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Human Rights Quotes


* The connection between women's human rights, gender equality, socioeconomic development and peace is increasingly apparent.
-- Mahnaz Afkhami

Women's empowerment is intertwined with respect for human rights.
-- Mahnaz Afkhami

In the future, human rights will be increasingly a universal criterion for designing ethical systems.
-- Mahnaz Afkhami

" The evolution of the human rights movement clearly illustrates humanity's ongoing struggle toward creating a better world."
-- Robert Alan Silverstein


Somehow people are starting to think of "entitlements' as 'extra unearned luxuries' that should be taken away during hard times. But the definition of an entitlement is a right that is granted by law or by nature, to which all are guaranteed access. True entitlements are basic needs not luxury items. When politicians insist on cutting 'entitlements' they need to ensure that only luxuries are on the cutting block not basic needs.

We have forgotten the basic SOCIAL CONTRACT of rights and responsibilities that binds us together as a society. Society expects citizens to follow laws it has instated in order to protect individuals and institutions. Without these laws there would be chaos -- the strong would simply take anything they wanted and the rest would have no recourse. In return the social contract guarantees that if people follow these rules or responsibilities they will be guaranteed basic rights - life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. A guarantee of life ensures they will have access to basic human needs of water, food and shelter needed to live and to support their family. Liberty involves the ability to engage in activities the individual wishes, as long as it does not violate the law. The pursuit of happiness is a guarantee that the laws are meant to be fair and provide an equal playing field for all members of society, so that through hard work and creative enterprise, all law-abiding citizens are free to strive to attain the wants and desires they believe will bring them happiness.
-- Robert Alan Silverstein

* "Human rights education is much more than a lesson in schools or a theme for a day; it is a process to equip people with the tools they need to live lives of security and dignity. On this International Human Rights Day, let us continue to work together to develop and nurture in future generations a culture of human rights, to promote freedom, security and peace in all nations."
-- Kofi Annan

The right to development is the measure of the respect of all other human rights.That should be our aim: a situation in which all individuals are enabled to maximize their potential, and to contribute to the evolution of society as a whole. 
-- Kofi Annan

It was never the people who complained of the universality of human rights, nor did the people consider human rights as a Western or Northern imposition. It was often their leaders who did so. -- Kofi Annan

* The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be either good or evil.
-- Hannah Arendt

* Silence never won rights.  They are not handed down from above; they are forced by pressures from below. 
-- Roger Nash Baldwin

So long as we have enough people in this country willing to fight for their rights, we'll be called a democracy.
-- Roger Nash Baldwin

* "Through electing officials that will protect the Constitution and commit themselves to the rights of the people and the health of the nation, we will be able to ensure that no group of ideologues and no private sector institution can coopt our rights, take us into senseless wars and steal the nation from its people."
-- Harry Belafonte

* "A century that began with children having virtually no rights is ending with children having the most powerful legal instrument that not only recognizes but protects their human rights."
-- Carol Bellamy

"The Convention is not only a visionary document. We are reminded daily that it is an agreement that works – and its utility can be seen in the everyday use to which I have seen it increasingly being put by country after country, in policy, in practice and in law." -- Carol Bellamy, UNICEF Executive Director, Statement to the UNICEF Executive Board, September 1998

* "Those who today still feel a sense of impotence can do something: they can support Amnesty International. They can help it to stand up for freedom and justice."
-- Peter Benenson

"Torture is banned but in two-thirds of the world's countries it is still being committed in secret. Too many governments still allow wrongful imprisonment, murder or "disappearance" to be carried out by their officials with impunity."
-- Peter Benenson

"It's the publicity function of Amnesty that I think has made its name so widely known, not only to readers in the world, but to governments - and that's what matters."
-- Peter Benenson

"Open your newspaper - any day of the week - and you will find a report from somewhere in the world of someone being imprisoned, tortured or executed because his opinions or religion are unacceptable to his government."
-- Peter Benenson

"The candle burns not for us, but for all those whom we failed to rescue from prison, who were shot on the way to prison, who were tortured, who were kidnapped, who "disappeared". That's what the candle is for."
-- Peter Benenson

"Once the concentration camps and the hell-holes of the world were in darkness. Now they are lit by the light of the Amnesty candle; the candle in barbed wire. When I first lit the Amnesty candle, I had in mind the old Chinese proverb: 'Better light a candle than curse the darkness.'"
-- Peter Benenson

* "You can imprison a man, but not an idea. You can exile a man, but not an idea. You can kill a man, but not an idea."
-- Benazir Bhutto

