Georgia should ensure effective implementation of the anti-discrimination legislation and improve protection of human rights in the fields of labour and the environment

Published in World
Friday, 15 July 2022 13:37

Strasbourg, 15 July 2022 - The Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatović, published today the report following her visit to Georgia in February 2022, with recommendations on combating discrimination against LGBTI people and those belonging to religious minorities, as well as protecting human rights in the fields of labour and the environment.

To ensure that LGBTI people and persons belonging to religious minorities live free from violence and discrimination, the Commissioner calls on the authorities to address the inadequate implementation of legal standards and the persistent deficiencies in combating impunity for hate crimes and incitement to violence, and to remove the discriminatory barriers to the enjoyment of their rights.

The Commissioner notes that LGBTI people remain affected by instances of hate crime and pervasive discrimination in Georgia. She calls on the authorities to step up efforts to combat impunity for human rights violations against them and stresses that raising awareness among the public and training relevant categories of professionals on the importance of their role in promoting equality, dignity and non-discrimination should be a priority. She adds that hate speech against LGBTI people in the public sphere is an issue of concern and that an appropriate response to hate speech, including when voiced by officials, religious and community leaders and media professionals, is needed through an effective use of law enforcement channels and other mechanisms, such as prevention, monitoring, self-regulation, and counter-speech. In light of repeated occurrence of LGBTI people having been denied their right to peaceful assembly, the Commissioner stresses that authorities should adopt comprehensive measures enabling LGBTI people to freely express their views and assemble. Regarding transgender people, the authorities should facilitate legal gender recognition without invasive medical requirements and in a quick, transparent, and accessible manner.

As regards religious minorities, the Commissioner urges the authorities to ensure effective investigation, prosecution, and dissuasive and proportionate sanctioning for hate crimes committed on the grounds of religion and to remove discriminatory barriers in accessing places of worship and in regulating tax and religious property matters. “An open dialogue with all religious communities should be established”, she stated. To support this dialogue, she underlines the need for a meaningful partnership between competent authorities and religious denominations, for changes to the relevant regulations and for continuous training and awareness raising activities targeting officials and the general public. In addition, the Commissioner notes that the authorities should pursue their efforts in eliminating religious biases and stereotyping from school textbooks.

Noting that a decade of deregulation and the abolishment of the labour Inspectorate in 2006 led to a significant deterioration in the protection of labour rights in Georgia, the Commissioner welcomes the recent comprehensive legal and institutional reforms and urges the authorities to close the remaining legislative gaps by establishing a minimum wage compliant with international standards, by ensuring equal access to parental leave, and by developing clear guidelines on the duration and compensation for overtime work. “It is now important to ensure a full implementation of the labour standards, including the anti-discrimination provisions”, she stated. To this end, it is crucial to provide the Labour Inspectorate with sufficient and adequately trained human resources and an appropriate budget. While welcoming recent progress in the reduction of workplace accidents, the Commissioner calls on the authorities to further improve occupational safety at the workplace. She also recommends promoting and supporting diversity and equality at work, including with regard to the integration of persons with disabilities. The Commissioner further recommends that the authorities address the gender pay gap and gender stereotypes in employment, to continuously raise awareness about sexual harassment, ways to report it and available remedies, as well as to take resolute action to address child labour and prevent and combat child trafficking.

As regards human rights and the environment, the Commissioner calls on the authorities to strengthen the implementation of the existing national legal framework, to guarantee public access to information and meaningful and transparent public participation in environmental decision-making processes at various levels of government, as well as to improve air quality and the tracking of air pollution. They should also develop and implement preventive measures to reduce the risk of environmental disasters and to ensure protection of the rights of people displaced by such disasters or owing to climate change. The authorities should also provide a safe and enabling environment for environmental human rights defenders and activists and support their work

 

 

The UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution on the occupied territories of Georgia

