Borders between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda are among the busiest in the world in terms of informal cross-border trade. It is reported that about 50,000 people cross the Petite Barrière border post between Rubavu and Goma to trade foodstuff and basic services on a daily basis. Between November and December 2020, Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (iPeace) and Pro-Femmes Twese Hamwe (PFTH) identified about 6,500 women who permanently rely on informal cross-border trade through Bukavu/Rusizi, Goma/Rubavu and Kamanyola/Bugarama border posts as their main source of income. All of these women have been involved in informal cross-border trade for 2 years at least with a capital of less than 50$. Every day, when they cross the border on both directions to buy or sell goods, these women face various challenges including payment of non-gazetted taxes, sexual and gender-based violence, harassment, arbitrary arrests, confiscation of their goods, etc.
This was the case of Marie-Rose Mukambakuriyemo and Adela Nyirasinayobye, two Rwandan women selected by their cooperative “Indashikirwa” to sell their members’ chickens in one of Bukavu’s markets. They crossed the Ruzizi-1 border on 18 December 2020 with 46 chickens worth about 460$. When they arrived at the market, Mr. Takis – a representative of a Bukavu-based association of poultry sellers – denied them from entering the market and confiscated all their chickens. He alleged that, as foreigners, Rwandan women are not allowed to do retail business in DRC. They are supposed to sell in gross to their Congolese counterparts who are allowed to retail in local markets.
Fortunately, Marie-Rose and Adela had just attended a workshop organized by Pro-Femmes for leaders of women informal cross-border traders’ cooperatives a couple of days before. During the workshop, Adela and other women were informed about the Legal Aid Clinics set up in the framework of ‘Empowering Women in Informal Cross-Border Trade in the Great Lakes Region’ (EWICBT) Project on both sides of the DRC/Rwanda border to provide free and quick support to women cross-border traders who are victims illegal and unfair treatments during their business. So, they immediately contacted Pro-Femmes to complain about what had happened. Without delay, Pro-Femmes referred them to iPeace’s legal aid team positioned a few meters from the Ruzizi-1 border post. After listening and ascertaining the soundness of the claim of Marie Rose and Adela, iPeace legal officer invited Mr. Takis to tell his version of the story. After long discussions and involvement of a Congolese border official, Mr. Takis was requested to return all the 46 chickens to Marie-Rose and Adela. He was also reminded that his status as the president of a local association does not give him power to deny access to the market to other people nor to confiscate their goods. In case of any claim or concern, he should refer to competent authorities.
“Almost every day when we cross to DRC, we expect to face some kind of harassment either from local authorities, police, border officials or our fellow traders. Since COVID-19 outbreak, the confiscation of goods by the heads various associations has become frequent. As foreigners, we don’t know where to take our claim, and some of us do not even speak Kiswahili. That is why we end up paying a lot of money to get through. I am happy that this time I was able to recover all my goods swiftly and without paying a single dollar”, said Marie Rose after she sold her returned chickens. “I would like to thank iPeace and Pro-Femmes for establishing their offices next to the border. The fact that some of their staff in DRC understand Kinyarwanda made it easier for me to clearly explain the issue. I have been crossing the border for many years, it is the first time I am able to talk to an official without being humiliated. Usually when you take the risk to complain to Congolese authorities, it takes long before your case is solved and you must pay a lot of money – sometimes above the value of the disputed goods – before your claim is settled. For that reason, most of us give up on our confiscated goods to return home. Now that I know there are people to help us quickly and for free, I feel like my confidence in pursuing my business has increased.”, added Adela. In the DRC, the multiplicity of services at border posts blurs the system and puts women cross-border traders at the mercy of shady people, including public servants.
Marie-Rose and Adela are among the 11,679 women in informal cross-border trade and their husbands who are direct beneficiaries of the EWICBT project funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in order to improve safety, security and enabling environment for cross-border trade while increasing income and social economic welfare of women who do informal cross-border trade between DRC and Rwanda. The comparative advantage of this project consists in the simultaneous implementation of identical activities on both sides of the RDC/Rwanda borders, which allows women from each of the two countries to be equally protected when they cross the border to conduct their trade activities. This project’s activities are implemented by Pro-Femmes in Rwanda and iPeace in DRC through 30 June 2022.
