Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women reviews the situation of women in Ukraine

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GENEVA (14 February 2017) - The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the eighth periodic report of Ukraine on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Introducing the report, Nataliia Fedorovyich, Deputy Minister of Social Policy of Ukraine, said that Ukraine was currently harmonizing anti-discrimination legislation with the European Union and that important strides had been made in the legislative sphere for the more effective fight against domestic violence. There was an ongoing important debate in the country with the participation of all stakeholders, which had delayed the ratification of the Istanbul Convention by the Parliament, but the ratification was expected soon. The bill on combatting trafficking in persons which would simplify victims’ access to services would shortly be presented to the Parliament for the adoption, while the national programme to combat trafficking in persons to 2020 was in place and was fully funded from the State budget. The humanitarian situation in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which were outside of the effective control of the Government, was critical; the occupation of the territory had accelerated the adoption of the National Action Plan for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolution on Women, Peace and Security.

In the dialogue that followed, Committee Experts expressed concern about the devastating impact of the armed conflict on the population, particularly on minority groups, and about the shortcomings in the legislation which made it difficult to ensure accountability for conflict-related sexual violence. Women represented the majority of the two million internally displaced persons – 60 per cent – and the delegation was asked to explain how it addressed the critical needs of vulnerable groups and women at risk of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination. Experts asked Ukraine to swiftly ratify the Istanbul Convention in its entirety, to adopt a comprehensive and detailed definition of discrimination in the law, and to increase a momentum towards the elimination of discriminatory legal provisions. Other issues Experts raised included the participation of women in the Minsk peace process; discrimination against Roma and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons; extremely high rate of domestic and gender-based violence; situation of women in detention particularly in the occupied regions; and the barriers to women’s effective access to justice such as corruption and lack of access to free legal aid. Experts also asked about occupational segregation, the gender pay gap, patriarchal attitudes in education, the strategies to combat the HIV epidemics, and the status of rural women.

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Fedorovyich said that the delegation was grateful for the questions and comments provided by the Committee. The dialogue was very enriching. Ukraine was committed to the result-based actions to help the country meet the requirements of the Convention.

The delegation of Ukraine included representatives of the Ministry of Social Policy, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Health, the Office of the Prosecutor General, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and the Permanent Mission of Ukraine to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The concluding observations on the report of Ukraine would be made public on Monday, 5 March 2015 and would be available at the session’s webpage.

The next public meeting of the Committee will be on Wednesday, 15 February, at 10 a.m. when it will start the consideration of the combined sixth and seventh periodic reports of Ireland (CEDAW/C/IRL/6-7).


The eighth periodic report of Ukraine can be read here: CEDAW/C/UKR/8.

Presentation of the Report

NATALIIA FEDOROVYCH, Deputy Minister of Social Policy of Ukraine, noted new challenges the country was facing, including the unlawful occupation of eastern Ukraine and the emergence of new vulnerable groups such as internally displaced persons, who required special support. The interparty association for equality, which was active in the Parliament, was comprised of representatives of more than 40 parties, and it had a council on gender. Specific attention was paid to the training of journalists and media on gender issues and policy, and on the Convention. The 30 percent quota for representation of women in the Parliament had been introduced. The practical application of the Convention was included in the training of judges, which had seen a three-fold increase in judicial decisions referencing this text. The Parliament was working on amending the legislation on discrimination and harmonizing it with the European Union. The Ministry of Social Policy was the body ensuring equal rights and opportunities for women and men, and currently the laws for the implementation of that function were being prepared, and more than 500 state officials had been trained on gender equality and elimination of gender-based stereotypes.