Published in Politics
Monday, 04 April 2022 10:45

On 1 April 2022, in Geneva, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on the Occupied Territories of Georgia - "Cooperation with Georgia."
The resolution of Georgia was presented by the First Deputy Foreign Minister, Lasha Darsalia at the Council session. In his speech, he spoke about the difficult humanitarian situation in the Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali. He noted that despite the direct call of the Human Rights Council and the efforts of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Russian occupation forces continue to prevent the Office of the High Commissioner and other international human rights monitoring mechanisms from entering Abkhazia and Tskhinvali.
The First Deputy Foreign Minister once again underlined the decision of the European Court of Human Rights of 21 January 2021 - Georgia v. Russia - which confirms the occupation of Georgian territories by Russia and its effective control over them.
In his speech Lasha Darsalia underlined that Russia's pattern of behaviour towards its neighbors remains unchanged. Georgia experienced Russia’s full-scale military aggression in 2008. Recent announcement on conduction of so-called referendum in the occupied South Ossetia on unification with RF is yet another demonstration of continues aggressive policy vis a vis Georgia.   This pattern of behavior brazenly undermines the entire international rules-based order and poses grave threat to regional and global peace and security.
The First Deputy Minister reviewed the latest report of the High Commissioner, which reflects the grave humanitarian situation in the Russian-occupied regions of Abkhazia and Tskhinvali and the gross human rights violations experienced by the conflict-affected population in both regions, including various forms of discrimination based on ethnicity, and violation of property rights, restriction of movement and education in the mother tongue.
Lasha Darsalia noted that the report provides facts about the killing of ethnic Georgians in 2014-2019 and emphasizes that the failure to bring to justice the perpetrators of the crimes contributes to  strengthening the sense of impunity in the occupied regions. He also spoke about illegal cases of deprivation of liberty and noted that Georgian citizens are still illegally held captive by the occupation regime. At the same time, he stressed the need for the international community to work for their release.
According to the First Deputy Minister, the dire humanitarian situation in the occupied territories of Georgia clearly indicates the need for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other international human rights monitoring mechanisms to get access to the  occupied regions of Georgia.
During the discussion of the resolution initiated by the Georgian side, statements of support were made by the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Finland, and Lithuania. In its resolution adopted on 1 April, the Human Rights Council reaffirmed its support for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders.
In its resolution, the Human Rights Council expresses serious concern also at various forms of reported discrimination against ethnic Georgians, violations of the right to life, deprivation of liberty, arbitrary detentions and kidnappings, infringements of the right to property, violations of the right to health, restrictions on education in one’s native language in both Georgian regions, and the continued practice of demolition of the ruins of houses belonging to internally displaced persons in the Tskhinvali region/South Ossetia, Georgia, refusal of medical evacuations that led to the deaths of people and further isolation of the regions. The Resolution maintains that the increasing restrictions on free movement in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic further exacerbated the humanitarian, social and economic situation on the ground and had particularly harmful effects on women’s and girls' rights.
The Resolution also expresses serious concern at the continuous process of installation and advancement of barbed wire fences and different artificial barriers along the administrative boundary line in Abkhazia, Georgia and Tskhinvali region, Georgia and adjacent areas.
The Resolution underlines the importance of the Geneva International Discussions established on the basis of the ceasefire agreement of 12 August 2008.
It is noteworthy that the resolution refers to the decision of the European Court of Human Rights of 21 January  2021, which claims that Russia is legally responsible for violations of international law and fundamental human rights during and after the Russia-Georgia war in August 2008, and for the occupation and effective control over Georgian territories.
The resolution condemns the so-called Parliamentary elections in the occupied region of Abkhazia on 12 March 2022  and so-called presidential elections scheduled for April of this year in the occupied region of Tskhinvali.
The UN Human Rights Council expresses serious concern at the repeated denial of access to international and regional monitors, including United Nations human rights mechanisms to both Georgian
regions by those in control of those regions and calls for immediate and unimpeded access to be given to the Office of the High Commissioner and international and regional human rights mechanisms to Abkhazia, Georgia and the Tskhinvali  region/South Ossetia, Georgia.
The UN Human Rights Council requests the High Commissioner to present to the Human Rights Council an oral update on the follow-up to the  present resolution and to present a written report on  developments relating to and the implementation of the present resolution at its at its 50th and 51st  sessions.