3rd edition of Great Lakes Reginal Moot Court Competition in International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights successfully completed
From 7 to 12 December 2016, Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (iPeace) organized in Kigali the third edition of the Great Lakes regional moot court competition in international humanitarian law and human rights in partnership with the Comité pour le Concours Grands Lacs (CCGL). The theme of this year was “The Fight Against Sexual Violence during an Armed Conflict Period: What role for local, regional and international actors?”
The capacity of 42 students and lecturers from 14 universities from Burundi, DR Congo and Rwanda was strengthened through various workshops and conference as weel as a moot court competition which was won by the Université Protestante au Congo (UPC) from Kinshasa. The final of the competition opposed the team of UPC to that of Université de Goma (UNIGOM). In addition to the finalists, the following universities participated in the training: Université du Burundi, Université du Lac Tanganyika, Université Lumière de Bujumura (Mutanga Campus), Université Lumière de Bujumbura (Kinindo Campus), Université des Grands Lacs, University of Rwanda, Université de Kisangani, Université de Mbujimayi, Université Officielle de Mbujimayi, Université Catholique de Bukavu, Unversité Officielle de Bukavu and Univesité Libre des Pays des Grands Lacs.
This training was funded by the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs, the City of Geneva, Plan-les-Ouates municipality, Pro Victimis Foundation, and International Committee of the Red Cross.
Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights – Initiatives pour la Paix et les Droits Humains (IPHR-IPDH) poursuit la consolidation de son implantation dans la région des Grands Lacs pour le renforcement de la culture de la paix à travers l’éducation aux droits humains et à la bonne gouvernance. C’est dans cet ordre que la personnalité juridique a été conférée à IPDH-Burundi et IPDH-RDC respectivement par l’Ordonnance du Ministère de l’intérieur No 530/333 du 03 mars 2014 et l’Arrêté du Ministre de la justice et des droits humains No 160/CAB/MIN/J&DH/2014. Pendant des longs mois que la procédure d’octroi de la personnalité juridique a pris pour aboutir à ces deux actes, IPDH n’a jamais tenté d’abdiquer à mener tant bien que mal ses activités dans ces deux pays. Ses activités ont été alors menées sur base des autorisations provisoires émises par des autorités compétentes. Il va de soi que ces deux actes ministériels sont d’une importance capitale dans la mesure où ils reconnaissent à IPDH d’être titulaire des droits et des obligations, en tant qu’organisation, dans chacun de ces pays. Dans ce sens, IPDH-IPHR attend une implication accrue des partenaires locaux, régionaux et internationaux dans la mise en œuvre de ses actions de renforcement de capacité des populations et autorités locales (à travers des sessions de formation), de recherche ainsi que de plaidoyer sur les droits humains et la bonne gouvernance dans la régions des Grands Lacs, sans oublier la facilitation de l’accès à la justice aux personnes démunies.
Dans les années à venir, IPHR-IPDH attend se focaliser davantage sur la promotion et la protection des droits économiques et sociaux pour le mieux être des individus et communautés vivant dans cette région des grands lacs.
Par ailleurs, IPHR-IPDH est consciente que la région des Grands Lacs ne vit pas retranchée du monde. De ce fait, quand bien même la paix et la stabilisation de cette région sont la responsabilité première de ses filles et fils, elle (la région des grands lacs) reste aussi tributaire de la contribution de la communauté internationale dans son ensemble.C’est dans cette optique que la création de Stichting Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (SIPHR) a été légalisée dans la ville d’Utrecht au Royaume des Pays-Bas en date du 28 avril 2014 dans le but primaire de lever des fonds pour financer les activités d’ONG locales basées dans la région des grands lacs africains dans leur travail d’éducation aux droits humains et à la bonne gouvernance. Plus spécifiquement, les fonds levés par SIPHR seront destines à financer les projets visant (1) la promotion et protection des droits humains incluant entre autres l’accès gratuit à la justice aux personnes et groupes vulnérables tels que les femmes, les enfants, les personnes vivant avec handicap, les LGBT, les personnes vivant avec le VIH/SIDA, etc. (2) la reconstruction de la paix et la réconciliation, (3) le renforcement de la bonne gouvernance et de l’Etat de droit et (4) l’encouragement du réseautage entre les organisations poursuivant les objectifs ci-haut mentionnes.