In recent years, many positive changes had happened in the legislative sphere to ensure a more effective fight against domestic violence, including through introducing more effective punishments for perpetrators. The new law on domestic violence had been developed, which contained best practices for responding to domestic violence, provided for the creation of shelters for victims, and criminalized domestic violence. Ukraine was currently amending a number of laws, such as the code of administrative procedure, to ensure the implementation of the domestic violence law. Police, medical and social workers were being trained in working appropriately with victims of domestic violence. There were twenty temporary shelters which could host victims of violence, and social rehabilitation centres in each city, as well as child care centres, which offered additional support to victims of violence, women with disabilities and victims of human trafficking. In 2016, with the support of the United Nations Population Fund, the first centre for assistance to women victims of gender-based violence had been opened in Kharkiv. There were 547 centres throughout the country which provided free legal aid. The adoption of the law on the ratification of the Istanbul Convention had been delayed because of the resistance in the Parliament, but it was expected that it would be soon adopted.

There was a three-fold increase in number of victims of human trafficking asking for support in 2016 compared to 2015; about 65 per cent of cases of trafficking in persons was related to labour exploitation. The bill on combatting trafficking in persons, which would simplify victims’ access to services, had been adopted by the government committee and was soon to be presented to the Parliament. The national programme to combat trafficking in persons to 2020 was in place and was fully funded from the State budget. The military aggression against Ukraine had led to an increase of participation of women in the political process, and there were many examples of where women and girls were elected to political bodies. Stereotypes continued to hamper the participation of women in politics, but attitudes were changing and increasing number of people in Ukraine had a positive attitude vis-a-vis women in politics. The humanitarian situation in Donetsk and Luhansk regions, which were outside of the effective control of the Government, was critical; the occupation of the territory had accelerated the adoption of the National Action Plan for the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolution on Women, Peace and Security, while a study course on gender aspects of conflict, including violence, had been developed to train professionals providing support and rehabilitation to victims.

Questions from Experts

A Committee Expert noted the devastating impact of the armed conflict on the population, particularly minority groups, and said that this was a time which offered an opportunity for more visible participation of women in politics and in peace and security initiatives. How was the Ministry for Social Policy involved in the implementation of the Minsk Agreement?

On discrimination, laws appeared to contradict each other and it was important to adopt a comprehensive and detailed definition of discrimination in the law. What process was in place to evaluate the laws and increase the momentum towards the elimination of discriminatory legal provisions?

What assurances could the delegation offer that the Istanbul Convention would be swiftly and efficiently adopted in its entirety, by the Parliament?

Noting the exceptionally active civil society in Ukraine, the Expert asked how the Government could make best use and increase cooperation with civil society organizations.

What measures would be put in place to further strengthen the protection and increase integration of minorities in the society: - lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, Roma and other minorities?

With regards to conflict-related sexual violence, Experts noted the shortcoming of the legislation on sexual violence which was not in line with international standards. What plans were in place to revise the Criminal Code and the completely outdated definition of rape, in order to make the law relevant to conflict-related sexual violence cases?

What measures were in place to increase the capacity of the police, prosecutors and the judiciary to investigate and prosecute such cases? How were the victims of conflict-related sexual violence supported and assisted, and what were the plans concerning future transitional justice mechanism which would also address sexual violence in a comprehensive manner?

There were about two million of internally displaced persons, of whom 60 per cent were women. What measures were in place to address critical needs of vulnerable groups and women at risk of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination?

With regard to the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolution on Women, Peace and Security, what mechanism was in place for the effective implementation of the findings of the Global Study on the application of the resolution? What concrete steps were being taken to increase formal participation of women in peace negotiations?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation noted that women were actively participating in the Minsk peace process; for example Irina Gerashchenko, the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament and the Special Representative of the President on the peace process in Donbas, was a key figure in the talks, and the key voice on humanitarian issues. Olga Aivazovska was a representative of civil society organizations, who was a leading voice on the local elections and the application of the Ukrainian law therein. The occupation was still a shock in Ukraine, which had not had to deal with such a phenomenon since World War II, and it was developing laws to deal with this complex situation, such as the recently proposed law on occupied territories. Women had a strong voice in the Parliament on those discussions.

A high-level meeting of all stakeholders would take place in February to consider the efforts to address gender-based violence, while the Supreme Court had been asked to consolidate judicial practice in that regard.

