Azerbaijan

Peaceful resolution of Nagorny Karabakh conflict is required


WOM/1005

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination against Women Told As Discussion of Azerbaijan's Report on Convention's
Implementation Begins

Without a peaceful resolution of the Nagorny Karabakh conflict in Azerbaijan, it would not be possible to implement the
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in that country, its representative told the
monitoring body for the treaty this morning. Introducing Azerbaijan's initial report on implementing the Convention, the Chief of
the Humanitarian Policy Division, Office of the President of Azerbaijan, Fatma Abdullazadeh, told the Committee on the
Elimination of Discrimination against Women that the occupation of the Nagorny Karabakh region had seriously affected the
women of Azerbaijan. Everyday, women and children were dying as a result of the conflict. At the same time, she said that
current economic reforms, although fairly successful, were having little impact on the social situation in the country, particularly on women. Meanwhile, the Azerbaijani Government had started implementing a national plan of action that took account of the implementation of the provisions of the Convention. Action towards the advancement of women had reached a new stage and marked the beginning of a new period for the women of Azerbaijan. Following the introduction of the report, one expert praised Azerbaijan's ratification of the Convention just four years after its independence. That was a bold political step that illustrated the country's commitment to the issue of women's rights, she said. Drawing attention to the status of women in countries in transition, another expert noted that what had simultaneously emerged in Azerbaijan was the lack of benefits to women, on the one hand, and the potential for their eventual realization, on the other. Several experts were disturbed by the level of poverty, which affected some 85 per cent of the population. Indeed, one expert said that recent economic reforms had widened the gap between the rich and the poor. She sought information on what initiatives, if any, were being undertaken by the Government, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and what measures were envisaged to mitigate the negative impact of the structural adjustment on women and children. The Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. today to continue its consideration of the report of Azerbaijan.

* The 361st meeting of the Committee was closed.

Committee Work Programme

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women met this morning to begin consideration of reports of States parties under article 18 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. That article provides for States parties to submit reports on legislative, judicial, administrative and other measures adopted to give effect to the provisions of the Convention. (For background on the session, see Press Release WOM/1003 of 16 January.)

For its consideration this morning, the Committee has before it the first report of Azerbaijan (document CEDAW/C/AZE/1 of
16 September 1996), which ratified the Convention in 1995. After a brief introduction, the report, under "overall situation",
contains general information about the country, human rights measures, the situation of women, and the consequences of the aggression of Armenia against Azerbaijan, which restored its independence in 1991. Section III of the report contains
information on the implementation of specific articles of the Convention.

In addressing the overall situation in the country, the report stresses that Armenian aggression against Azerbaijan and its
destructive consequences are the principal difficulties affecting the fulfilment of obligations under the Convention. In addition to the war, the country's "deep socio-economic crisis" experienced in recent years has also resulted in reduced fertility, an
increased death rate, high infant mortality and maternal mortality rates.

The report states that as a result of more than seven years of ongoing war -- beginning in 1991 -- approximately 20 per cent of the entire territory of Azerbaijan, comprising Nagorny Karabakh and an area four times bigger than that region, has been
occupied and held by the Armenian armed forces. The aggression and ethnic cleansing of Azerbaijanis from the territory of
Armenia proper and the occupied areas of Azerbaijan has resulted in over 1 million refugees and displaced persons in the
country. An extremely serious humanitarian situation has developed, in which every year hundreds of elderly people, women and children die in refugee camps as a result of disease and epidemics.

Gross human rights violations, the reports states, are being perpetrated against Azerbaijani citizens, thousands of whom, mainly women, elderly persons and children, are being held hostage in Armenia and the occupied areas of Azerbaijan and are compelled to do forced labour; over 18,000 people have died and over 50,000 have been wounded or maimed, while several thousand are missing. Civilian housing, State enterprises and social facilities have been destroyed and burned, and irreparable damage has been inflicted on the environment.

Azerbaijan is also implementing economic reforms that have resulted in a substantial change in the structure of income
distribution among the population, including a fall in the proportion of income in the form of wages, from 80 per cent in the pre-reform period to 33 per cent in December 1995. The economic reforms have also led to a pronounced stratification of society on the basis of material income, increased differentiation, and a rise in income differences between rich and poor. Eighty-five per cent of the population remains below the poverty line. The country's already serious situation is worsened by the presence of huge numbers of refugees and forcibly displaced persons who have abandoned their permanent homes as a result of Armenia's armed aggression against Azerbaijan.

