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Empowering women in a modern, multicultural society

Report | Doc. 11612 | 20 May 2008

Committee
(Former) Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men
Rapporteur :
Ms Ingrida CIRCENE, Latvia, EPP/CD
Thesaurus

Summary

The Parliamentary Assembly is concerned about the backlash against gender equality and women’s rights that has been occurring for several years now.

The Assembly reiterates that states must protect women against violations of their rights (including those carried out in the name of religion), promote and fully implement gender equality and reject all religious or cultural relativism where women’s rights are concerned. It considers that vigorous policies must be introduced to extend and consolidate women’s rights.

The Assembly thus invites the member states to take a number of concrete measures to empower women in a modern, multicultural society.

It also invites the Committee of Ministers to take specific action to empower women in society and, in particular, to promote the holding of a 5th United Nations World Conference on Women, and to organise a preparatory European regional conference, which could have the theme of empowering women in a modern, multicultural society.

In the area of intercultural and inter-religious dialogue, the Assembly invites the Committee of Ministers to mainstream gender equality aspects urgently into Council of Europe activities in this field.

A Draft resolution

1 On the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, the Parliamentary Assembly reiterates how much importance it attaches to:
1.1 promoting equality between women and men in all areas of life;
1.2 furthering women’s rights – particularly access for women to public, political and economic decision-making posts through the introduction of positive measures (quotas and other mechanisms);
1.3 combating gender-based discrimination (particularly in the areas of employment, pensions, narrowing the wage gap between women and men and breaking through the “glass ceiling”);
1.4 combating violence against women (domestic violence, trafficking, so-called “honour crimes” and new forms of violence against women).
2 The Assembly is concerned about the backlash against gender equality and women’s rights that has been occurring for several years now. It observes that the progress that had been made in the political, economic and social spheres is regularly undermined. For instance, quota policies aimed at improving women’s participation in decision-making processes are being called into question, even within the Assembly. The side-effects of “pro-natal” policies, the effects of the economic crisis and arguments put forward in the name of culture and religion are confining women to their traditional roles and undermining their rights and their chances of realising their full potential.
3 The Assembly reiterates that states must protect women against violations of their rights (including those carried out in the name of religion), promote and fully implement gender equality and reject all religious or cultural relativism where women’s rights are concerned.
4 It considers that vigorous policies must be introduced to extend and consolidate women’s rights and, with due regard for human rights and the principle of gender equality, to alter the traditional stereotypes of women’s role and empower women in their national communities by enabling them to fully exercise their political and socioeconomic rights.
5 In accordance with Recommendation 1716 (2005), the Assembly will support efforts to hold a 5th UN World Conference on Women, which could relate to the recent challenges that women’s rights and gender equality have been posed (the spread of HIV/Aids among women, women’s access to new information technologies, trafficking in human beings and the deliberate victimisation of women during armed conflicts), while rejecting any move to call into question the decisions taken in Beijing in 1995 at the UN’s last World Conference on Women.
6 The Assembly invites the member states to empower women in a modern, multicultural society and encourages them to:
6.1 incorporate the principle of equality between women and men into their constitutions as a fundamental human right, if they have not already done so;
6.2 combat all cultural and religious relativism, which still often prevents women and young girls from reaching their full potential and participating equally in the development of their society;
6.3 combat discrimination against women and gender-based violence;
6.4 promote “positive measures” to achieve balanced participation of women and men in public, political and economic life;
6.5 make education and training of girls and women a priority issue, including state financial support for girls’ education where necessary, and place emphasis on promoting an equal role for women and girls in education programmes;
6.6 promote active participation by women in intercultural and inter-religious dialogue;
6.7 support the organisation of the European regional conference which could be organised by the Council of Europe in order to prepare the 5th UN World Conference on Women.
7 Moreover, the Assembly encourages its members to take appropriate action in national parliaments in order to promote the holding of such a conference.