* "The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed."
-- Stephen Biko

"I feel morally and intellectually obliged to simply conceded that the death penalty experiment has failed....  From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death."
-- Harry A. Blackmun, Former US Supreme Court Justice

* It has long been recognized that an essential element in protecting human rights was a widespread knowledge among the population of what their rights are and how they can be defended. 
-- Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Sixth UN Secretary-General, 1992-1996

The human rights we are to discuss here at Vienna are...the quintessential values through which we affirm together that we are a single human community. 
-- Boutros Boutros-Ghali, at the World Conferenceon Human Rights, 14 June 1993

The Framers of the Bill of Rights did not purport to "create" rights.  Rather, they designed the Bill of Rights to prohibit our Government from infringing rights and liberties presumed to be preexisting. 
-- Justice William J. Brennan

* “We are asking people to understand that slavery still exists today; in fact, according to a recent New York Times article, if you count the number of women and children in bonded labor, domestic slavery or sexual slavery today, there are more slaves in the world than at any other time in history.”
Charlotte Bunch

Democracy is not the law of the majority but the protection of the minority.
-- Albert Camus

* "Everyone has a right to peaceful coexistence, the basic personal freedoms, the alleviation of suffering, and the opportunity to lead a productive life..."
-- Jimmy Carter

America did not invent human rights. In a very real sense, it is the other way around. Human rights invented America.
-- Jimmy Carter

A right is not what someone gives you; it's what no one can take from you.
-- Ramsey Clark

If nations are allowed to commit genocide with impunity, to hide their guilt in a camouflage of lies and denials, there is a real danger that other brutal regimes will be encouraged to attempt genocides.
--Caroline, Baroness Cox, House of Lords

We discovered that peace at any price is no peace at all. We discovered that life at any price has no value whatever; that life is nothing without the privileges, the prides, the rights, the joys which make it worth living, and also worth giving. And we also discovered that there is something more hideous, more atrocious than war or than death; and that is to live in fear. 
-- Eve Curie, French author

* "Peace can only last where human rights are respected, where the people are fed, and where individuals and nations are free."
-- 14th Dalai Lama

* Human Beings, indeed all sentient beings, have the right to pursue happiness and live in peace and freedom.-- 14th Dalai Lama

"All human beings, whatever their cultural or historical background, suffer when they are intimidated, imprisoned or tortured . . . We must, therefore, insist on a global consensus, not only on the need to respect human rights worldwide, but also on the definition of these rights . . . for it is the inherent nature of all human beings to yearn for freedom, equality and dignity, and they have an equal right to achieve that."
14th Dalai Lama

* Together we can prevent genocide from happening again. Together we can make a better future for our children. -- Dith Pran

* "Human Rights for everyone is the necessary foundation upon which all of us may build a world where everybody may live in peace and serenity and plenty."
-- Michael Douglas

* The idea of cultural relativism is nothing but an excuse to violate human rights.
-- Shirin Ebadi

* ‘Without peace, there is little hope for human rights’
-- Martin Ennals

"..I think there is less cynicism about human rights than there was. The work we are doing is part of the overall pattern of human development, whatever the political system, whatever the country, whatever the cultural background, whatever the religion."
-- Martin Ennals

"...In a world riven by inequity, medicine could be viewed as social justice work." -- Paul Farmer

“If access to health care is considered a human right, who is considered human enough to have that right?” -- Paul Farmer

* "Clean water and health care and school and food and tin roofs and cement floor, all of these things should constitute a set of basics that people must have as birthrights." -- Paul Farmer

Let us pray for peace, and let us bring it about, starting in our own homes!
-- Pope Francis

* "The UN Declaration of Human Rights laid down what any person might reasonably expect, yet there are remarkably few people who enjoy these rights. With cameras in the hands of activists and meaningful distribution of those images, we will witness what really goes on in this world and hopefully want to change it." -- Peter Gabriel

Rights that do not flow from duty well performed are not worth having.
-- Mohandas K. Gandhi

If we all discharge our duties, rights will not be far to seek. If leaving duties unperformed we run after rights, they will escape us like a will-o'-the-wisp."
-- Mohandas Gandhi

* Truth resides in every human heart, and one has to search for it there, and to be guided by truth as one sees it. But no one has a right to coerce others to act according to his own view of truth.
-- Mohandas Gandhi

Begin with duties of a man and rights will follow as spring follows winter"
-- Mohandas Gandhi

I learned from my illiterate but wise mother that all rights to be deserved and preserved came from duty well done. Thus the very right to live accrues to us only when we do the duty of citizenship of the world. From this one fundamental statement, perhaps it is easy enough to define the duties of Man and Woman and correlate every right to some corresponding duty to be first performed. Every other right can be shown to be a usurpation hardly worth fighting for.
-- Mohandas Gandhi