The report states that of a total population of 7.5 million on 1 January 1996, 3.8 million were women and 3.7 million were
male. In 1994, over 780,000 women, or 45 per cent of the total work force, were employed in sectors of the Azerbaijani
economy. The proportion of women workers in health care, social welfare, popular education and culture remains high (65 per cent to 72 per cent). Women enjoy certain benefits in the areas of labour protection, working hours and paid leave under the country's labour code, which has a section entitled "women and work". Under an Act on Employment of the Population,
provision is made for equal opportunities for all citizens to exercise their right to work, to free choice of employment, training
and for unemployed persons to receive social benefits from the State.

However, the report adds that in spite of the legislative guarantees, the socio-economic difficulties in the country and the seizure of one fifth of its territory by Armenia have led to a deterioration in the situation of women in the area of employment. They are less protected from unemployment than men. Two thirds of the unemployed population of working age are women. Economic difficulties in the family are now forcing women to seek work even more actively. Thus, in 1995, over 13,000 women job-seekers applied to the State employment service, of which over 4,000 had been forcibly displaced from areas occupied by Armenia. Over 5,600 women have been placed by the service while 17,000 unemployed women are registered with the service. At the same time, not all the mechanisms have been established to provide economic assistance to employers for concessions in the area of work, which is envisaged for women under the law.

Providing information on matters related to individual articles of the Convention, the report states with regard to article 6, on the suppression of all forms of traffic in and the exploitation of prostitution, that national legislation in Azerbaijan establishes criminal liability for violation of the rights of women. The country's Criminal Code provides for criminal charges for those who involve minors in criminal activities, including prostitution, and for those who promote prostitution. A range of government institutions have adopted a set of precautionary and preventive measures aimed at eradicating the causes and conditions that contribute to the spread of prostitution and of the associated procurement and maintenance of houses for the purpose of exploitation of prostitution of women.

Notwithstanding the measures taken, prostitution continues to take place in the context of the economic difficulties of the
transitional period, the unemployment which accompanies it, and the huge number of refugees from occupied regions of the
country, the report states. Individuals, taking advantage of the poverty-stricken situation of certain segments of the population, are setting up houses of prostitution, where they exploit women for mercenary motives, says the report. Determined efforts are being made to bring such individuals to justice. In 1995 and the first half of 1996, 26 criminal cases were instituted on charges of maintaining houses of prostitution, procuring women for prostitution and recruiting women for the purpose of material gain, and the perpetrators were brought to trial.

On the participation of women in government, the report states that in 1994 women constituted one third of the employees of
the State and economic machinery in Azerbaijan. At the international level, there are 15 women working in embassies, including one ambassador, one counsellor, five attachés and eight technical staff. The country's Constitution guarantees women's equality with men before the law and their equal rights and freedoms. The equal treatment of women and men during hearings in courts and tribunals is also enshrined in the Constitution.

According to the report, the Constitution provides for men and women to have the same rights to education. The State
guarantees free and compulsory general secondary education. At the start of the 1995-1996 academic year, there were 4,480 State-run general-education day schools providing education to 1.5 million children, of whom 50.8 per cent were girls. In addition, there is an increasing number of schools affording intensive study of various subjects, boarding schools for needy children and special schools, classes, groups and home study for physically immature and mentally retarded children. Girls constitute 61 per cent and 45 per cent, respectively, of the 30,500 pupils in technical secondary education schools and of the 86,300 students in establishments of higher education. Forty per cent of scientific workers, one of every 10 of those holding doctors of science degrees and nearly one of every three masters of science, are female.

Introduction of Report FATMA ABDULLAZADEH, Chief of the Humanitarian Policy Division, Office of the President of
Azerbaijan, began her presentation by reviewing the recent political history of her country. She stressed the importance of the independence of Azerbaijan in 1991, and pledged that totalitarianism would never again return to the country. The occupation of the Nagorny Karabakh region seriously affected the women and children of Azerbaijan -- one women in seven was affected by that situation. Since 1995, the Azerbaijani Government had started implementing a national plan of action which took into account the implementation of the Convention. Action towards the advancement of women had reached a new stage and marked the beginning of a new period for the women of Azerbaijan.