B Draft recommendation

1 On the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, the Parliamentary Assembly reiterates how much importance it attaches to:
1.1 promoting equality between women and men in all areas of life;
1.2 furthering women’s rights – particularly access for women to public, political and economic decision-making posts through the introduction of positive measures (quotas and other mechanisms);
1.3 combating gender-based discrimination (particularly in the areas of employment, pensions, narrowing the wage gap between women and men and breaking through the “glass ceiling”);
1.4 combating violence against women (domestic violence, trafficking, so-called “honour crimes” and new forms of violence against women).
2 The Assembly considers that the Council of Europe must continue to play a pioneering role in promoting equality between women and men in all the member states. Progress has been made in recent years, but there are still many inequalities in Europe and these call for active policies to empower women and help them to make an active contribution to intercultural and inter-religious dialogue.
3 In this context, the Assembly reiterates the recommendation it made to the Committee of Ministers in Recommendation 1798 (2007) to draw up a new protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights establishing the principle of equality between women and men as a fundamental human right and asks the Committee of Ministers to begin the work of drafting this without further delay.
4 The Assembly invites the Committee of Ministers to take specific action to empower women in society and, in particular, to promote the holding of a 5th United Nations World Conference on Women in accordance with Recommendation 1716 (2005), and to organise a preparatory European regional conference, which could have the theme of empowering women in a modern, multicultural society, with the aim of:
4.1 bringing together all the stakeholders in the promotion of women’s rights and in the active contribution of women to intercultural and inter-religious dialogue in Europe (representatives of governments, parliaments, local and regional authorities and civil society, as well as religious leaders);
4.2 making a review of possible measures (best practice and new suggestions) aimed at empowering women in modern societies, including in intercultural and interreligious dialogue;
4.3 setting a progressive agenda based on common values aimed at empowering women in society;
4.4 devising a mechanism for the periodic monitoring of the progress achieved on this agenda.
5 Furthermore, in the area of intercultural and interreligious dialogue, the Parliamentary Assembly invites the Committee of Ministers to mainstream gender equality aspects urgently into the intercultural and inter-religious dialogue activities of the Council of Europe and, in particular, to:
5.1 take action to raise awareness among representatives of religions and civil society in this field while rejecting all cultural and/or religious relativism which undermines women’s fundamental rights;
5.2 develop programmes aimed at promoting active participation by women in intercultural and inter-religious dialogue, including in events held by the Council of Europe on the subject.

C Explanatory memorandum, by Mrs Circene

1 Introduction

1 In July 2006, I presented a motion for a resolution on the subject of “the role of women in modern societies, including in intercultural and inter-religious dialogue” together with a number of colleagues. The motion was referred to the committee for report, and I was appointed rapporteur in December 2006 (the Committee on Culture, Science and Education will prepare an opinion, for which the rapporteur is Mr Pollozhani, a member of the European Democrat Group from “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”).
2 Since my appointment as rapporteur, I have consulted some Latvian and international experts on the matter and organised a small hearing in spring 2007 in Riga. At my instigation, an exchange of views on the theme was held during our meeting in Istanbul on 6 December 2007 to allow us to refine our proposals and to identify concrete measures which could be proposed to the Parliamentary Assembly to empower women in society and promote the contribution of women to intercultural and inter-religious dialogue.Note At the meeting of 17 April 2008, the committee proposed that the title of the report should be changed to “Empowering women in a modern, multicultural society”.
3 On the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, I believe that the Council of Europe, as an organisation that champions human rights, must remain in the vanguard of those fighting to promote women’s rights and equal opportunities for women and men and combating discrimination and all forms of violence against women.
4 Women have a growing role in political, public and economic life in Europe and have legitimate hopes that their rights will be enshrined in legal instruments and in practice. However, as I will attempt to show in this report, equality between women and men, which forms an integral part of the human rights that the Council of Europe promotes, is far from having been achieved in all 47 of the Council of Europe’s member states. On the contrary, we must continue and intensify our efforts to promote equal opportunities for women and men in a Europe grounded in multicultural societies which advocate integration and dialogue between the communities from which they are made up. Empowering women therefore is a key to the development of modern societies, based on respect for the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals, as well as measures to promote equal opportunities for women and men and intercultural and inter-religious dialogue.