Il est anticipé au sein de la famille IPDH que le travail en synergie entre les sections nationales du Burundi, de la RD Congo et du Rwanda et SIPHR des Pays-Bas va impacter de façon durable la vie des hommes, femmes, enfants, jeunes et vieux de cette région du monde longtemps meurtrie par des conflits armés cycliques, d’une faiblesse avérée des institutions et des violations récurrentes des droits fondamentaux.
Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (IPHR) continues to strengthen its presence in the Great Lakes region in order to enhance the culture of peace through human rights and good governance education. It is in this framework that legal personality has been conferred to IPHR-Burundi and IPHR-DRC by respectively the Ordinance of the Ministry of Interior No.530/333 of 3 March 2014 and the Decree of the Minister of Justice and human rights No.160/CAB/MIN/J&DH/2014. During the long months that the procedure for granting legal personality took, IPHR never abandoned to pursue its mission in these two countries. IPHR’s activities were then conducted on the basis of provisional authorizations issued by the competent authorities. It goes without saying that these two ministerial acts are of paramount importance since they recognize IPHR to hold rights and obligations, as an organization, in each of these countries. It follows that IPHR-IPDH expects greater involvement of local, regional and international partners in the implementation of its actions in relation with building the capacity of individuals, communities and local authorities (through training), researching, and advocating for human rights and good governance in the Great Lakes region, not to mention facilitating access to justice for the poor.
In the coming years, IPHR intends to focus more on the promotion and protection of economic and social rights for the well-being of individuals and communities living in the Great Lakes region.
Moreover, IPHR is aware that the Great Lakes does not live cut off from the world. Therefore, even though the peace and stability of this region are the primary responsibility of its daughters and son, the Great Lakes region also remains dependent on the contribution of the international community as a whole. It is in this context that the creation of Stichting Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (SIPHR) was legalized in the city of Utrecht in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, on 28 April 2014 with the primary purpose of raising funds to finance activities of local NGOs based in the African Great lakes in their work of education on human rights and good governance. More specifically, the funds raised by SIPHR are intended to finance projects aiming at (1) the promotion and protection of human rights including, among others, free access to justice for vulnerable individuals and groups such as women, children, people living with disability, LGBT, people living with HIV/AIDS, etc., (2) the enhancement of peace-building and reconciliation, (3) the strengthening of good governance and the rule of law, and (4) the promotion of networking among organizations pursuing the objectives mentioned above .
It is strongly believed within IPHR family that the synergy between the national organizations of Burundi, DR Congo and Rwanda and SIPHR in Netherlands will impact in a sustainable way on the lives of men, women, children, youth and old in this region long scarred by cyclic armed conflicts, dramatically weak institutions and recurring human rights violations.
On 20-22 August 2013 Mr Yves Sezirahiga, the head of Human Rights and Access to Justice unit of IPHR, participated in a regional workshop on "Abortion, Reproductive Rights and the Role of Lawyers" that was organized in Nairobi by Ipas. This training brought together lawyers working in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Nigeria, Zambia and Rwanda who are well versed in reproductive rights and committed to promoting access to safe abortion.
The objectives of the workshop were: (1) to share their work promoting reproductive rights and access to safe abortion and learn from others, (2) to build capacity in promoting abortion rights through constitutional reform, improving access to medication abortion, law reform, working with law enforcement, and communications, and (3) to cultivate relationships among lawyers working on abortion in the region.
Like many african countries, Rwanda has recently introduced restrictive provisions related to abortion in the Penal Code. According to article 165 of new Penal Code (2012) of Rwanda, abortion can be accepted only in case of rape, incest, forced marriage or when the continuation of pregnancy endangers the mother's life. Apart from the last case, in the three other circumstances abortion can only be authorized by a court. This really threatens the reproductive rights of women and girls in Rwanda. During the training, Mr Yves did a presentation where he raised the issue caused by the criminalization of abortion under Rwandan law. He recalled Rwanda's international obligations especially regarding Maputo Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of women in Africa in its article 14(a) and (c) enjoining State parties to "insure that the right to health of women, including sexual and reproductive health is respected and promoted. This includes: a) the right to control their fertility [...] and c) the right to choose any method of contraception".