Public Defender Meets with Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights in Strasbourg

Published in Society
Wednesday, 26 January 2022 13:15

On 25 January 2022, during her official visit to Strasbourg, Nino Lomjaria, Public Defender of Georgia, met with Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Public Defender briefed the Human Rights Commissioner on the human rights situation in Georgia. Media environment, situation of equality and the need for monitoring human rights in the occupied territories were also topics of discussion.

Nino Lomjaria stressed the importance of the Commissioner’s support to human rights defenders and media representatives, who have been particularly pressured and attacked in recent years.

Talks also focused on the abolition of the State Inspector’s institution. The Public Defender informed the Council of Europe Commissioner of the constitutional complaint filed by her to request the declaration of the legislative changes adopted by the Parliament of Georgia on December 30, 2021 as unconstitutional.

Public Defender of Georgia

An Eastern Partnership that delivers for all

Published in World
Wednesday, 01 April 2020 14:48

High Representative of the European Union Josep Borrell and EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Olivér Várhelyi

In this challenging time, marked by the coronavirus outbreak, we can see how important international cooperation is. Over the last decade, the Eastern Partnership has brought concrete benefits for people in Georgia and across the European Union’s eastern neighbourhood. In particular:

  • Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of Georgia’s economy, and since 2009, EU support has helped over 40,000 Georgian SMEs and microenterprises access loans on better terms to develop their activities, increase incomes and create jobs;
  • Since 2013, EU assistance to link Georgia’s education programmes to market needs have helped over 30,000 Georgians find employment through more relevant vocation education courses and labour market tools such as Worknet.ge;
  • Over 90,000 Georgians living in smaller towns and villages have easier access to 200 public and banking services as well as free internet and libraries through the EU’s support to the establishment of 76 Government Community Centres throughout the country
  • Under Erasmus+, almost 7,500 students and academic staff exchanges have taken place between Georgia and the EU. Over 9,300 young people and youth workers from Georgia have been involved in joint exchanges, training and volunteering projects.

To ensure our partnership continues to deliver in the fast changing world of today, we need to do even more and better. To shape our priorities, we consulted last year with people, businesses, organisations and governments of 33 countries from across our shared region. While there was an appreciation for the results achieved, there was also a clear expectation that we enhance our cooperation when it comes to jobs and prosperity, investments, connectivity, good governance and common challenges such as climate change and the digital transformation.

And now we presented our response to these consultations with long-term objectives for our policy beyond 2020. Our continued engagement with the Eastern Partnership countries remains a key priority for the European Union. Our proposals for the future are ambitious yet achievable. They build on existing cooperation but also identify areas where we need to go further. They are built on fundamental values as the heart of the EU project, such as the rule of law, protection of human rights and fight against corruption.

Concretely, we are proposing to our partners to work together on the following objectives: 

  • Together for resilient, sustainable and integrated economies: Strengthening the economy is key to meeting citizens’ expectations and reducing inequality and for making our partnership a success. We will focus on job creation and economic opportunities, through increased trade, investments, stronger connectivity, in particular in transport and energy, and linking education, research and innovation better with private sector needs.
  • Together for accountable institutions, the rule of law and security: Good governance and democratic institutions, the rule of law, successful anti-corruption policies and security are essential for sustainable development and the consolidation of democracy. They are the backbone of resilient states and societies as well as strong economies.
  • Together for environmental and climate resilience: To protect our world for generations to come, we all need to take responsibility. The EU will work with its partners to improve the resource-efficiency of economies, develop new green jobs and promote local and renewable sources of energy. 
  • Together for a resilient digital transformation: The EU will further invest in the digital transformation of our partners, aiming to extend the benefits of the Digital Single Market to partner countries. Our joint work will also focus on strengthening e-Governance, scaling up digital start-ups and supporting the cyber resilience of partner countries.  
  • Together for resilient, fair and inclusive societies:  Free and fair elections together with transparent, citizen-centred and accountable public administrations are essential for democracy. The EU will continue to focus on these key areas, engaging with civil society, which needs to be given sufficient space, and supporting free, plural and independent media and human rights, as well as ensuring mobility and people-to-people contacts, all particularly important also due to growing disinformation against EU values.  