With regard to the application of international humanitarian law in occupied territories, the delegation said that Crimea and the occupied parts of Donbass suffered the aggression by Russia, where the Ukrainian Government did not have effective control. Ukraine maintained positive obligations to ensure that the human rights violations committed there were monitored and known, and in that sense was working with a number of international organizations, which, however, were not allowed access to Crimea. The problem had been brought before the General Assembly, which had passed a resolution on the issue in December 2016. There was more information about the situation in the occupied Donbass due to the presence of international bodies, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Guidelines, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The issue of concern remained limitations and restrictions on the freedom of movement.

A public discussion was underway on the issue of accountability for war crimes in the occupied territories. Ukraine had submitted an application to the International Criminal Court prosecutors were considering opening an investigation. The Rome Statute might be adopted by Ukraine by 2018.

The question of non-discrimination was specifically included in the Labour Code, which prohibited discrimination on a number or grounds including sexual orientation and gender identity. An Equality Parade had taken place in Kyev in 2016; it had been protected by the police which had blocked those protesting against the Parade, ensuring that the event would take place in a peaceful and respective manner. Education was vital in the fight against discrimination. The new education law contained references on gender competences, and it was hoped that through and education, views of the society would change and facilitate full integration of minorities who suffered discrimination.

On gender equality, the delegation said that the Human Rights Strategy and its implementation plan for 2015 contained separate sections of equal rights, combatting gender-based violence and on combatting discrimination. In 2016, the strategy to combat poverty had been adopted and it made specific references to gender, obliging employers to monitor gender pay gap. Gender consideration and approach were at the foundation of the 2016 plan for reform of state administration, and gender budgeting was being widely used across the country, ensuring gender mainstreaming in all sectors.

The ratification of the Istanbul Convention was an important issue in the country, and there were different views on how to address certain article of the Convention. Ukraine was working on developing an agreement which would guarantee that the spirit of the Istanbul Convention was maintained.

There were no intentions to amend the definition of rape in the Criminal Code, and Ukraine was of the view that its articles adequately covered also conflict-related sexual violence.

Ukraine had demanded the presence of the international police and peacekeeping force in the occupied territories to reduce number of civilian casualties. The Civilian Casualties Mitigation Teams had been created as a civilian protection mechanism.

Questions by Experts

An Expert stressed the crucial importance of the effectiveness of laws that the Government passed, and noted that strategies adopted on specific issues did not always seem well coordinated. What coordination mechanism was in place between the National Human Rights Strategy and the Plan on Women, Peace and Security?

Women’s access to justice was hampered by barriers in accessing free legal aid, inadequacy in relevant law, and corruption.

Women in detention were in a desperately difficult situation, particularly in the occupied regions – could the delegation elaborate on that issue?

What concrete measures were in place to accelerate participation of women in public and political life, and to increase awareness about temporary special measures? Which temporary special measures were in place for disadvantaged women and women suffering from multiple discrimination such as Roma women?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation noted that the transparent and open way in which the reform of the justice sector was being conducted was supportive of women’s participation – for example, Ukraine was completely reconstituting its Supreme Court, and out of 630 candidates 230 were women.

There were more than 500 free legal aid centres in Ukraine, some of them at a village level; in addition, there were mobile groups which ensured access for the people in remote areas and in contact lines. The majority of applicants for free legal aid were women – of the 280,000 applicants, 161,000 were women. The criteria for access were poverty, lack of income, and internal displacement.

The delegation informed that there were several draft laws on elections which clarified the requirements for a representation of women and men on electoral lists. There were no discussions on the adoption of quotas on boards of state-owned companies, but in reality more women were getting an opportunity to influence the economic life of the country.

In Ukraine, 3,174 women were in detention, representing about five per cent of the prison population; of those, only twenty were minors and they were held in the juvenile centre. Women were always held separately from men throughout the criminal and penal procedure. The situation of women in detention in the occupied regions was a source of concern; there were 240 women detained there and the majority had been freed under the negotiations and exchange processes.

The delegation provided statistics on the crime of rape: 323 cases of rape had been reported in 2015, of those 119 had resulted in court proceedings and a sentence; in 2016, a total of 349 cases of rape had been registered and, as of June 2016, 119 had resulted in a court sentence.