IPHR is strongly advocating for the promotion of reproductive rights for all Rwandan women. This workshop was part of our regional networking and efforts to equip IPHR staff with necessary knowledge and skills to better promote women's rights. A project to raise the awareness of the Rwandan judiciary (judges, prosecutors, police, and lawyers) about women's reproductive rights is underway in a perspective of promoting access to safe abortion.
Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights legally admitted to operate in the Democratic Republic of Congo
Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (IPHR) has just been given a go-ahead from the department of Justice of the South Kivu Province to operate countrywide in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This authorization has been long overdue. IPHR Headquarters are located in Bukavu. Before this authorization, IPHR was active in the Eastern DRC carrying out activities especially in North Kivu province with its partners such as Ligue Congolaise pour la Promotion des droits des Personnes Vulnerables et/ou Marginalisees (LiCoProMa). This authorization is a milestone in the achievement of IPHR's vision to cover in medium-term three countries of the Great Lakes region that are Rwanda, DR Congo and Burundi. More details about our action plan for the DR Congo will follow soon.
For questions or information, please address an email to Mr Ezechiel Amani Cirimwami, the Vice-President of IPHR-DR Congo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LiCoProMa promoting the rights of Albinos, LGBTIs, and Disabled people in Goma and Kisangani (DR Congo)
Dr Matthieu Bokota with Albinos' community in Kisangani after LiCoProMa provided exercise books and pens to young albinos to go backto school.
Life these past few weeks looks very different than it did a month ago. Instead of attending human rights trainings and falling asleep under mosquito nets, I am spending my hours in class and, well…sleeping less.
However, fortunately, some things stay the same. I am delighted and honored to be able to continue working with both Initiatives for Peace and Human Rights (IPHR) and LiCoProMa throughout this next year!
Over the past few months, I’ve mentioned a great deal about the organization and work of IPHR, but I have not done this for LiCoProMa.
Below is a brief overview of LiCoProMa, the challenges it faces, and one of the driving members of the organization– Francis Mbembe.
LiCoProMa stands for Ligue Congolaise pour la Promotion des Droits des Personnes Vulnerables et/ou Marginalisées (in English: Congolese League for the Promotion of Rights of Vulnerable and Marginalized Persons) and is a non-profit organization that runs solely on volunteer donations. Founded in 1998, during the Second Congo War, LiCoProMa was originally created to provide relief to the massive human rights violations occurring in Kisangani (northeastern DRC) at that time.
Since 1998, LiCoProMa has moved and evolved. Today, LiCoProMa is based out of Goma, DRC, and works to serve the following communities in the following ways*:
Francis Mbembe with Mwenyemali. Thanks to LiCoProMa’s help with hospital bills and the purchase of the vehicle displayed, Mwenyemali now runs his own transportation business and is able to support his family.
Carine (in green) was chased and beaten from her restaurant for hosting white people (e.g. – me) and LGBTI members
LiCoProMa’s #1 need – money. This is probably no surprise to anyone in the NGO world who knows how valuable and difficult money is to come by. LiCoProMa needs money to supplement the travel costs of health care workers and lawyers, to complete a guarded compound where LGBTI members can safely seek shelter, to supplement the volunteer time of lead staff members, and to pay for the healthcare supplies necessary for offering routine health checks.
However, while acknowledging this predominant need, LiCoProMa also realizes the importance of self-sufficiency and innovation. Thus, the members of LiCoProMa continue to seek alternative solutions to their financial shortcomings. For example, LiCoProMa has recently collaborated with a lawyer and a doctor in Goma who are willing to offer their services for free on a very restricted schedule. While these services are limited, they are nevertheless a great contribution towards realizing LiCoProMa’s mission: “Pour que cesse la discrimination” (in English: “To end discrimination”).
In addition to financial challenges, LiCoProMa also faces community challenges – most of which stem from the community’s hostility toward LiCoProMa’s work with LGBTI members.