Over the past decade, trade between the EU and its eastern partners has nearly doubled. Over 125,000 small and medium-sized businesses have directly benefitted from EU funding, creating or sustaining more than 250,000 jobs. We are better connected thanks to improved transport links and easier access to high capacity broadband. And according to recent surveys, the EU is the most trusted international institution among Eastern Partnership citizens. We will keep this results-oriented approach and look to do much more together in the face of today’s challenges, including when it comes to crises such as COVID-19 pandemic.

And through this we will build an even more ambitious Eastern Partnership that delivers for all and continues to bring our shared continent closer together.

Commissioner Mijatović highlights main human rights challenges in Europe

Published in Politics
Tuesday, 09 April 2019 16:13

Today the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, presented her first annual activity report in a debate before the Parliamentary Assembly of the organisation.

While the report covers a variety of the most pressing human rights issues in the Council of Europe member states, the Commissioner highlights migration, women’s rights, human rights of persons with disability, the protection of human rights defenders and the safety of journalists as the most recurrent topics of her work.

“Migration is among the most pressing human rights issues on my agenda”, she says. “National authorities should improve the treatment of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees, and put human rights and the principle of responsibility sharing at the centre of their migration and asylum policies”.

As regards women’s rights, the Commissioner underscores the need to tackle gender stereotypes and prejudices and to put an end to violence against women. She also calls on national authorities to reduce the gender pay gap, which remains a “major obstacle to effective equality between men and women, and a widespread problem all over Council of Europe member states, both in the public and private sectors.”

The protection of human rights defenders and of journalists also requires more attention by the authorities of member states. “Violent physical attacks, as well as laws and practices significantly reduce the ability of human rights defenders and journalists to provide their contribution to the democratic fabric of our society.

Another problem that the report highlights is the difficulty that many member states still face in tackling discrimination or deep rooted prejudices against persons with disabilities, children, older persons, Roma and LGBTI people. The Commissioner notes that long-standing cultural, social and economic problems continue to breed inequalities and segregation.

“There is still much work to be done in order to protect human rights throughout Europe. I am determined to commit my energy to this task, and I fully intend to develop constructive co-operation with governments and civil society for the common goal of upholding human rights.”

70th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Published in World
Monday, 10 December 2018 15:01

Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

Geneva (6 December 2018) - On 10 December, we mark the 70th anniversary of that extraordinary document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It is, I firmly believe, as relevant today as it was when it was adopted 70 years ago.

Arguably even more so, as over the passing decades, it has passed from being an aspirational treatise into a set of standards that has permeated virtually every area of international law.

It has withstood the tests of the passing years, and the advent of dramatic new technologies and social, political and economic developments that its drafters could not have foreseen.

Its precepts are so fundamental that they can be applied to every new dilemma.

The Universal Declaration gives us the principles we need to govern artificial intelligence and the digital world.

It lays out a framework of responses that can be used to counter the effects of climate change on people, if not on the planet.

It provides us with the basis for ensuring equal rights for groups, such as LGBTI people, whom few would even dare name in 1948.

Everyone is entitled to all the freedoms listed in the Universal Declaration "without distinction of any kind such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status."

The last words of that sentence – "other status" – have frequently been cited to expand the list of people specifically protected. Not just LGBTI people, but also persons with disabilities – who now have a Convention of their own, adopted in 2006. Elderly people, who may get one as well.  Indigenous peoples.  Minorities of all sorts. 
Everyone.

Gender is a concept that is addressed in almost every clause of the Declaration. For its time, the document was remarkably lacking in sexist language. The document refers to "everyone," "all" or "no one" throughout its 30 Articles.