* The modern infrastructures that exists in the world all contribute to the advancement of human rights and democracy.
~ Akbar Ganji

* "Women's rights are an essential part of the overall human rights agenda, trained on the equal dignity and ability to live in freedom all people should enjoy."
-- Ruth Bader Ginsburg


It is never easy to define what is moral, particularly in foreign policy. But at the risk of being simplistic, it appears to me that a foreign policy that is morally right protects human rights everywhere.
-- Arthur Joseph Goldberg

I am the inferior of any man whose rights I trample underfoot. 
-- Horace Greeley

* 'Freedom from fear' could be said to sum up the whole philosophy of human rights.
-- Dag Hammarskjöld

The Universal Declaration... as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all not only crystallizes the political thought of our times on these matters, but it has also influenced the thinking of legislators all over the world. 
-- Dag Hammarskjöld, Second UN Secretary-General, 1953-1961

* "There is no contradiction between effective law enforcement and respect for civil and human rights."
-- Dorothy Height

* "After a war, the silencing of arms is not enough. Peace means respecting all rights. You can’t respect one of them and violate the others. When a society doesn’t respect the rights of its citizens, it undermines peace and leads it back to war.”
-- Maria Julia Hernandez

Victims should come first.”
-- Maria Julia Hernandez

“The situation of the Salvadorian people is terrible; all their rights are violated. There is a direct violation against the human person, a violation of rights that is endemic in society.”
-- Maria Julia Hernandez

The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadows of states' rights and walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights
-- Hubert Humphrey, 1948

And it is to these rights -- the right of law and order, the right of life, the right of liberty, the right of a job, the right of a home in a decent neighborhood, and the right to an education -- it is to these rights that I pledge my life and whatever capacity and ability I have.
-- Hubert Humphrey

* there can be no compromise on the right of personal security; there can be no compromise on securing of human rights.
-- Hubert Humphrey

* Give to every human being every right that you claim for yourself. 
~ Robert G. Ingersoll

* There is so much each one of us can do to make a difference. We are at a dangerous juncture in the history of mankind. … We need to defend our principles and values, human rights, civil liberties and the rule of international law. If we don’t our world will further descend into a state of chaos.
-- Bianca Jagger

The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government.
-- Thomas Jefferson

* We hold these truths to be self-evident,--that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. -- Thomas Jefferson

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 1948) in most solemn form, the dignity of a person is acknowledged to all human beings; and as a consequence there is proclaimed, as a fundamental right, the right of free movement in search for truth and in the attainment of moral good and of justice, and also the right to a dignified life. 
-- Pope John XXIII, 1881-1963 Pacem in Terris, 1963

If the equality of individuals and the dignity of man be myths, they are myths to which the republic is committed. 
-- Howard Mumford Jones

* "The Earth is the mother of all people and all people should have equal rights upon it."
-- Chief Joseph (1732-1794)

* In giving rights to others which belong to them, we give rights to ourselves.
-- John F. Kennedy

* Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
-- Robert F. Kennedy

"America now stands as the world's foremost power. We should be proud: Not since the age of the Romans have one people achieved such preeminence. But we are not Romans; we do not seek an empire. We are Americans, trustees of a vision and a heritage that commit us to the values of democracy and the universal cause of human rights."
-- Senator John Kerry (American Senator, b.1943)

* No cause can justify the abuse of human rights.
-- Irene Khan

Human security comes only with human rights and the rule of law. Human rights are the basis for creating strong and accountable states without which there can be no political stability or social progress.
-- Irene Khan

* The world does not need a war against ‘terrorism’, it needs a culture of peace based on human rights for all.
-- Irene Khan

There can be no peace without justice and respect for human rights. I passionately believe in the power of human rights as a set of global values to bring our fractured and divided world together. Around the world human rights activists are giving hope to millions of people - women, indigenous people, the poor and the marginalised - in their struggle for equality and dignity.
-- Irene Khan

There is no excuse for human rights abuse, whether in the name of security or in the name of liberation.”
-- Irene Khan

* "I won't give up until the exploitation of all children has ended and all children have their rights."
-- Craig Kielburger

* "Democracy is the absolute value that makes for human dignity, as well as the only road to sustained economic development and social justice."
-- Kim Dae-jung

* Commit yourself to the noble struggle for human rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.


