Free Bahraini human rights activist Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja

This video from Ireland says about itself:

On September 15, 2011 more than 130 human rights defenders from over 80 countries protested outside the Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Dublin, Ireland for the freedom of their colleague Abdulhadi Al Khawaja from Bahrain.

From the International Federation for Human Rights:

9 April 2014

BAHRAIN: Third Anniversary of Arrest: Calls for the Release of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja

The undersigned civil society organizations express their serious concern for the health and well-being of imprisoned Bahraini human rights defender Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja. Mr. Al-Khawaja was arrested three years ago today, on 9 April 2011, and continues to require medical attention for injuries sustained during his arrest and subsequent torture.

Former president and co-founder of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights (BCHR), Mr. Al-Khawaja was sentenced to life in prison in June 2011 by a military court as part of a group of human rights activists and political leaders known as the Bahrain 13. We believe that Mr. Al-Khawaja is being unjustly persecuted for his legitimate human rights activity.

In its September 2012 decision, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that Mr. al-Khawaja’s arrest was due to his exercise of the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. According to the Working Group, the charges against Mr. al-Khawaja—including membership in a terrorist organization— were “vague” and “raise doubts as to the actual purpose of detention.” The Working Group also concluded that throughout Mr. Al-Khawaja’s arrest, detention, and trial, “the Government violated numerous international norms to the right to fair trial.”

The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) further concluded that Mr. Al-Khawaja was subjected to torture and inhumane treatment during his arrest and detention. Mr. Al-Khawaja was severely beaten, resulting in a broken jaw, and later spent two months in solitary confinement where he was subjected to physical, psychological and sexual torture. A full testimony from Mr. Al-Khawaja regarding his torture can be found here.

Mr. Al-Khawaja continues to be denied adequate medical attention and suffers from severe medical complications as a result of his mistreatment in detention. Mr. Al-Khawaja has reported that he has cramps in his facial muscles from metal plates and screws that were set in his jaw after it was broken by security officials in four places in 2011. Mr. Al-Khawaja also continues to experience acute pain due to an injury to his coccyx sustained during torture in 2011.

Mr. Al-Khawaja and his family have repeatedly requested that the various operations he is in need of are performed by an independent doctor due to legitimate concerns about the impartiality of the doctor appointed by the Bahrain Defense Force Hospital, Dr. Al-Muharraqi, who in 2011 stated that Mr. Al-Khawaja was not subjected to torture. It is also deeply alarming that during his most recent examination, Dr. Al-Muharraqi informed Mr. Al- Khawaja that his entire medical file had gone missing from the system. Mr Al-Khawaja’s lawyers have been requesting a copy of his medical files since 2011, as it would serve as evidence of the multiple injuries and medical conditions caused by torture.

Despite his incarceration, Mr. Al-Khawaja and his colleagues continue to be the target of defamation campaigns. On the 27 February, 2014, a 12 minute video published on YouTube accused Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja, activist Zainab Al-Khawaja, BCHR President Nabeel Rajab and BCHR Acting President Maryam Al-Khawaja of inciting terrorism, “taking the country hostage” and branding them as racists. The video included footage that could have only been obtained from official authorities, including the use of an interview with a police officer which requires the approval of the Ministry of Interior. The video unjustly targets the four human rights defenders as a result of their legitimate activities and could be seen to incite violence against them given the accusations presented.

In an attempt to test the legal procedures of combating defamation of human rights defenders in Bahrain, Mr. Al-Khawaja submitted a complaint to the Jaw Prison Administration which was then submitted to the Public Prosecutor in response to a degrading article about Mr. Al-Khawaja published on 28 May 2013 in the Gulf Daily News (GDN). In response, the GDN published a letter on 22 May 2013 accusing Mr. Al-Khawaja of “instruct[ing] rioters to attack military bases in Bahrain and is one of the master planners for an armed military coup.” Nearly a year later, no steps have been taken to address Mr. Al-Khawaja’s complaint.