Reviewing the historical developments in the country in the early part of the century, she referred to the effect of the discovery of oil, which led to economic progress in the country and developments in the interest of women, including their active involvement in the country's political life. The legal basis of full equality of the sexes had been established and was reflected in the country's culture. During the Soviet period of the country's history, there were many positive developments for women, such as participation in the productive sectors, and they were full members of society with independent status. However, many educated women had been forced to emigrate from Azerbaijan or had been subjected to repression. The positive developments had been the result of a policy of equal rights.

The country's proclamation of independence had occurred against the background of the conflict in Nagorny Karabakh, she
said. More than 20 per cent of the territory of Azerbaijan had been seized by Armenia. As of today, all regions of the country
had experienced relocation of tens of thousands of refugees and displaced persons who were now housed in tents and camps by international organizations. If the rights of women were human rights, it must be emphasized that the country had lost its rights. There could be no discussion of sexual discrimination in that context. All refugees and displaced persons, regardless of their sex, had to be ensured of the protection of their rights. Today, and every day, women and children were dying in refugee camps, but they continued to hold on to the hope of returning to their own land. Furthermore, women and children were being held as hostages. Thousands had died as a result of the conflict.

Much progress had been made in the country, she continued. A ceasefire had been implemented in the last two and a half
years. The country was a democratic State, allowing for all rights and freedoms. Economic reforms today had reached
qualitatively new levels. The successes in that area included a successful privatization process and increased foreign investment. Agrarian reform had been successful. However, many of those positive changes were having little impact on the social situation in the country, particularly on women.

Regarding political participation, women had participated in the electoral process, she said. Twelve per cent of the seats in
Parliament were held by women. Today, women at all levels of the society were allowed equal rights and equal opportunities. The current direction of national policy assured women representation on all areas of life. Non-governmental organizations were important and also the main link between women and the various State structures. In addition to their progress in access to political bodies and at management levels, women were represented in decision- making positions at the local State level. In spite of such progress, however, there was currently only one female minister of government; the glass ceiling still existed and prevented women from reaching the decision-making levels. It had been very difficult to overcome those obstacles.

Referring to the conflict in Nagorny Karabakh, she said women in countries neighbouring Azerbaijan had called for a peaceful resolution to the problem in that region. She stressed that "Without a peaceful resolution of the problems of Nagorny Karabakh, it would not be possible to implement the Convention."

Turning to specific articles of the Convention, she provided additional information. Regarding articles 1 to 4 -- regarding the
definition of discrimination against women, measures to eliminate it, measures to ensure basic human rights and fundamental freedoms of women, and also measures to accelerate de facto equality -- she said the Constitution guaranteed equal rights to all citizens regardless of their sex, as did other laws such as the law on employment. In addition, capital punishment had been abolished for women. Laws also existed for the protection of the family. Apart from such laws, there were decrees by the President and action taken by cabinet ministers to advance the protection of women's rights. The code on marriage and the family allowed for equal rights and obligations for men and women to their children. Those rights could be lost if there were abuses or if children were subject to cruel treatment.

Ms. Abdullazadeh referred to developments regarding prostitution in Azerbaijan, stressing that social evil continued to exist.
Certain individuals continued to take advantage of the disadvantaged in the society. There was a concerted attempt by the
State to bring the perpetrators to trial. Regarding article 7, on the elimination of discrimination against women in political and
public life, she said the Constitution stipulated the rights to political office and participation in government. Regarding article 8, on women in government at the international level, she said there were currently 15 women in Azerbaijani embassies and
consulates -- two of whom were ambassadors. As a young State, Azerbaijan had only 18 embassies or consulates. On article 10, on women in education, she said men and women had the same rights to education. Free and compulsory general and secondary education was provided. A 1992 law provided for free secondary education regardless of sex. Assistance had been provided by international organizations to establish the school system. Schools had been established to meet the needs of refugees and displaced persons.