A few months ago, LiCoProMa’s office was burned down because of their association with the LGBTI community. Furthermore, LiCoProMa recently conducted an anonymous, randomized survey on how members of the Goma community respond to LGBTI members. The result: approximately 85% of the 1000 people surveyed expressed hostility towards the LGBTI community.
Clear examples of this hostility include LiCoProMa’s LGBTI members being frequently chased and/or attacked because of their identity. In fact, sadly, after my visit to Goma in July, Carine (pictured below) was attacked for hosting a discussion with LGBTI members and white people (e.g. – me) in her restaurant.
Francis talking with a member of the albino community. This woman spends all the day selling maize along the road in Kisangani despite her fragile skin under the sun.
While LiCoProMa realizes that the long term solution to this discrimination requires internal organization, self-agency, determination, and patience, they also believe an appropriate short term response is to provide a safe, guarded, compound for LGBTI members to retreat to, as needed.
One of the leading-, and founding-, members of LiCoProMa is Francis Mbembe.***
In addition to being the Principal Coordinator of LiCoProMa, Francis is also one of the most determined, jovial, humanitarian individuals I have ever met.
In 1998, at the cusp of the Second Congo War and the human tragedy that accompanied it, Francis enrolled in school to study Human Rights. During this time, Francis learned the following:
Francis and I stopping to pose for a photo (that’s Goma in the background)
Francis’ consistent concern and care for others are inspiring, as is his proclivity toward action. For example, just a few weeks ago, after visiting an IDP camp in Kanyaruchinya, Francis went back to that camp to pass out as much rice and pens as he was personally able to afford.
Francis believes that a slow, persistent, paced fight leads to eventual success…and Francis is fighting.
* This is a very brief overview. If you would like more information on any one of these communities and the services LiCoProMa is working to provide, please email me at email@example.com
**At present, many LGBTI members are discriminated against in all life capacities and see prostitution as the only possible career path to putting food on the table. However, prostitution has severe and negative consequences that require many who identify as L,G,B,T, or I to risk their lives daily in order to live one more day.
***LiCoProMa is organized into branches, with one person coordinating any given sector. For example, LiCoProMa’s Nadia Kanyankore is the Coordinator for the LGBTI sector, Dr. Matthieu Bokota is the Coordinator for the Albino sector, etc. Francis is the Principal Coordinator that oversees the work of all LiCoProMa sectors.
(The following blog post is written by Mallory Minter, IPHR's first international intern.)
IPHR believes that human rights education is instrumental in creating a society defined by justice and peaceful coexistence.
IPHR also acknowledges the evident need for women’s rights education in proliferating human rights.
Women’s rights education is critical. This education lets a woman know she has legally-defensible, just options. This education is what determines, for example, whether a woman claims what is legally entitled to her after her marriage ends or whether she instead walks away with nothing, taking to the streets to make ends meet.
Thus, in quest of both augmenting justice and women’s welfare (and, on a larger scale, human welfare…after all, women’s progress is human progress), IPHR recently conducted a human rights training for widows.
During this training, widows were explained their family rights, rights to succession, and more. (To read more about women’s rights in Rwanda, select this link — page 10 is where it really gets good!)
At the end of the training, these widows were also given free consultation regarding any legal dilemmas they currently face.
(The following blog post is written by Mallory Minter, IPHR's first international intern.)
During this past week, I attended an IPHR-led workshop for femmes en détresse. This title literally translates to mean “women in distress” and, more accurately, refers to women who are/have been beaten, oppressed or mistreated by their partners.
IPHR works to educate these women on their rights so that they can, in turn, use the law to defend themselves.
During this two-day training, members of IPHR explained to the participants their rights in Rwanda as women, as partners, and as mothers. Additionally, at the end of the workshop, the lawyers of IPHR held individual one-on-one consultations with the women, offering them both free legal advice and defense in court (as needed).
In order to better convey the situations of these women and the impact that IPHR’s work has on their lives, I want to share a few Q&As posed during this training.*
Question: How can I help my son?