The undersigned civil society organizations call for the immediate and unconditional release of Abdulhadi Al-Khawaja as well as immediate access to independent medical examination and treatment. In addition, we urge the Bahraini authorities to cease harassment and persecution of human rights defenders including unwarranted defamation campaigns.

The co-signed organizations are:

AMAN Network for Rehabilitation and Defending Human Rights
Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR)
Bahrain Human Rights Observatory (BHRO)
Bahrain Human Rights Society (BHRS)
Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD)
Bahrain Interfaith
Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organization (BRAVO)
Bahrain Youth Society for Human Rights (BYSHR)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
CEARTAS – Irish Lawyers for Human Rights
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
European Bahraini Organisation for Human Rights (EBOHR)
Front Line Defenders
Gulf Center for Human Rights (GCHR)
Gulf Civil Society Associations Forum (GCSAF)
Human Rights First (HRF)
International Media Support (IMS)
Khiam Rehabilitation Center for Victims of Torture
Lawyers Rights Watch Canada (LRWC)
LuaLua Center for Human Rights (LCHR)
No Peace Without Justice (NPWJ)
PEN American Center
Pen International
The Arab NGO Network for Development (ANND)
The National Lawyers Guild International Committee
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT)
Tunisian Initiative for Freedom of Expression

On 3 April 2014 a Bahraini Court of Appeal ruled to uphold a sentence of one year’s imprisonment issued by the Third Criminal Court in Bahrain against human rights defender and medic Dr Saeed Al Samahiji: here.

Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the 30-month jail sentence that a Bahraini court passed on the blogger Ali Maaraj on 8 April on charges of “insulting the king” and “improper handling of information technology”: here.

Someone should really write a book or paper about why the majority of Bahrain’s security forces are comprised of foreign nationals. I mean there is something really strange about a regime that needs to import people to defend it.  On a similar note, here‘s an article in AlAkbar about political naturalization in Bahrain. Again why is it that the Bahraini regime feels the need to change the demographics of the country? What kind of regime simply wants to replace its own citizens? Here.

While there are differences in tone and length (the UK barely fills a side, while the U.S. version is 49 pages long), both of the reports from Bahrain’s two strongest western allies are critical of the regime’s failure to bring perpetrators of human rights violations to justice. The UK report agrees with the U.S. assessment that there are problems around impunity for Bahrain’s security forces “…regarding the accountability of police personnel, and the investigation and sentencing of those alleged to have committed torture and mistreatment”. The criticism in the UK report, however, is generally tepid, saying with predictable understatement that “…some areas of reform have been slower than we would have hoped”: here.

Bahrain Watch expresses its serious concern about a new $20 million contract between the Economic Development Board and PR firms Bell Pottinger and Consulum, signed amid ongoing human rights abuses.  This latest deal, to “restore [Bahrain’s] global reputation as a business-friendly haven,” brings the total value of the government’s contracts with Western PR firms since 2011 to $50 million, as documented by Bahrain Watch.  The bid by the two companies first came to light through a posting on the Tender Board’s website last year.  PR spending since 2011 has served to whitewash the government’s human rights abuses and failure to reform: here.

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Stop burning British peatland, RSPB says

This video from Ireland says about itself:

A video on the carnivorous plants that can be found at the IPCC headquarters, the Bog of Allen Nature Centre, Lullymore, Rathangan, Co. Kildare. Visit the centre to experience our greenhouse full of venus flytraps, pitcher plants, sundew, butterwort and cobra lillies.

By Martin Harper of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Britain:

Our uplands: a burning desire for action

7 March 2014 6:23 AM

I live and work in the flatlands of Eastern England but I love walking in the hills. I have walked large stretches of the long distance footpaths of England, and in recent years, I have been lucky to go and see some of the work that we do in the uplands – working with others such as United Utilities to restore fabulous places like Dove Stone in the Peak District and with our tenant farmer at Geltsdale in the North Pennines. For me, alongside the inspiration that comes from being in wild places, it has always been the wildlife associated with the spongy wonders of peat bogs that hold me in thrall.  Getting up close and personal with Sphagnum mosses and carnivorous sundews should not be limited to those that visit botanic gardens.