2 Empowering women in the Council of Europe member states

5 The role of women in society has evolved differently under different cultural, historical and religious conditions. While the strengthening of the democratic rights of women and a tendency to gender equality are historically recent (one hundred years) in even the most prosperous of our societies, there remains much to be achieved in emerging and developing economies.
6 The Assembly has made it clear on several occasions that violations of women’s human rights are never acceptable and that cultural and religious relativism cannot justify or excuse such violations. Thus, for example, Assembly Resolution 1464 (2005) on women and religion in Europe explicitly stated in paragraph 6: “It is the duty of the member states of the Council of Europe to protect women against violations of their rights in the name of religion and to promote and fully implement gender equality. States must not accept any religious or cultural relativism of women’s human rights [emphasis added]. They must not agree to justify discrimination and inequality affecting women on grounds such as physical or biological differentiation based on or attributed to religion. …”.
7 There has been a lot of progress in many member states over recent decades when it comes to the realisation of gender equality (not only in theory, but also in practice). In most Council of Europe member states, women take an active part in political, public and economic life and contribute to the development of the society they live in. Unfortunately, however, “tradition” (be it based on religion or culture) often still hinders women and girls from achieving their full potential and participating equally in the development of their society. The 2007 UNICEF report on the situation of children in the world notes that gender equality gives double dividends: healthy, well-educated women raise healthy, well educated children.
8 The following are some examples mentioned in recent Assembly reports. Violence against women and girls (in particular domestic violence) is still amazingly widespread in Council of Europe member states.Note Extreme violations of women’s human rights, such as so-called “honour crimes”,Note forced marriagesNote and female genital mutilation,Note though rare, are on the rise in some communities, even in Europe. Recently, the Assembly issued a further appeal for member states to “combat all forms of discrimination and violence (particularly forced marriages, sexual mutilation of women, so-called ‘honour crimes’) which, in the name of misinterpreted religious texts or customs, violate the fundamental rights of women and equality between women and men”.Note
9 More generally, in most member countries, women are seriously under-represented in parliament, government and other senior positions in societyNote and opposition to “positive measures” (such as quotas), which could quickly remedy this shortcoming, is increasing in certain quarters. Discrimination against women on the labour market is the norm.Note The “gender pay gap” is as legendary as it is real, as is the “glass ceiling”. Even access to the labour market is not always guaranteed, since there is hardly any gender equality when it comes to shouldering the burden of family and household responsibilities.Note Stigma about women as housewives leads to a situation, such as in Germany and the Netherlands, where women with higher education often choose to stay at home to fulfil their obligations as mothers or wives or to work a reduced working day. In the Netherlands only one in ten professional women with children works full time in relation to 9 out of 10 professional men who have children. We are witnessing the feminisation of poverty.Note
10 It therefore seems clear to me that there is a need for the role of women in modern societies to be empowered, so that the current backlash against gender equality and women’s rights can be countered on the basis of a consensus in society as a whole. It has already been proven in countless studies that gender equality and respect for women’s rights brings with it significant advantages for society as a whole: the more gender equal a society is, and the more effort it invests in promoting women’s rights, the more prosperous, healthy and peaceful a society usually is. Thus, for example, investing in the education of girls and promoting a higher participation of women in the labour force brings measurable dividends in terms of economic growth and of the population’s health, from which the whole of society benefits. The role of education in this area is crucial and governments should pay it the utmost attention. Our committee, which is currently preparing a report on the rights of today’s girls: the rights of tomorrow’s women (rapporteur: Ms Cliveti, Romania, SOC) will have the opportunity to go further into this matter.Note
11 At all events, the Council of Europe must remain at the forefront of efforts to promote gender equality and women’s rights in our societies. The Assembly has recently adopted positions in which it clearly states the need to enhance equality between women and men and women’s rights – I am referring in particular to the Assembly’s texts on respect for the principle of gender equality in civil law,Note women and religionNote and access to safe and legal abortion in Europe.Note I also welcome the adoption of Recommendation Rec(2007)17 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on gender equality standards and mechanisms, which I hope will encourage member states to assess the progress made on equality between women and men and take all the necessary steps to ensure that women can participate fully in their countries’ economic, social and political life. However, there is still a great deal left to do and we must continue to campaign for active policies which strengthen women’s rights and empower them.