This trailblazing usage reflects the fact that, for the first time in the history of international law-making, women played a prominent role in drafting the Universal Declaration.

The role of Eleanor Roosevelt, who chaired the drafting committee is well known. Less well known is the fact that women from Denmark, Pakistan, the Communist bloc and other countries around the world also made crucial contributions. 

Indeed it is thanks primarily to the Indian drafter Hansa Mehta, that the French phrase "all men are born free and equal," taken from the Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen, became in the Universal Declaration "all human beings are born free and equal." 

A simple but – in terms of women’s rights and of minority rights – revolutionary phrase. 

Hansa Mehta objected to Eleanor Roosevelt’s assertion that "men" was understood to include women – the widely-accepted idea at that time. She argued that countries could use this wording to restrict the rights of women, rather than expand them. 

Born out of the devastation of two World Wars, the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the Holocaust, the Universal Declaration is geared to prevent similar disasters, and the tyranny and violations which caused them. It sets out ways to prevent us from continuing to harm each other, and aims to provide us with "freedom from fear and want."

It sets limits on the powerful, and inspires hope among the powerless.

Over the seven decades since its adoption, the Universal Declaration has underpinned countless beneficial changes in the lives of millions of people across the world, permeating some 90 national Constitutions and numerous national, regional and international laws and institutions.

But, 70 years after its adoption, the work the Universal Declaration lays down for us to do is far from over. And it never will be. 

In 30 crystal-clear articles, the Universal Declaration shows us the measures which will end extreme poverty, and provide food, housing, health, education, jobs and opportunities for everyone.

It lights the path to a world without wars and Holocausts, without torture or famine or injustice. A world where misery is minimized and no one is too rich or powerful to evade justice.

A world where every human has the same worth as every other human, not just at birth but for the duration of their entire lives.

The drafters wanted to prevent another war by tackling the root causes, by setting down the rights everyone on the planet could expect and demand simply because they exist – and to spell out in no uncertain terms what cannot be done to human beings.

The poor, the hungry, the displaced and the marginalized – drafters aimed to establish systems to support and protect them.

The right to food and to development is crucial. But this has to be achieved without discrimination on the basis of race, gender or other status. You cannot say to your people – I will feed you, but I won’t let you speak or enjoy your religion or culture.

The rights to land and adequate housing are absolutely basic – and yet in some countries, austerity measures are eroding those very rights for the most vulnerable.

Climate change can undermine the right to life, to food, to shelter and to health. These are all related – and the Universal Declaration and international human rights conventions provide a roadmap to their achievement.

I am convinced that the human rights ideal, laid down in this Declaration, has been one of the most constructive advances of ideas in human history – as well as one of the most successful.

But today, that progress is under threat.

We are born ‘free and equal,’ but millions of people on this planet do not stay free and equal. Their dignity is trampled and their rights are violated on a daily basis.

In many countries, the fundamental recognition that all human beings are equal, and have inherent rights, is under attack. The institutions so painstakingly set up by States to achieve common solutions to common problems are being undermined.

And the comprehensive web of international, regional and national laws and treaties that gave teeth to the vision of the Universal Declaration is also being chipped away by governments and politicians increasingly focused on narrow, nationalist interests. 

We all need to stand up more energetically for the rights it showed us everyone should have – not just ourselves, but all our fellow human beings – and which we are at constant risk of eroding through our own, and our leaders’ forgetfulness, neglect or wanton disregard.

I will end, where the Universal Declaration begins, with the powerful promise – and warning – contained in the first lines of its Preamble:
"…Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.

"…Disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief, and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.

"…It is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse as a last resort to rebellion against tyranny and oppression that human rights should be protected by the rule of law."

And we would do well to pay more attention to the final words of that same Preamble:

"…every individual and every organ of society keeping this Declaration constantly in mind shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms  and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction."

We have come a long way down this path since 1948. We have taken many of progressive measures prescribed by the Universal Declaration at the national and international levels.