The walkers amongst you will know that our peatlands are not in great condition.  You can see for yourself the scale and extent of damage to peatlands from afforestation, drainage, overgrazing and burning.  This was documented by the Adaptation Sub-Committee last year (see Figure 4.5 here).  And, as I wrote in my first blog of the year (here), just 10.5% of the 162,000 ha of blanket bog designated as SSSI are in favourable condition in England.

In the late 1990s, the RSPB with many others successfully campaigned to end the extraction of peat from lowland raised bog SSSIs and to get trees off the internationally important bogs in the Flow Country.  Today, we should be applying the same urgency to restore internationally important peatlands in the hills.  This would not only help wildlife, but also fulfil our legal obligations to restore these sites whilst safeguarding nature’s free services that well-managed peatlands provide – such as locking up carbon, providing clear drinking water, and keeping water for longer on the hill to prevent downstream flooding.

But restoration will not happen if we keep burning our peatlands.  In May 2013, Natural England completed its review of evidence of the impact of upland management practices including burning (see here).  In short, they concluded that burning vegetation on deep peat soils is preventing the recovery of the habitat and the species our protected sites are intended to look after.  For those communities, like those at Hebden Bridge, living in the foothills of intensively managed moors there are more pressing reasons why they cry “Ban the Burn“.

Today, we reveal the scale of burning on our internationally protected peatlands (see here).  There are at least 127 separate historic agreements or consents allowing burning of blanket bog on sites internationally important for birds and deep peatland habitats.  Defra has confirmed that all of these consents take place on grouse moors where burning is designed to provide optimum conditions for red grouse. We have compiled this information following our investigation into the management agreement that was struck between Natural England and Walshaw Moor Estate in 2012 (which I first aired here).

We have decided to put this information into the public domain for three reasons…

…first, we are encouraging Natural England to act on their evidence review and produce guidelines which bring an end to burning on our protected upland peatlands

…second, any public money that flows up the hill to support land management in the hills (especially finite agri-environment money) must be made to work harder for wildlife and protect nature’s free services.  Future agri-environment agreements which allow burning on deep peat would be a waste of tax-payers’ money

…third, we want to invite all landowners to end burning on deep peat and contribute to a national campaign for peatland restoration

We have also, this week, contacted Natural England for an update on any restoration that has taken place at Walshaw since the management agreement was struck in 2012.  I think it is in all our interests, especially those taxpayers that walk through Walshaw Moor on the Pennine Way,  to find out what progress has been made to block drains and improve the habitat on this internationally protected site.

If you would like to find out more about the detail of the Walshaw case and the wider concerns about burning on peatlands, please do visit our dedicated web pages here.

And do let me know what you think about the continued burning on peatland protected sites.

It would be great to hear your views.

A comment on this blog post, by ‘redkite’, says:

Absolutely right Martin. For too long owners of big tracks of uplands, especially grouse moors have had things too much their way. It is high time our upland peatlands are no longer subjected to burning, plantation forestry and other detrimental management just for the sake of a few more grouse to shoot.The value to the general public, yes in money terms, because of the ability of these peatlands to absorb large amounts of rain water, to provide much better quality drinking water and to “lock up” vast amounts of carbon, all free of charge, must, far, far out weigh the value of a few extra grouse for the shooters.

When in good condition, peatlands are also, of course, marvellous havens for wildlife including hen harriers when they are not illegally shot out the sky. Sound and sensible economics now needs to be applied to our uplands on behalf of everyone, and not for a few parties with particular interests, and to let nature heal the damage done. The general public and nature has been taken for “a bit of a ride” for a long time now and this now needs to be stopped.

Burning heather on a rotation of 7-20 years is part of the industrialisation of the upland landscape of parts of the UK. The main reason for doing it is to produce totally unnaturally high densities of Red Grouse which can then be shot in autumn for sport. It’s a quaint, particularly British, tradition: here.

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Irish elderly peace activist jailed for opposing torture flights

This video from Ireland says about itself:

Free Margaretta D’Arcy protest at Leinster House

22 Jan. 2014

The Peace and Neutrality Alliance holds a protest calling for the release of jailed peace activist Margaretta D’Arcy (79).