The reform of the prosecution system was led by a women; more than 30 per cent of the prosecutors at the local level, where the reform had already been completed, were women.

Questions by Experts

A Committee Expert expressed concern about the very high rate of domestic and gender-based violence in Ukraine: one in five women were victims of violence, and one in two divorced women suffered domestic or gender-based violence. The legislation on domestic violence was full of gaps and loopholes, which would be closed by the ratification of the Istanbul Convention. The debate in the country was coloured by the church-based organizations, and there was a rejection of terms such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, gender-based violence or even gender. What were the prospects and the timeline for the full adoption of this Convention?

The law to criminalize domestic violence had been adopted in November 2016 – what would the criminalization of the act mean in practice? What was the situation with centres providing support and assistance to victims of domestic violence?

The delegation was also asked about steps taken to strengthen the capacity of law enforcement and the judiciary to investigate, document and prosecute cases of sexual violence particularly in conflict areas, in accordance with international standards. What had been done to provide timely, comprehensive and non-discriminatory assistance to survivors of sexual violence and torture?

What was being done to reduce demand for prostitution, and to ensure that women engaged in prostitution were not criminalized and stigmatized?

The situation of trafficking in human beings in Ukraine was endemic and was further exacerbated by the armed conflict. The Committee welcomed measures taken so far to address the situation and asked about steps taken to strengthening the capacity to assess the situation, support the victims, and prosecute perpetrators.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that all persons entering the shelter were provided free legal advice, and that the secondary free legal aid was being provided to individuals as prescribed by the law. The access to legal aid and representation in criminal proceedings was easier as traditionally it was a prosecutor who would represent the interest of the victim. In administrative or civil cases, free legal aid was provided to persons without the income, orphans, internally displaced persons and other categories prescribed by the law.

As for conflict-related sexual violence, the delegation stressed the distinction between the behaviour of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and the occupying and separatist forces. All crimes and violations committed by the Armed Forces were recorded in the unified registrar, and there were court cases going on against individual soldiers for the crimes committed. In the occupied territories, the situation was more difficult due to lack of a rule of law, lack of procedural guarantees and general lack of accountability of persons who carried arms. That was why profound monitoring and peacekeeping in territories not controlled by the government was necessary.

Ukraine did not have the control over borders with Russia and the movement of people across that border remained an ongoing problem. There was a specialized human trafficking division in the police force, as well as a human rights division which ensured that all the police officers acted on the basis of human rights.

The delegation explained the changes that the new law on domestic violence would bring about, including a specific definition of domestic violence, and informed that the definition of rape would conform to relevant international standards.

In their follow-up questions, Experts asked in which stage the legislation on domestic violence was, and about the protection of lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women. How would the reluctance to include sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited grounds for discrimination which was seen as “homosexual propaganda” impact the ratification of the Istanbul Convention and the protection of lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women? What were the concrete outcomes of the fight against trafficking in persons?

Responding, the delegation expressed hope that the Istanbul Convention would be adopted in 2017, and said that the Government would spare no effort to ensure that. The discussion about lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons in Ukraine was unfortunately influenced by the Russian propaganda which was distorting the reality and promoting the negative attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.

Many people in Ukraine watched Russia’s television programmes or were exposed to online Russian propaganda, making constructive and scientific discussion on the issue complicated. The Government was employing efforts to counter the propaganda, educate the public, and protect the right to free association of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons. It was important to stress that the discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity was prohibited in the Labour Code.

Questions by Experts

Despite the progress, the participation of women in the public and political life in Ukraine remained rather low, particularly in high-level echelons of civil service, said a Committee Expert, and asked about additional measures to be introduced to promote women candidates and to encourage political parties to improve gender balance on their candidate lists.