"Whatever career you may choose for yourself - doctor, lawyer, teacher - let me propose an avocation to be pursued along with it. Become a dedicated fighter for civil rights. Make it a central part of your life. It will make you a better doctor, a better lawyer, a better teacher. It will enrich your spirit as nothing else possibly can. It will give you that rare sense of nobility that can only spring from love and selflessly helping your fellow man. Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for human rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country and a finer world to live in."
-- Martin Luther King, Jr.

* "we are opposing the exploitation of man by man, similarly we must oppose the exploitation of peoples by other peoples ... but today this is no longer enough ... we have to assist the peoples fighting for their independence to develop their economies, to increase their standard of living"
-- Bruno Kreisky

Fear is not the natural state of civilized man.
-- Aung San Suu Kyi

* "Please use your freedom to promote ours."
-- Aung San Suu Kyi

* The people of my country want the two freedoms that spell security: freedom from want and freedom from fear.
-- Aung San Suu Kyi

* “Sexual abuse and rape in our prisons are the epitome of the dehumanizing nature of our entire correctional system. Prison rape is a human rights issue; it's a public health issue; and it's a public safety issue.”
-- Barbara Lee

* Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally. 
-- Abraham Lincoln

To sin by silence when they should protest makes cowards of men.”
-- Abraham Lincoln

* All mankind... being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.
-- John Locke

* Even strong as they are today, rich countries should have no illusion: nobody is safe in a world of injustices.War will never bring security.War can only generate monsters: bitterness, intolerance, fundamentalism, and the damaging denial of current hegemonies.The poor must be given reasons to live, not to kill or die.
-- Lula

* Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life . . .
-- Nelson Mandela

By a divine paradox, wherever there is one slave there are two.  So in the wonderful reciprocities of being, we can never reach the higher levels until all our fellows ascend with us. 
-- Edwin Markham

* “Every man gotta right to decide his own destiny.”
-- Bob Marley

* “Get up, stand up, Stand up for your rights. Get up, stand up, Don't give up the fight.”
-- Bob Marley

* All men are by nature born equally free and independent.
-- George Mason

* The cost in human lives and suffering is so high that we all have to work to end violence and oppression once and for all. We have to proclaim that every human being is equal, in dignity, in freedom —and, as the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, we have to live “in a spirit of brotherhood.”
-- Federico Mayor

* We are not myths of the past, ruins in the jungle, or zoos. We are people and we want to be respected, not to be victims of intolerance and racism. 
-- Rigoberta Menchu, Guatemala Nobel Peace Prize Winner, 1992

An injustice committed against anyone is a threat to everyone.
-- Montesquieu

* "I feel more motivated and happy because there are people interested in our problem, people that care for us and support us in our fight for human liberty. I have a great emotion because I know now that we are not struggling alone against human rights violation.”
-- Aktham Naisse

You are a human being.  You have rights inherent in that reality.  You have dignity and worth that exists prior to law. 
-- Lyn Beth Neylon

"First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out - because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the communist and I did not speak out - because I was not a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out - because I was not a trade unionists. Then they came for me - and there was no one left to speak out for me." -Pastor Niemoeler

* The only way to make sure people you agree with can speak is to support the rights of people you don't agree with.
-- Eleanor Holmes Norton

And we who have toiled for freedom's law, have we sought for freedom's soul?
Have we learned at last that human right is not a part but the whole?
-- John Boyle O'Reilly

* “Caged birds sing of freedom, free birds fly.”
-- Thorolf Rafto

* We believe that human rights transcend boundaries and must prevail over state sovereignty.
-- José Ramos-Horta

* "A community is democratic only when the humblest and weakest person can enjoy the highest civil, economic, and social rights that the biggest and most powerful possess."
-- A. Philip Randolph

* Today's human rights violations are the causes of tomorrow's conflicts.
-- Mary Robinson

I believe we should try to move away from the vocabulary and attitudes which shape the stereotyping of developed and developing country approaches to human rights issues. We are collective custodians of universal human rights standards, and any sense that we fall into camps of “accuser” and “accused” is absolutely corrosive of our joint purposes. The reality is that no group of countries has any grounds for complacency about its own human rights performance and no group of countries does itself justice by automatically slipping into the “victim” mode.. 
-- Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

"Human rights are inscribed in the hearts of people; they were there long before lawmakers drafted their first proclamation." -- Mary Robinson, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

"Nations will rise and fall, but equality remains the ideal.  The universal aim is to achieve respect for the entire human race, not just for the dominant few."
-- Carlos P. Romulo

* Basically we could not have peace, or an atmosphere in which peace could grow, unless we recognized the rights of individual human beings... their importance, their dignity... and agreed that was the basic thing that had to be accepted throughout the world. 
-- Eleanor Roosevelt