This video from the USA is called Globalizing Torture: Ahead of Brennan Hearing, International Complicity in CIA Rendition Exposed.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Irish rally behind jailed peace activist Margaretta d’Arcy

Thursday 20th Febuary 2014

Irish politicians renewed their fight to free elderly peace campaigner Margaretta D’Arcy from prison.

The 79-year-old, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and has cancer, was jailed in January for three months after blocking flights from Shannon airport.

Shannon was allegedly used as a stop-off point in the US extraordinary rendition programme.

Her arrest caused an uproar and serious concerns have been raised about her health.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams visited her last week and said he’d achieved assurances from Justice Minister Alan Shatter that Ms D’Arcy has “access to the full range of services in prison, including all medical services.”

Mr Adams said: “Nonetheless she is a frail and elderly woman with a serious medical condition who should not be in prison.

“Margaretta is taking a stand for Irish neutrality and for human rights and against the use of a civilian airport for military purposes, and the secret rendition of detainees to places of torture.”

Mr Adams said that both the Irish human rights commission and the UN committee against torture had condemned the government for its complicity in rendition, where terror suspects are illegally smuggled across international borders.

“Margaretta is not a criminal. She represents no threat to the public and it is outrageous that she should be still in prison. Margaretta D’Arcy should be released immediately,” he said.

Regular protests have been held calling for Ms D’Arcy’s release.

At a vigil on Wednesday outside Leinster House – the home of the Irish parliament – Unite union regional secretary Jimmy Kelly hit out at the charge on interfering with the “proper” use of Shannon airport.

“During the past decade, over two million US soldiers have passed through Shannon Airport, most on their way to fight wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“That is not proper use of a civilian airport in a neutral state.

“During an eight-month period last year, over 350 foreign military aircraft were allowed to land at Shannon.

“That is not proper use of a civilian airport in a neutral state.”

This video is about a speech by Clare Daly, member of the Dáil in Ireland, against the incarceration of 79 year old peace activist Margaretta D’Arcy.

An 84-year-old nun was sentenced to three years in prison on Tuesday for her part in a protest break-in at a US nuclear material storage facility. Megan Rice was convicted of sabotage earlier this year along with two other peace activists for their 2012 protest at the Oak Ridge site, which holds weapons-grade uranium: here.

84-year-old nun sentenced to prison for “sabotaging” US preparations for war: here.

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Bahraini doctors tortured, solidarity in Ireland

This video is called Bahrain doctors .. jailed for treatment.

From the University Times in Ireland:

Silence is A War Crime

SoFIA Presents “Doctors in Bahrain: A Duty to Care”

Anna Nichols | Contributing Writer

Wednesday 5th February saw the Society for International Affairs and Diplomacy host one of its most ambitious and prevalent events to date when it held a panel discussion in the Innovation Academy concerning the political upheaval in Bahrain.

Unrest began in 2011, and has particularly affected the medical profession, but events have received little media. The guest speakers were Irish doctor and leader of a recent Irish humanitarian delegation to Bahrain Dr Damien McCormack, independent human rights activist Tara O’Grady, deputy director of Frontline Defenders Andrew Anderson and Bahraini doctor Dr Fatima Hajjim.

Although each speaker addressed a different aspect of the situation, all four guests acknowledged the importance of the event and its capacity to raise awareness of the abuses that continue to be carried out by the Bahraini regime, and to provide a forum for discussion where thoughts, questions and first hand accounts of the events could be exchanged.

Dr McCormack was the first to speak, focusing on the links between the Irish medical community and the situation in Bahrain. The community’s lack of response to the oppression, with the exception of a few groups, was criticised, which Dr McCormack asserted was indicative of the corruption and collusion that exists within the Irish medical profession, commenting that the influence of the Al-Khalifa regime that currently rules Bahrain reaches ‘all the way up to Stephen’s Green’. Dr McCormack discussed the connections the Royal College of Surgeons has with the Bahraini government, given its campus in Bahrain and the fact that the people running this ‘outrageous blackspot for human rights’ are the people ‘who have dinner with my colleagues’. He also outlined the inefficacy of international organisations such as the United Nations and the International Criminal Court in instigating meaningful progress, while speaking of his encounters with torture victims and the development of torture techniques.

