily to the complicated matters before it.  The Court’s efforts to deal with challenges of time and workload through improved working methods, initiated in 1997, had appeared to bear fruit.  Moreover, the greater use of information technology, and the continued review of working methods, was encouraged.  She hoped the Court would be granted adequate resources to allow it to continue to carry out its mandate efficaciously.

    ROSELYN AMADI (Kenya) expressed satisfaction with the Court’s discharge of its mandate, noting that it had established itself truly as the only court of universal character with general jurisdiction.  The increase in the number and diversity of cases referred to the Court confirmed the confidence of States in the integrity of that principal judicial organ of the United Nations.  She supported the establishment of the new posts, particularly for legal clerks whom she believed would help speed up the Court’s work.  To have 23 cases pending before the Court did not reflect well on the administration of justice in the world court. 

    Appreciative of the measures taken to reduce delays at the Court, she urged the Registrar to continue to improve on those measures so that cases that came before the Court were expeditiously determined.  Given the Court’s increased workload, it should continue to rationalize its operations.  In particular, she saw the need to examine the possibility of increasing the number of permanent judges to deal expeditiously with pending and future cases.  In that regard, she asked the Court’s President to make proposals for consideration by the Assembly at its next session.  She commended the Court’s President and his staff in promoting a better understanding of the Court and its role within the United Nations through speeches and presentations in various institutions around the world.  However, she regretted that none of those undertakings had occurred in Africa.  She called on the Court not only to redouble its efforts in that regard, but also to deliberately ensure that, in its planning of those activities, due regard was given to developing countries, particularly in Africa.

    Kenya had deposited with the Secretary-General a declaration of acceptance of the Court’s compulsory jurisdiction in accordance with Article 36, paragraph 2, of the Court’s Statute.  Noting that only 64 States parties had now deposited declarations under that article, she urged those that had not done so yet to deposit their declarations quickly to further fortify the universality of the Court. 

    LAURO L. BAJA, Jr. (Philippines) said the past 12 months had underlined the importance of the role played by the Court as the principal judicial organ of the United Nations and the only court of a universal character with general supervision.  The acceptance by many States of the Court’s judicial role -- not just as State parties to its Statute but also by submitting to its jurisdiction in contentious cases -- was a testament to the recognition of how effectively the Court had pursued its mandate over the years.  He noted that the Court was immensely preoccupied with disposing of pending cases from its busy docket.  Those cases had not only increased in number but had evolved in terms of the range of issues which required adjudication.  The Court had become an “indispensable cog of the geopolitical architecture”, since it provided a solid compass for the development of international law.  It also served as a significant pillar both for the maintenance of international peace and security, and the strengthening of the rule of law in State to State relations.

    The Court, he continued, also faced a tremendous challenge to stay relevant and on the cutting edge of political developments and legal demands of a world that was getting smaller through the galloping development in technology, but at the same time growing apart by the widening gap between rich and poor countries.  He called for improvement in the Court’s Registry, as well as strengthening of its procedures to allow the consideration and adjudication of cases without delay.  The judicial system uniquely afforded by the Court must be made easily accessible to all nations, particularly the poor ones.  He was of the view that the Secretary-General’s Trust Fund was restrictive on the type of cases and the range of costs for which it could be applied.  He hoped that those issues could be addressed so that the utility of the Trust Fund could be optimized for the benefit of poor nations.

    YOSHIYUKI MOTOMURA (Japan) said there was no question as to the importance of the International Court of Justice, given the current state of international society.  Establishing and maintaining the primacy of integrated international law was essential to a world that continued to witness armed conflict and acts of terrorism.  Therefore, given its firm belief in the rule of law and peaceful settlement of disputes, his country supported the Court fully.

    Noting the increasing number of cases appearing on its docket, he said the Court must make a concerted effort to establish a more efficient system of management, enabling it to render a greater number of judgements without sacrificing the quality of its work.  It should also consider the level of resources needed for it to fulfil its role as guardian of the rule of law.  In this context, Japan felt the proposal of the ACABQ to convert five judicial clerkships from temporary to permanent status would constitute a significant step forward in strengthening the Court’s capacity.

    ZINA ANDRIANARIVELO-RAZAFY (Madagascar) said there had daily been violations of the principles of international humanitarian law, conflicts and territorial and maritime disputes in recent years.  In such a context, the International Court of Justice played an important role in reinforcing the maintenance of peace and international security.  Further noting that the cases brought to the Court had increased in number and complexity, he said that the Court’s efforts to streamline its procedures should be supported.