3 How to promote gender equality and women’s rights in our societies

12 Gender equality and women’s rights do not necessarily have to conflict with a country’s traditions, as long as these traditions are interpreted in a spirit of tolerance and openness from a religious and cultural point of view. The aim of promoting gender equality and women’s rights is not to undermine a country’s or a community’s identity, or the possibility for individuals to make their own choices about their way of life. Thus, for example, no woman should be forced to go out to work if she would rather stay at home to look after her children. However, if a woman has no real choice but to stay at home to look after her children, because, for example, her husband does not want her to go out to work, she has not been properly educated as a girl, she is not offered a job because she is a woman, she is paid a lower wage than her husband, she is the victim of discrimination in the labour market or she cannot afford suitable childcare, this is a different matter altogether. As an example of the contribution of women to the economy, in the Netherlands they contribute 27%. Estimates show that if women worked a little more outside their homes and thus increased their contribution to the Dutch economy, say to about 35%, this would cause the domestic product to increase by 11% or by about €60 billion per year.
13 Similarly, many women and girls have little selfconfidence or belief in their own worth, because some societies so clearly favour men and boys. For example, because society puts pressure on them to do so, women can be made to perpetuate their own discrimination. This is a particularly big problem in countries outside the Council of Europe, such as China, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, to name just a few countries, where the preference for boys (and the societal standing of men) is so engrained in tradition that it is not unusual for women in some parts of India to kill their newborn daughters themselves, or for women in China to abort female foetuses as soon as they find out they are expecting a girl. In societies which value girls less than boys, selective abortion of unborn children because they are girls and the murder of girls at birth has resulted in a world “deficit” of millions of women and girls.
14 Traditional practices in Council of Europe member states rarely go as far as this “feminicide”. However, most of our societies can still be characterised as more or less patriarchal and women often have a relatively subservient position within the family and society – in particular where patriarchal cultural and religious traditions are strongest, such as in certain rural areas, religious “strongholds” of fundamentalists (of whatever religion – Roman Catholic, Evangelical Christian, Orthodox Christian, Orthodox Jewish or Muslim, etc.) and migrant communities (seeking to keep traditions alive in a foreign country which may already have been abandoned in the countries of origin).
15 What is needed therefore is a positive agenda designed to empower women in society. This agenda should be based on common values which can be accepted by all societies, cultures and religions. It should be a progressive one which helps societies move towards these common values while respecting core traditions (which do not violate women’s human rights). This agenda should also include the active participation of women in initiatives aimed at promoting intercultural and inter-religious dialogue, which should always include the gender equality dimension.
16 For such an agenda to have any hope of success, it is necessary to involve all stakeholders. These stakeholders are not only women (represented, for example, by the women’s movement), but also men: men who may think that they have more to lose than to gain from women’s empowerment, especially men who hold powerful positions in society, such as decision makers in the public and political sphere (members of government or parliament), religious leaders or economic magnates. It will only be possible to move forwards with a progressive agenda on gender equality and women’s rights if we can prove to them that the whole of society – including themselves – stands to gain from a strengthening of women’s role in society. In this respect, I would like to welcome the motion for a resolution tabled recently by Mr Mendes Bota and other colleagues seeking to “involve men to achieve gender equality”, which will enable the Parliamentary Assembly to work specifically on this issueNote (rapporteur: Steingrímur Sigfússon, Iceland, UEL).
17 I think that one of the reasons why we are currently suffering from a backlash against women’s rights is that we do not, at the moment, have the men “on board” with us. The (more than ten years old) Beijing Platform for Action will only be realised effectively – including in Council of Europe member states – when men realise that women’s empowerment is in their interest too.
18 Therefore, on the global scale, I would like to suggest that the Assembly, in accordance with Recommendation 1716 (2005), support efforts to hold a 5th United Nations World Conference on Women, which could relate to the recent challenges that have been posed to women’s rights and gender equality (the spread of HIV/Aids among women, women’s access to new information technologies, trafficking in human beings and the deliberate victimisation of women during armed conflicts), while rejecting any move to call into question the decisions taken in Beijing in 1995 at the UN’s last World Conference on Women (WCW). Such a conference could promote the strengthening of women’s role in society on a global scale and thus make a significant contribution to the aim of this report. Allow me to cite from paragraphs 3, 5 and 7 of Recommendation 1716 as my “closing remarks”:
“3. The Parliamentary Assembly considers that this is not the right moment to give in to ‘gender equality fatigue’ and complacency or to give up on the Beijing Platform for Action and its important goals. The reality of the situation of women in the world today is alarming and in some areas even worse than in 1995. The backlash against women’s rights and gender equality has taken many forms: …5. The Assembly considers that only a new WCW can bring about the required worldwide effort and political impetus, and that the organisation of such a conference is, in fact, overdue. However, a renegotiation of the Beijing decisions needs to be precluded: the 5th WCW should be called to deal exclusively with the new and emerging challenges to women’s rights and gender equality. …7. The Assembly thus recommends that the Committee of Ministers:7.1. promote a United Nations 5th World Conference on Women, excluding the possibility of reopening the Beijing Platform for Action for debate, to take place no later than the year 2010;7.2. invite the governments of the Council of Europe member states to support this initiative;7.3. organise a preparatory European regional conference no later than the year 2007.”