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world ... Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.
-- Eleanor Roosevelt

* Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. 
-- Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Four Freedoms Speech, 6 January 1941

* No man is above the law and no man below it. 
-- Theodore Roosevelt

It is often easier to become outraged by injustice half a world away than by oppression and discrimination half a block from home. 
-- Carl T. Rowan

* The indigenous peoples understand that they have to recover their cultural identity, or to live it if they have already recovered it. They also understand that this is not a favor or a concession, but simply their natural right to be recognized as belonging to a culture that is distinct from the Western culture, a culture in which they have to live their own faith.
-- Bishop Samuel Ruiz Garcia

* In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.
-- Carl Sagan

* Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the opressor.
-- Ginetta Sagan

* "I want my child to walk in a world guided by love. This means that everybody will have a job, or the resources to take care of basic needs. A world where families are not oppressed and are connected to their neighbors and their communities, where the best in humanity is honored. That's when we will truly be at peace."
-- Malika Sanders

...defending human rights requires vigilance, doggedness and a strong, global force for good...
-- Sting

* Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being's entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or sovereign. ... You must weep that your own government, at present, seems blind to this truth.
-- Mother Teresa

* The Universal Declaration of Human Rights - This great and inspiring instrument was born of an increased sense of responsibility by the international community for the promotion and protection of man’s basic rights and freedoms. The world has come to a clear realization of the fact that freedom, justice and world peace can only be assured through the international promotion and protection of these rights and freedoms. 
-- U Thant, Third United Nations Secretary-General, 1961-1971

Every human being, of whatever origin, of whatever station, deserves respect. We must each respect others even as we respect ourselves.
~ U Thant

I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master.  I want the full menu of rights. 
-- Bishop Desmond Tutu

* "It means a great deal to those who are oppressed to know that they are not alone. And never let anyone tell you that what you are doing is insignificant."
-- Bishop Desmond Tutu

* Today, I wish that the millions of displaced people would be able to return with the necessary conditions of safety and dignity, that people in exile could return to their home-country as the intelligence is needed, that cruelty, political killings, poverty and hunger cease. I wish that our people recover their dignity, truth is revealed and justice exists.
-- Alirio Uribe Muñoz

"Peace, development and human rights are essentially inter-related, inter-dependent and indivisible."
-- Theo van Boven

* "You cannot have peace without human rights, democracy, gender equality, and clean water. Look to the root causes of war and you will find, in their reverse, the root foundations of peace."
-- Cora Weiss

Of equality - As if it harm'd me, giving others the same chances and rights as myself - As if it were not indispensable to my own rights that others possess the same. 
~ Walt Whitman

* "I swore never to be silent whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
-- Elie Wiesel

“Human rights is the only ideology that deserves to survive”
-- Simon Wiesenthal

"When history looks back, I want people to know the Nazis weren't able to kill millions of people and get away with it.”
-- Simon Wiesenthal

"Tolerance and human rights require each other."
-- Simon Wiesenthal

To every man his chance, to every man regardless of his birth, his shining golden opportunity. To every man the right to live and to work and to be himself. And to become whatever thing his manhood and his vision can combine to make him. This is the promise of America.”
-- Thomas Wolfe

* "Chinese and Tibetan dissidents are either locked up in prison, forced into hiding, or silenced by fear of police retaliation against their families. All the happiness about China's economic growth has made many Americans forget that police clubs and guns and the Laogai system keep the Communist Party in power. Moreover, it is still little recognized how American resources help to sustain that power through trade, investments, and the transfer of technology... It is only when the Laogai is abolished in China that real change will come about."
-- Harry Wu

"...we should not give up and say that the situation is hopeless. There is still our conscience, there is still the memory of the victims of this war, there is still our duty to try and prevent further bloodshed. We have to prosecute all the perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity."
-- Lida Yusupova

* "...civil society has not lost the possibility to influence the government and force them to change their policy. That is why we believe in your voice and your help." -- Lida Yusupova

I love life and want to hold onto it. But my passion for justice for my tormented people, for their dignity and freedom, must be greater still. For of what value is a life of slavery, of humiliation and contempt for that which you hold most dear: Your identity! I will therefore not give in to the Turkish Inquisition.
-- Leyla Zana

* I have defended democracy, human rights, and brotherhood between peoples. And I’ll keep doing so for as long as I live.
-- Leyla Zana



Human Rights Day PDFs




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Human Rights Day
- December 10

Civil Rights Day - August 12

See also CIVIL RIGHTS Quotes


Quotes for a Better World

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