    Welcoming the progress made thus far to improve its working, he said the necessary financial, organizational and material means must be given to the Court, pending the eventual reform of the United Nations system.  Justice gave strength to the weak; it was the refuge of the poor, he added, in which context the Secretary-General’s Trust Fund was appreciated.  Developing and poor countries had a great need for the Fund, whose resources had, unfortunately, diminished since its establishment.  Finally, close cooperation among the various international tribunals was desirable in increasing coherence among their decisions.

    DMITRY A. LOBACH (Russian Federation) said the International Court of Justice played a leading role in fulfilling one of the most important duties under the Charter of the United Nations:  ensuring the peaceful resolution of disputes among States.  The growing number of cases before the Court demonstrated the international community’s increasing respect for it.  And although the Court was adequately discharging its responsibilities, it still needed to take further steps to rationalize its procedures, including to reduce the time it took to decide on cases.

    The international community should give due attention to the staffing and funding needs of the Court, he continued.  Also, given the proliferation of international tribunals in recent years, questions regarding the relationship between the various bodies with international jurisdiction had been raised.  In view of all existing and future international jurisdictions, his country felt the Court had a unique role to play and its strengths should be developed by all means possible.

    S.A. ADEKANYE (Nigeria) said the Court had attracted the confidence of Member States in defence of the principles of law in inter-State relations, as a result of its universal character and jurisdiction.  There was concern, however, that the increased number and diversity of cases before the Court would place an additional workload on judges.  For judges to perform those duties effectively, additional financial and human resources were necessary.  He noted that the adoption of information and communication technology would improve the Court’s working methods.  He commended the Court for its publications, which included reports of judgments, advisory opinions and orders, and found them to be invaluable sources of international law.  The availability of those documents to States parties as well as judicial institutions would enhance understanding of the Court’s procedures and decisions.

    Regarding the Land and Maritime Boundary dispute with Cameroon, the two nations had had fruitful sessions under the Nigeria-Cameroon Mixed Commission to implement the decision of the Court.  Indeed, considerable progress had been made on issues raised by the judgment, and the leadership of both nations had turned the boundary differences into an opportunity for expanded development and cooperation.  He restated Nigeria’s appreciation for the helpful role of the Secretary-General in that process.  Also, he reaffirmed its commitment to the Court, in which some of the country’s most eminent jurists had served.

    Statement by Secretary-General

    Welcoming the adoption of the convention, Secretary-General KOFI ANNAN, said corruption was an insidious plague that had wide-ranging and corrosive effects on societies.  It undermined democracy and the rule of law and led to violations of human rights, distorted markets, eroded the quality of life and allowed organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish.  The evil phenomenon was found in all countries -- big and small, rich and poor -- but it was in developing countries that its effects were most destructive.

    “Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately”, he said, “by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice, and discouraging foreign investment and aid.”  Corruption was a key element in economic underperformance, and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development.  It was therefore important to have a global instrument to address the scourge.  The adoption sent a clear message that the international community was determined to prevent and control corruption.  It warned the corrupt that betrayal of the public trust would no longer be tolerated.  It also reaffirmed the importance of core values such as honesty, respect for the rule of law and transparency.

    “The new convention was a remarkable achievement and complemented another landmark instrument, the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, which entered into force a month ago.”  It was, he added, a balanced and pragmatic instrument which introduced a comprehensive set of standards, measures and rules that all countries could apply in order to strengthen their legal and regulatory regimes to fight corruption.  It called for preventive measures and the criminalization of the most prevalent forms of corruption, in both public and private sectors.  It also heralded a major breakthrough by requiring Member States to return assets obtained through graft to the country from which they were stolen.

    He said those provisions, the first of their kind, introduced a new fundamental practice as well as a framework for stronger cooperation between States to prevent, detect and return the proceeds of corruption.  “Corrupt officials will in future find fewer ways to hide their illicit gains”, he declared.  That was important for developing countries where corrupt high officials had plundered the national wealth, and where new governments badly needed resources to reconstruct and rehabilitate their societies.

    He said that although the adoption of the new convention was a remarkable achievement, it was only a beginning.  “We must build on the momentum achieved to ensure that it entered into force as soon as possible”, he said, urging all States to attend the upcoming Signing Conference and to ratify the convention as soon as possible.

    If fully enforced, the Secretary-General concluded, the new instrument could make a real difference to the quality of life for millions of people around the world.  By removing one of the biggest obstacles to development, it could help achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

                                                                                                                                                 

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