4 Strengthening the role of women in intercultural and inter-religious dialogue, specifically in Council of Europe activities

19 The Council of Europe has carried out various activities in the area of the participation of women in intercultural and inter-religious dialogue. It should be recalled that the Assembly adopted a resolution and a recommendation in 2004 on conflict prevention and resolution: the role of women,Note which details a series of measures aimed at getting women involved in the prevention and resolution of conflict.
20 In the intergovernmental sector, the 5th European Ministerial Conference on Equality between Women and Men, held in January 2003 in Skopje, was dedicated to “Democratisation, conflict prevention and peace building: the perspectives and the roles of women”.Note The Steering Committee for Equality between Women and Men (CDEG) published, in 2005, a report on the role of women and men in intercultural and inter-religious dialogue for the prevention of conflict, for peace building and for democratisation.Note At its meeting in November 2007, it also finalised a draft recommendation on the role of women and men in conflict prevention and resolution and in peace building addressed to member states, which should be examined in the coming months in the Committee of Ministers.
21 At the same time, the Council of Europe will publish in 2008 a “White Paper on Intercultural Dialogue”,Note which will set out the Organisation’s main policy orientations in this field and provide policy makers and practitioners at national, regional and local levels with guidelines and analytical and methodological tools for promoting intercultural dialogue. The Assembly Committee on Culture, Science and Education was involved with the consultation process, which was completed in June 2007. The North-South Centre of the Council of Europe organised a consultation dedicated to the theme “Women in Intercultural Dialogue” on 14 and 15 April 2007 in Geneva.
22 The Council of Europe also held a European conference on “The religious dimension of intercultural dialogue” in San Marino on 23 and 24 April 2007. The representatives of religions and civil society at this conference called for an open and transparent dialogue based on the values of the Council of Europe to be set up, in a spirit of consultation, as from 2008 (paragraph 12). However, only the Council of Europe representatives at the conference regarded the participation of women in that process as very important (paragraph 11).Note
23 It is time that these multiple Council of Europe efforts to promote the role of women in intercultural and interreligious dialogue were properly represented in the Council of Europe activity programmes as a whole. Initiatives that target women more specifically should, for example, be developed within parliamentary co-operation programmes, particularly touching on the question of “frozen conflicts”, and in “confidence-building measures” programmes, which could be proposed by the Organisation.

5 Proposed recommendations

24 The Assembly considers it necessary to counter the current backlash against gender equality and women’s rights on the basis of a consensus in society as a whole.
25 The Assembly should invite member states to strengthen the role of women in modern society and encourage them to:
  • combat all cultural and religious relativism, which still often prevents women and young girls from reaching their full potential and participating equally in the development of their society;
  • combat discrimination against women and genderbased violence;
  • promote “positive measures” to achieve balanced participation of women and men in public, political and economic life;
  • make education and training of girls and women a priority issue and place emphasis on promoting an equal role for women and girls in education programmes.
26 The Assembly should invite the Committee of Ministers to mainstream gender equality aspects urgently into the intercultural and inter-religious dialogue activities of the Council of Europe and, in particular, to:
  • take action to raise awareness among representatives of religions and civil society in this area while rejecting all cultural and/or religious relativism;
  • develop programmes aimed at promoting participation by women in intercultural and inter-religious dialogue.
27 The Assembly should, in addition, invite the Committee of Ministers to make a separate effort to strengthen the role of women in modern societies and, in particular, to:
  • make a review of possible measures (best practice and new suggestions) aimed at strengthening the role of women in modern societies, including in intercultural and inter-religious dialogue;
  • hold a major Council of Europe conference on the subject, to which all stakeholders would be invited (including both women and men, governmental, parliamentary and civil society representatives, as well as religious leaders) and which would set a progressive agenda based on common values aimed at strengthening the role of women in society;
  • carry out periodic monitoring of the progress achieved on this agenda.
28 Finally, the Assembly should start to lobby more decisively for the holding of a 5th UN World Conference on Women, as promoted by the Assembly in Recommendation 1716 (2005).