But we still have a long way to go, and too many of our leaders seem to have forgotten these powerful and prophetic words. We need to rectify that, not just today, not just on the 70th anniversary next Monday, but every day, every year.

Human rights defenders the world over are on the frontlines of defending the Universal Declaration through their work, their dedication and their sacrifice. No matter where we live or what our circumstances are, most of us do have the power to make a difference – to make our homes, communities, countries, and our world better – or worse – for others. Each of us needs to do our part to breathe life into the beautiful dream of the Universal Declaration.

For this was the gift of our ancestors, to help us avoid ever having to go through what they went through.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the UN General Assembly at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris three years after the end of World War II. It was the product of 18 months’ work by a drafting committee, with members and advisers from all across the world, and – in the words of one of its principal architects, René Cassin – "at the end of one hundred sessions of elevated, often impassioned discussion, was adopted in the form of 30 articles on December 10, 1948."

A comment by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muižnieks

Published in World
Wednesday, 31 May 2017 19:08

I am appalled by what happened to Afgan Mukhtarli, an Azerbaijani journalist and activist, who has reportedly been abducted in Georgia and forcibly taken to Azerbaijan, where he is now facing prosecution for illegal crossing of the border and smuggling. Mr. Mukhtarli had been living in Georgia since 2015, when he left Azerbaijan to escape the government’s repression of critical voices.

According to his lawyer, Mr Mukhtarli affirms that money was put in his pocket by his abductors and alleges that they also ill-treated him. These are very serious allegations that require the utmost attention and urgent reaction by the Georgian authorities, which should carry out an effective, rapid and independent investigation into the events and take the necessary measures to act upon the results of the enquiry. In the meantime, Azerbaijan’s authorities must release Mr Mukhtarli without delay and ensure that he fully enjoys his human rights, including the protection from torture and ill-treatment.

Small Farmers Meet High-Ranking EU Officials

Published in Economics
Saturday, 16 July 2016 21:37

BATUMI. 16 July 2016 – EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn visited Georgia on 14 July to speak at “Georgia's European Way” conference in Batumi.

After the conference, Commissioner Hahn visited a number of agriculture projects in Ajara Autonomous Republic funded by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The EU official was accompanied by EU Ambassador to Georgia Janos Herman, United Nations Resident Coordinator Niels Scott and Minister of Agriculture of Georgia Otar Danelia.

Commissioner Hahn visited the agricultural cooperative “Lurja 2015” which produces berries in Ochkhamuri village in Kobuleti. The founder and several members of the cooperative are visually impaired. Commissioner Hahn handed over two laptop computers with speech recognition software specially designed for visually impaired persons.

Commissioner Johannes Hahn also visited the Kobuleti branch of the Ajara Agroservice Canter to learn about services for farmers that help promote agriculture and rural development in Ajara.

Meetings of high-ranking EU officials with small farmers continued on 16 July, when Deputy Director General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, Katarina Mathernova, accompanied by Minister of Agriculture of Georgia, Otar Danelia, and Deputy Head of UNDP in Georgia, Natia Natsvlishvili, visited a wine cellar “Satsuri” and honey producer “Naturgift” in Batumi.

Both cooperatives were established with assistance of the programme ENPARD funded by the European Union and implemented in Ajara AR by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Katarina Mathernova handed over to the cooperative "Naturgift" a modern honey production equipment worth GEL 60 thousand.

The visits to EU-funded agricultural cooperatives and the meetings with small farmers offered EU officials first-hand information about the challenges and achievements of local economies in Georgia and the role cooperation in boosting rural development.

The programme ENPARD is recognised as one of the most successful agriculture initiatives funded by the EU. Since 2013, the programme has supported Georgia’s agriculture and rural development with over EUR 102 million. In Ajara Autonomous Republic ENPARD is being implemented through cooperation with UNDP.

The first phase of the programme came to end in June 2016. The second phase will be launched shortly to continue through 2018.

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