What would be done to investigate temporary special measures in national electoral legislation to address women’s under-representation, and to increase the number of women diplomatic service and in international organizations?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation informed that 30 percent of all Counsels General were women. At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the number of highly qualified women was constantly increasingly currently, half of the Ministry’s senior management were women. Regarding the presence of women in high levels in politics, it was explained that the authorities were trying to motivate women to get involved in politics and were painting a more positive picture of women in politics. From 2013 to today, the percentage of women in higher echelons of civil service had almost doubled.

Each school in Ukraine needed to accept every legally registered child in that area; that included both elementary and high schools. If, for some reason the child could not be accepted, it would be able to attend schools elsewhere. There was definitely still more that needed to be done to further engage the Roma community.

Questions by Experts

An Expert commended the very high level literacy rates in Ukraine for both men and women.

It seemed that patriarchal stereotypes in society could be addressed by streamlining and unifying gender education and training. Were there strategies in place for temporary special measures for education? Stereotypes were often subtly incorporated in the academic milieu.

What was being done about peace education and promoting inclusivity and unity?

The Expert further asked about temporary special measures which would ensure that Roma children, particularly girls, were retained in school and achieved progress. Could statistics be provided on males and females entering and graduating from military schools? In spite of the excellent educational achievements and benchmarks in Ukraine, patriarchal attitudes seemed to prevail.

Another Expert said that women seemed to be prohibited from working in certain sectors of the economy, and there were also cases of discrimination when women’s social rights had been infringed. The Government had done a lot to improve the legislation, but more need to be heard about women going into self-employment and creating businesses. While 68 percent of women in Ukraine seemed to be employed, very few of them were self-employed.

More information was sought on vocational training of women, which was very important for getting women into the labour market. What was being done to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace? Employment statistics desegregated by sex would be very useful.

The law on combating discrimination was lauded by an Expert, who inquired about special measures to promote the position of women in the labour market. What concrete measures were taken to increase incentives for women in both the formal and informal markets? She also asked about concrete measures taken to prevent discrimination in employment. There were still hundreds of job positions which were out of reach for women; what was being done to change the existing paternalistic attitudes prohibiting women to undertake certain professions?

The gender pay gap had been recently evaluated to be 27 percent. How was the Government addressing the persistence of occupational segregation in the job market?

The issue of HIV epidemics was brought up by an Expert, who wanted to know about the steps taken to stop the further spread of the virus. How many people were currently on anti-retroviral drugs? What steps were taken to minimize stigmatization of HIV-positive people?

How about breast cancer screening? The Expert wanted to know more about the strategies in place in that regard. What would be done to adjust the Ukrainian health system to the modern standards; were there plans to increase the percentage of the national GDP spent on health?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation informed that in the Ukrainian education system, an online programme was in place to track all children going to school from pre-school to secondary and vocational level. Roma children who were registered and attended school were also covered by the database. There were very few children who failed to complete secondary education, and often times it was due to health problems.

The Ukrainian Law on Higher Education stipulated the autonomy of higher level education institutions. It was true that there were still not many courses on gender equality in the higher education. Gender and anti-discrimination review of 75 school books had been undertaken, and another 95 books would be soon covered. Such checks covered every possible type of stereotypes, not only gender-based discrimination.

On the employment of women in the private sector, online databases were available through which children could check availability and professional opportunities in different fields. Computer literacy training for women was also provided.

It was a fact that certain professions in Ukraine were currently not available to women. The language used in that regard would also need to be adjusted as it was also contributing to the discrimination.

Children were being taught about non-violent resolution of conflict, informed a delegate. In addition, Ukrainian Armed Forces were systematically trained about international human rights and humanitarian law, in cooperation with Global Rights and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Work was being conducted on making the programmes gender-sensitive, with the help of a number of international partners.

The health care system was under reform in Ukraine at the moment, and more funds were being allocated in that direction, the delegation stated. Ukraine was cooperating with the Global Fund to provide complete coverage for HIV patients.

Several pre-natal centres were currently under construction across the country. The rate or abortions in Ukraine had dropped significantly in recent years; primary health care doctors and gynaecologists were still being trained on how to educate young girls and women on how to use contraceptives and avoid infections.