There was a stable trend in the increase of the number of girls in educational institutions, she said. There were more girls than boys receiving higher education in the country -- a figure that had increased over the years. Outlining preferences for areas of study and providing statistics on the issue, she said girls chose areas of study such as medical and language related. Both groups chose economics as a speciality. There had been attempts to encourage girls to take up areas of studies to which they were not previously attracted.

On employment, she said women had been ensured certain benefits under the law, such as rights during pregnancy, maternity leave and other leave arrangements to care for children. Assistance was being given to mothers of large families. In 1996, laws were enacted regarding women in occupied territories -- covering more than 50,000 women. Several thousands had been classified as unemployed. Those women had been provided with pension rights and health care. Women's rights to reproductive health had been seen in the context of their rights. They were supplied with contraceptives. Family planning centres existed in all the regions of the country. Needy families were entitled to family benefits. The legal age of marriage was 18. She stressed her country's intention to make every effort to fully realize the creative potential of the women of Azerbaijan.

General Comments

Several experts congratulated the presenter from Azerbaijan for the "brilliant" presentation of her country's first report to the
Committee, and expressed appreciation for the additional information related orally.

One expert said that she had read the report with great attention because of her specific interest in the status of women in
countries in transition. Two sides of the situation concerning women emerged from such transition: the lack of benefits, on the
one hand, and the eventual emergence of benefits from independence and freedom of expression, on the other. Given that the Azerbaijani society was a patriarchal one, the Committee did not wish to see the historical heritage of a country abolished, but rather to evaluate the progress that had been made concerning equality. In that regard, there was a need in Azerbaijan to have a clearer policy of equal rights. A lot of obstacles remained, despite some progress.

The situation in Azerbaijan was actually "terrible", she continued. Following independence, the country was still at war, and
faced the problems associated with a very high number of refugees, hostages and missing persons. While it was true, as the presenter suggested, that the entire population was a victim of the situation, it was also true that women represented more than half the population and, therefore, required special attention. Referring to the new constitutional measures undertaken to ensure freedom, she noted that the Government's policy on equality emphasized the woman as mother. While protection in that regard was very well developed, a special policy about women as individuals was lacking. She regretted that the information concerning the elimination of discrimination against women in political and public life that was presented this morning was not contained in the report itself, because it had provided a much more precise picture of current events and efforts being undertaken by the Government.

Continuing, she said she was "very much afraid" about the high level of poverty among the female population, and asked about efforts being made in that regard. She sought further information, too, about the economic trend of privatization, which seemed not to be benefiting women. She asked about the status of women in the new economy, and about the direction of investments. Towards solving the unemployment problem, she wished to see whether the country was directed only on the oil potential or whether it was investing also in other directions. In addition, she requested more information about the national machinery for women's advancement. She regretted the omission of information in the report concerning the problems faced by rural women.

Another expert asked about the constitutional provision concerning equality, and how that principle was being regulated and
implemented in "real life". She sought further information on the right to marry and on the right to divorce, and raised a number of questions concerning the judicial system. Specifically, she asked whether the Supreme Court was also an Appeal's Court.

Noting that the majority of people in Azerbaijan were Muslims, she wished to know whether religious law applied in family
matters relating to women and children, and specifically whether there was a religious court that decided such matters. If so,
what was the relationship between the religious courts and the State courts; and which law was being applied. Did the Supreme Court also receive appeals on cases concerning marriage and inheritance, and were religious courts autonomous? In the case of conflict between religious and State law, which law prevailed? Did the principles of State law and religious law follow the same philosophy or did they differ? What was private law like, particularly regarding the status of women -- could a married women submit a claim to Court, and could she appear in Court on her own behalf, or did she require the assistance of a man? Finally, could a man divorce his wife without bringing the matter to the Court, and if divorce was decided before a court, which Court?

Another expert said that it was commendable that the Government of Azerbaijan had ratified the Convention just four years
after the country's independence. That was a bold political step that showed its commitment to the issue of women's rights. The report itself was frank, and provided information on a very disturbing high rate of infant mortality, and a sharp increase in
maternal mortality rate. She sought additional information on the matter.

Another disturbing aspect reviewed in the report, she went on, was the economic situation of the country. Indeed, the
economic reforms had widened the gap between the rich and the poor. She asked whether there were any programmes
initiated by the Government, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to mitigate the negative impact of the
economic recovery programme. Were there any affirmative action measures in place to mitigate the negative impact of
structural adjustment, especially the impact on women and children? The clustering of the first four articles of the Convention in the report was unfortunate, since each article was important and should be handled separately, particularly the article concerning special measures of affirmative action, an important aspect of countries undergoing transition.