Dr Fatima Hajjim then gave an account of her personal experience and involvement in the uprising, speaking of being suspended from work, then being ‘dragged’ through a show trial before being imprisoned. She stated that events such as this were instrumental in giving a voice to the Bahraini people and medics, and for highlighting the fact that human rights abuses in Bahrain did not end in 2011. She told the harrowing story of a sixteen year old who disappeared the day she left Bahrain and the turmoil his family went through for nineteen days as vital information was kept from them by the Bahraini civil services. Dr Hajjiim lamented the militarisation of the medical field in Bahrain, affirming that it compromised the humanitarian nature of being a doctor, which could have disastrous consequences for future Bahraini doctors, since ‘having a heart to help people is something you can’t learn from books.’

Next to speak was Tara O’Grady, who emphasised the importance of exercising the right to freedom of expression, particularly given the lack of coverage of events, encouraging everyone to tweet using the hastag #3rdBahrain in order to further raise awareness of the situation. O’Grady also noted Bahrain had been a very peacful island until the 1920s with the discovery of oil, and that political turmoil was not unusual in Bahrain, with there being a revolution every ten years since then.

Finally, O’Grady discussed the regime’s brutal response to what has been consistently peaceful and unsectarian protest, in particular the unjustifiable assault and torture of women and children. O’Grady also expressed fears that Bahrain was setting a dangerous precedent for the regimental abuse of students, prompted by the arresting of patients and doctors and the militarisation of hospitals.
The final speaker, Andrew Anderson of Frontline Defenders, commented on the friendliness of the indigenous civilian Bahraini population, noting that the torture and show trials of medics, one of which meant a close friend of Anderson’s was unfairly sentenced to life imprisonment, truly exposed the brutality of the regime. Anderson also highlighted the fact that the direction of such brutality towards medics is an unprecedented feature of the current situation, while the media’s incorporation of events into the ‘Arab Spring narrative’ has lead to an absence of references to the issue in national media which is further reinforced when compared to the coverage of similar events in Kuwait in the early 1990s. Anderson also praised the protestors for remaining ‘overwhelmingly peaceful’ in the face of such repression, and reemphasised the responsibility that those of us living in free and democratic societies have in standing up for human rights defenders, given the significance of the impact they make on the ground in such places.

After the addresses, there was a question and answer session, where members of the audience quizzed the guests on a number of issues, including what Irish students could do to break down the lack of media coverage, the extent of the Al-Khalifa regime’s influence on RCSI and the unclear reasoning of Bahraini officials for releasing particular prisoners. After the discussion, the attendees headed to a reception in KC Peaches, where the principal topic of conversation continued to be the events in Bahrain, making it clear that the event had been successful in igniting a humanitarian spark within the minds of those who attended. Given the success of the event, it seems like SoFIA, who has been up and running for less than a year, is going from strength to strength, and is likely to be a serious contender at this year’s Society Awards.

If future events are as engaging and thought-provoking as this, SoFIA should remain a society to watch.

See also here.

Bahraini activists clashed with police as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets: here.

USA: Do We Care About People if They Live in Bahrain? Here.

Bahrain’s peaceful revolution starts its fourth year: here.

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Bahrain bird ringing news update

This video from Ireland is called Kingfisher | The Secret Life of the Shannon | RTÉ Goes Wild.

From Birds of Saudi Arabia, with photos there:

30 Jan 2014

Windy and few birds – Alba Marsh (Bahrain)

Nicole and I went ringing at Alba Marsh on Friday and arrived at the site before first light. We set up the nets and things looked good to start with, as we caught a Bluethroat and a Common Kingfisher before it was really light. Unfortunately as the day progressed the wind picked up making it almost impossible to catch birds and meant we had to take down the nets and leave the area before we would have liked to.