In a follow-up question, an Expert asked about the situation of refugee children in schools. Another Expert raised the issue of forced sterilizations without women’s consent. Question was also asked about specific ways to address the pay gap.

The delegation explained that children of people who had had to flee their homes within Ukraine received free education. Sometimes there were difficulties with getting access to schools, but the educational authorities reacted fast and sometimes found alternative solutions. Teachers were doing their very best to ensure that all children would get the education they needed. Procedures had been simplified, so distance learning could be provided more easily.

The current wage gap stood at over 25 percent. The minimum wage had been recently raised. Thanks to the additional training, women were increasingly getting higher-level positions. More work needed to be done to encourage girls and young women to go into the areas of the labour market which were better remunerated. A delegate explained about the existing schemes for providing loans to women who had had to flee the occupied eastern areas.

Questions by Experts

An Expert asked about priorities in fighting poverty between now and 2020. What were the plans to ensure and promote economic empowerment of women?

The issue of women in rural areas was brought up by another Expert, who wanted to know about how they were affected by the economic crisis and the cutting of the budget for certain communities. Were rural women provided by any additional support? How could the State monitoring on the issue if there was no sufficient official statistics in that regard?

More information was asked about inclusion of minorities, including in rural areas. Those people were then exposed to two-fold stigmatization.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation informed of the human rights strategy until 2020 signed by the President. All actors, the Government and the civil sector, needed to join forces, and Ukraine was ready to receive support from its international partners.

A strategy was in place to include the gender component in education, reiterated the delegation.

More than half of the internally displaced persons were retirees, who were receiving their pensions from the State budget. Internally displaced persons received medical care and employers who hired them were given financial support from the State. A strategy to combat poverty was already in place. After giving birth, women had the right to be absent from work for up to three years while conserving their workplace.

A mechanism was being developed to react fast to the allegations of sexual harassment at work; a dedicated counsel in the Ministry of Social Policy was dealing with those issues.

Ukraine had indicators on the non-payment of domestic work, informed a delegate. More than half of all residents in rural areas, or almost seven million people, were women, who faced serious difficulties, often because of the substandard infrastructure in those areas. Ukraine’s oil and mineral extraction industry was quite old, so there were no multinational companies working in that field in the country and no influx of workers which would affect the livelihoods of rural populations.

Questions by Experts

An Expert congratulated Ukraine on raising the age of marriage to 18, but now the challenge was enforcement. On what grounds were exceptions allowed and did they require judicial permit?

De facto unions were not recognized by the Family Code, but were there any safeguards for women whose union had ended and who found themselves in vulnerable situations?

The Expert also raised the issue of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women and their right to family.

Mediation seemed to be always preferred to litigation by judges, but was enough being done to sensitize the judges on domestic violence? Forced mediation should not occur in the cases of domestic violence, stressed the Expert.

Replies by the Delegation

The draft bill on domestic violence in the Parliament prohibited mediation in the cases of domestic violence, explained the delegation. Legal specialists already received training on those issues.

The Family Code allowed courts to take into consideration the interests of persons under 18, but not under 16, who wanted to get married. The most frequent reason was the pregnancy. No one would be registered as married by State authorities without presenting their documents showing their age. Mediators of social services were working with the Roma community on addressing the issues of underage marriage and school dropouts.

Couples living together without being married had the same property rights as married couples. For the time being, marriage was defined as a union between a man and a woman married in an official ceremony, confirmed the delegation. There were plans to create a law on civil partnerships which would be applicable to both heterosexual and homosexual couples. Single mothers received extra benefits from the State.

Concluding Remarks

NATALIA FEDOROVYCH, Deputy Minister of Social Policy of Ukraine, said that the delegation was grateful for the questions and comments provided by the Committee. The dialogue was very enriching. Ukraine was committed to the result-based actions to help the country meet the requirements of the Convention, even though it was facing serious challenges in some regions in the east of the country. It was hoped that the responses provided for Ukraine were satisfactory, and all constructive comments heard would be duly taken into account by the authorities. Upon return to Kiev, a series of meetings would be held to analyse the comments and decide on follow-up actions.

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