Reporting committee: Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men.

Reference to committee: Doc. 10999 and Reference No. 3270 of 2 October 2006.

Draft resolution and draft recommendation unanimously adopted by the committee on 29 April 2008.

Members of the committee: Mr Steingrímur J. Sigfússon (Chairperson), Mr José Mendes Bota (1st Vice-Chairperson), Mrs Ingrīda Circene (2nd Vice-Chairperson), Mrs Anna Čurdová (3rd Vice-Chairperson), Mr Frank Aaen, Mr John Austin, Mr Lokman Ayva, Ms Marieluise Beck, Mrs Anna Benaki, Mrs Oksana Bilozir (alternate: Ms Herasym’yuk), Mrs Olena Bondarenko, Mr Pedrag Bošcović, Mr Jean-Guy Branger, Mr Igor Chernyshenko, Mr James Clappison (alternate: Ms McCafferty), Mrs Minodora Cliveti, Mr Ignacio Cosidó Gutiérrez (alternate: Mr Blanco), Ms Diana Çuli, Mr Ivica Dačiċ, Mr Marcello Dell’utri, Mr José Luiz Del Roio, Mrs Lydie Err, Mrs Catherine Fautrier, Mrs Mirjana Ferić-Vac, Mrs Maria Emelina Fernández Soriano, Ms Sonia Fertuzinhos, Mrs Alena Gajdůšková, Mrs Ruth Genner (alternate: Mr Müri), Mrs Svetlana Goryacheva (alternate: Mr Lebedev), Mrs Claude Greff, Mr Attila Gruber, Mrs Carina Hägg, Mr Ilie Ilacu, Mrs Fatme Ilyaz, Ms Nataša Jovanoviċ, Mrs Birgen Kele, Mrs Krista Kiuru, Mrs Irine Kurdadzé, Mrs Angela Leahu, Mr Terry Leyden, Mrs Mirjana Malić, Mrs Nursuna Memecan, Mrs Danguté Mikutiené, Mrs Ilinka Mitreva, Mr Burkhardt Müller-Sönksen, Mrs Christine Muttonen, Mrs Hermine Naghdalyan, Mr Gebhard Negele, Mrs Yuliya Novikova (alternate: Mr Popescu), Mr Mark Oaten, Mr Kent Olsson, Mr Jaroslav Paška, Mrs Maria Agostina Pellegatta, Mrs Antigoni Papadopoulos, Mr Claudio Podeschi, Mrs Majda Potrata, Mr Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando, Mr Frédéric Reiss, Mrs Mailis Reps, Ms Jadwiga Rotnicka (alternate: Ms Nykiel), Mrs Marlene Rupprecht, Mrs Klára Sándor, Mr Giannicola Sinisi, Ms Miet Smet, Mrs Darinka Stantcheva, Mrs Tineke Strik, Mr Michał Stuligrosz, Mrs Doris Stump, Mr Han Ten Broeke, Mr Vasile Ioan Dănuţ Ungureanu, Mrs Tatiana Volozhinskaya, Mr Marek Wikiński, Mr Paul Wille, Mrs Betty Williams, Mr Gert Winkelmeier, Ms Karin S. Woldseth, Mrs Gisela Wurm, Mr Vladimir Zhidkikh, Mrs Anna Roudoula Zissi.

NB: The names of the members present at the meeting are printed in bold.

See 21st Sitting, 24 June 2008 (adoption of the draft resolution and draft recommendation, as amended); and Resolution 1615 and Recommendation 1838.

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