Another correspondent drew attention to the utmost importance of the role of political authorities in their commitment to
eliminating discrimination. The Committee's experience suggested that there were certain preconditions for the kind of active implementation required by the political authorities. Those included a critical appraisal of the gender dimensions of a situation; recognition of the practice and policies of discrimination; and limiting the patriarchal institutions and values. Such examination necessitated extensive and deep research into the area of women's conditions and equality, and required the internalization by decision-makers and the individuals. That could only be achieved by a series of means, including large-scale media campaigns.

Clear legal definitions of what constituted discrimination, and specific policies to combat it were also essential, as well as the
institutionalization of mechanisms to monitor compliance, she said. Azerbaijan had a moral history of active and accomplished women, particularly in the area of education and in the professional sphere. Equalizing the mechanisms of a secular State also benefitted society. More information concerning the existing conditions of women would be helpful. She was pleased to learn of the establishment of a commission at the highest level to work on women's issues, and wished to know more about its priorities. She also asked whether there was an effort to develop a national plan of action, adding that safeguarding achievements and taking steps in the right direction could only be effective if they were done in a timely fashion. The establishment of a commission seemed to be a primary step in constructing a national machinery.

Noting that the achievements and high education of the women of Azerbaijan boded well for the country's future, another
expert recognized that the country also had to deal with the dramatic consequences of the aggression of Armenia against its
territorial integrity. The non-risk maternity policy was a fundamental right for women and parameter by which the Committee
could measure the State's commitment to women's health rights. The infant and maternal mortality rates were disturbingly high, and required well envisaged goals to reduce their alarming levels, for the very dignity of women was at stake. What was lacking were laws appropriately implemented by a forward- looking legal process. Were women in the justice sector ensuring the acceptance of women's rights in society? What text had been developed by the Parliament relating to the Convention? Were there special programmes for displaced women and children? What programmes and action had been undertaken to reduce the level of poverty, and did international organizations assist in such programmes?

Comments on Specific Articles

Turning to article 2 of the Convention, concerning the legal and administrative measures undertaken to eliminate discrimination, an expert drew attention to the statement in the report that State power was limited in internal matters only by the law, and in foreign affairs, only by provisions arising out of agreements to which the country was a party. She asked about the power of the human rights treaties to which the country was a party, and whether there was any initiative to introduce a definition of discrimination into the legislation. So-called legislative progress was not enough; equality without a clear definition was insufficient. Concerning the national legislature's prohibition and severe punishment for the failure to observe the country's constitutional human rights and freedoms, she wished to know exactly which article of the Constitution contained cited sanctions when equal rights were violated.

She said that as of the date of the report, September 1996, a constitutional court had not yet been established, and she wished to know about specific progress in that regard. She also sought more information about the report's statement that all residents who had suffered a violation of their fundamental rights had at their disposal a full range of methods to resolve the situation. Concerning the institution of criminal proceedings on grounds of a statement by a citizen or report from a trade union or other social organization, she asked whether a trade union had used such criminal proceeding to defend women's rights, and how women were organized in those trade unions.

She also asked about compliance with various human rights instruments to which Azerbaijan was a party, specifically about the Parliament instructing the relevant institutions of the country to include in its internal legislation matters related to the Convention. She expressed concern about the lack of a specific response to article 3 of the Convention concerning the full development and advancement of women. She also sought more information on the power of the national machinery and the level of the political power, adding that certain steps were required. In addition, she asked for further details on matters related to violence against women, and the protection of families.

An expert asked whether a mother or a divorced mother could be appointed guardian of the children, and whether alimony
was provided in the event of divorce. She sought information on how the inheritance law applied to daughters and widows,
specifically whether they had the same rights as sons and ex-husbands or widowers.