Context: When she was young, Meren had a son. Soon after becoming pregnant, the son’s father ran away, leaving Meren and the baby alone. A few years later, Meren met another man and the two of them started a life together. They now have a home and children together. However, Meren’s new partner does not approve of Meren’s first son and wants nothing to do with him. In fact, in the past he would beat and harass the son until, eventually, the son took to the streets. For years now, Meren’s first son has been living on the streets. While she loves her son and wishes for his safety, she is not in a position to leave her current partner nor can she guarantee her son will be safe if he returns home. Meren wants to help her son and to ensure that he has the means necessary to live.
Answer: Understanding Meren’s situation and limitations, IPHR recommends that Meren tries to find the son’s real father. IPHR also recommends that Meren ensures that her first son is legally registered to the father in order to guarantee his rights of inheritance. These rights of inheritance are very important in Rwanda since they often include plots of land, shelter, and cattle – critical assets to life in Rwanda. Furthermore, when Meren finds the son’s real father, she should seek to unify the two which, if all goes well, will hopefully give the son a safe place to live as well as will allow the father and son to forge a relationship that should have commenced years ago.
Question: How can I see my baby and make sure he is protected?
Context: Esther’s baby was stolen. The thief is the baby’s father who, after stealing the baby, changed the baby’s legal name and placed him under the care of his grandfather. Esther once confronted the father and his new wife, but was beaten by the man’s wife. Esther does not hope to gain custody of the baby nor to get him back because she knows that she does not have the financial means necessary to care for the baby. Rather, what Esther wants is to have access to the child and to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the baby is legally registered to the father so that, when the time comes, he will inherit many life necessities.
Answer: Esther’s case is complicated and involves a great deal of deliberation and planning. IPHR and Esther will work together over the coming weeks to fully address her situation. However, upon initial response, IPHR encourages Esther to find out from authorities if the baby is legally registered to the father. Once this information is known, IPHR will work with Esther to help her gain access to her baby and to guarantee the child’s right to succession.
Question: How can I exercise my rights?
Context: Alice is married to a man who recently sold two of their cows without her consent (which is illegal according to Rwandan law). Actions like this are common within Alice’s marriage and Alice wants to take legal action. But she is afraid. If Alice presents her case to the court, her husband has promised that he will kill her.
Answer: There is no clear answer, but IPHR will work with Alice and the police to ensure her safety and the protection of her human rights.
As you can see, there is a profound need in Rwanda for the education and protection of women’s rights. The members of IPHR recognize this need and work to meet it as best they can.
*Names of the women in the Q&A have been changed in order to protect their identity.
(The following blog post is written by Mallory Minter, IPHR's first international intern.)
In addition to touring Butare’s tribunal and police station this past week, I also attended a two-day workshop for vulnerable women.
First things first – let’s define “vulnerable women”. IPHR uses this term to identify women who are single mothers, who are impoverished, who self-identify as depressed, and/or who simply have no family or close community to turn to. Metaphorically speaking, these women are swimming across the Atlantic Ocean with only one arm.
This workshop, led by IPHR’s Yves and run in partnership with the Igiti Cy’ubugingo Center (the name roughly translates to “Tree of Hope”), seeks to educate women of their rights as they relate to family law, gender-based violence, and succession (aka – inheritance).
For example, suppose you are a Rwandan woman. You are one of 10 daughters and your parents have died. According to Rwandan law, your parents’ assets will be split among all 10 daughters evenly, unless there is written documentation expressing otherwise. However, one of your sisters forges a document stating that the parents have selected her as the sole inheritor of their possessions. The court accepts this document and you no longer have the right to any of your inheritance. You are left with nothing from your family.
This is the reality of one of the women who attended the workshop this past week.
By teaching women about their legal/equal rights concerning issues such as marriage and inheritance, this workshop serves to empower women like this one.
Furthermore, considering the fact that women in Rwanda only recently gained the legal right to inheritance in November 1999, many women are still unaware of what is legally entitled to them. Education initiatives like this workshop are critical to closing the human rights gap currently lying between both genders in Rwanda.
The ultimate goal of this conference is to break the silence. In fact, at the end of the first day of this two-day workshop, Yves urged the women to speak out and spread the word.
As Yves clearly stated (in Kinyarwanda – so I’m paraphrasing here): education is the strongest force to fight gender-based violence and is the only way to ensure that women fully exercise their equal rights.
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