In total we only caught seven birds, including the Bluethroat and Common Kingfisher as well as three re-trapped Clamorous Reed Warblers one unringed bird and one re-trapped Water Pipit from winter 2012. An interesting point about the Common Kingfishers caught at the marsh is the fact that they have all been female birds without a single male. Also they have started to use the marsh as a wintering area only in the last two years as previously to this, although ringing was taking place in the marsh no birds were caught with only the occasional bird seen.

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Vatican criticized about clerical sexual abuse

This video from 2010 is called Ireland – The Vatican Colluded With Paedophile Priests To Cover Up Child Abuse – Aljazeera.

From The Times of Malta:

Thursday, January 16, 2014, 13:57 by PA

UN hits at Vatican over child abuse – Scicluna represents Holy See before high level committee

The Vatican has come under blistering criticism from a UN committee for its handling of the global priest sex abuse scandal, facing its most intense public grilling ever over allegations that it protected paedophile priests at the expense of victims.

Bishop Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s former sex crimes prosecutor, acknowledged that the Holy See had been slow to face the crisis but said that it was now committed to doing so. He encouraged prosecutors to take action against anyone who obstructs justice – a suggestion that bishops who moved priests from diocese to diocese should be held accountable.

“The Holy See gets it,” Mgr Scicluna told the committee. “Let’s not say too late or not. But there are certain things that need to be done differently.”

He was responding to a grilling by the UN committee over the Holy See’s failure to abide by terms of a treaty that calls for signatories to take all appropriate measures to keep children from harm. Critics allege the church enabled the rape of thousands of children by protecting paedophile priests to defend its reputation.

The committee’s main human rights investigator, Sara Oviedo, was particularly tough, pressing the Vatican on the frequent ways abusive priests were transferred rather than turned in to police. Given the church’s “zero tolerance” policy, she asked, why were there “efforts to cover up and obscure these types of cases”.

Another committee member, Maria Rita Parsi, an Italian psychologist and psychotherapist, pressed further: “If these events continue to be hidden and covered up, to what extent will children be affected?”

The Holy See ratified the convention in 1990 and submitted a first implementation report in 1994. But it didn’t provide progress reports for nearly two decades. It only submitted one in 2012 after coming under criticism following the 2010 explosion of child sex abuse cases in Europe and beyond.

Victims groups and human rights organisations teamed up to press the UN committee to challenge the Holy See on its abuse record, providing written testimony from victims and evidence outlining the global scale of the problem.

Their reports cite case studies in Mexico and Britain, grand jury investigations in the US, and government fact-finding inquiries from Canada to Ireland to Australia that detail how the Vatican’s policies, its culture of secrecy and fear of scandal contributed to the problem.

The Holy See has long insisted that it wasn’t responsible for the crimes of priests committed around the world, saying priests aren’t employees of the Vatican but are rather citizens of countries where they live and subject to local law enforcement. It has maintained that bishops were responsible for the priests in their care, not the pope.

But victims groups and human rights organisations provided the committee with the Vatican’s own documentation showing how it discouraged bishops from reporting abusers to police.

Committee member Jorge Cardona Llorens, a Spanish international law professor, demanded to know how the Vatican would create “specific criteria” for putting children’s interests first, because there weren’t any yet in place.

Mgr Scicluna said the Holy See wanted to be a model for how to protect children and care for victims.

“I think the international community looks up to the Holy See for such guidance. But it’s not only words, it has to be commitment on the ground.”

He added: “The states who are cognizant of obstruction of justice need to take action against citizens of their countries who obstruct justice.” Mgr Scicluna, a Maltese bishop, has previously said bishops who failed to do the right thing with paedophile priests must be held accountable.

“I think it’s time for the church to stop this secrecy,” Teodoro Pulvirenti, who said he was abused by a priest, told The Associated Press in New York. “I believe the church puts too much its reputation before the victims and you know the pain of this abuse that we carry. That’s why I was so excited when I heard about this final meeting between the Vatican representatives and the UN.”

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