Another expert expressed concern about the lack of information concerning disabled women, adding that with the large number of refugees, the female population would likely face an onslaught of future problems. Thus, any strategies or mechanisms to secure the handicapped persons' right to education and employment opportunities was essential. Towards progress in affirmative action, encouraging more women into politics was required, with quotas being a possible policy. If the trend was towards a more segregated work force, she asked whether positive strategies were being devised? She sought information on the level of domestic violence, and expressed the need to examine ways to deal with it. She also requested more information on the number of rapes, particularly in the light of the country's conflict.

One expert asked about access to courts to litigate cases of discrimination. What types of sanctions existed under the law for those found guilty of discrimination? She also asked if the Convention had been disseminated in Azerbaijan and whether it had been translated into local languages. Could anyone call for compliance with the treaty? If force was used against women, what sanctions were applied? Were there legal measures or persuasive measures being considered to address derogatory practices that were discriminatory against women?

On article 3, which concerns women's basic rights and fundamental freedoms, an expert asked when a special State unit would be established to deal with issues related to compliance with the provisions of the Convention. What would be its political status and was there a date for its establishment? In the interim, which body handled such issues? What were the objectives of non-governmental organizations regarding the employment of women? Was there any dialogue between them and the Government so that non-governmental organizations could influence programmes and policies aimed at women?

She asked, further, what measures had been taken to overcome existing stereotypes of women's role in society. How did the Government make sure that laws were implemented to ensure de facto equality of rights? Did programmes exist to change the traditional mindset regarding women's traditional roles. What was the media's role in eliminating discrimination against women? Were there specific programmes -- national television, radio or press -- to influence the media so that they could contribute to compliance with the Convention? How many female journalists were there and how many women held high-level posts in the national media? Were there any campaigns being carried out in the media to influence the image of women?

Insisting on the need for a national mechanism to ensure compliance with the provisions of the Convention, another expert
asked if Azerbaijan had been making use of the Convention as a basis for its policies for women's advancement. Had the
Committee's wide-ranging general recommendations on such issues as violence against women and equality in marriage been taken into account by the relevant bodies in Azerbaijan? She added that the Committee's experience was that the more difficulties a country faced, and there was limited experience in its governmental bodies, the more useful was the Convention in providing guidance.

Also addressing article 3, another expert asked for more details on the existence of, or the objective of promoting, a more
coherent and consistent approach and an overall policy with a clear, quantifiable strategy to implement the Convention in
Azerbaijan at present. In connection with article 5, on social and cultural patterns that lead to discrimination, she said the
question of violence had not been dealt with at all; neither was the issue of stereotypes dealt with. The Committee could give
advice on the best strategies and approaches for dealing with stereotyping of women.

On article 4, another expert asked a series of questions about the will of the Azerbaijani Government to address the issue of
existence of a gap between de jure and de facto gender equality. Was there an official policy to use temporary measures to
accelerate the attainment of equality? Had any non-governmental organizations made any effort to accelerate de facto equality of women?

Another expert said the report had provided insufficient information on affirmative action measures for women in Azerbaijan.
With a large percentage of the population living in poverty, and in the context of the feminization of poverty, were there any
measures to provide a manageable response to assist women in facing poverty and in dealing with the consequences of the transition to a market economy and to a neo-liberal society? She asked if the abolition of the death penalty had been
considered as an affirmative action measure. Why were women in the past sentenced to death? She also asked about measures to deal with stereotypes of women's roles and if there were shelters for abused women, and what were the types of punishment for men who abused their wives. To what extent did men share domestic chores? she further asked.

Another expert asked about other measures which had been taken to protect women under the Criminal Code, stressing the
need for government bodies to oversee the implementation of such laws. She also asked about effective measures to change customary practices that hindered the achievement of equality of women, and for more information on violence against women, including in the period of conflict. What was the level of violence against women during the transition period, and what mechanisms were there to respond to those problems? She also asked about provisions for child care.

Referring to articles 2 and 5, the Committee Chairperson, SALMA KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, commended the
Azerbaijani representative for the wide range of laws to protect human rights in her country. The report suggested that all basic rights had been guaranteed and that all the human rights instruments had been incorporated into domestic law. However, of concern to the Committee was the lack of information on the violation of women's rights in the private sphere, particularly the incidence of domestic violence on women. She asked for further elaboration on that issue. She asked if prostitution was legal in Azerbaijan. She also asked about affirmative measures in force during the Soviet era, if those quotas were still in existence, and if not, what measures had been taken?

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