Saturday, March 16, 2013

Torture in Fiji

The United Nations human rights office has expressed shock by the content of a video showing the apparent torture of two men in Fiji, and called on the Government to ensure the perpetrators are prosecuted and the victims protected. The nine-minute video, which emerged on online social networks, shows two handcuffed men being physically and sexually assaulted by a group of men while lying helplessly in the back of a pick-up truck. “While the circumstances surrounding the video have not yet been ascertained, the acts being carried out in it are clearly illegal, and we condemn them in the strongest terms,” the spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Rupert Colville, told reporters in Geneva.

In the video, one of the men is repeatedly struck on his feet, legs, body and head with a number of different implements including a length of rubber pipe, a metal rod, a stick and a hammer. He is later shown stripped of his clothes while others film and photograph him. A second handcuffed man is shown sitting on the ground nearby and is also struck on his body, legs and head with a stick and a rod. A dog is encouraged by its handler to seize him by the shirt and drag him several metres across the ground.

“The Fijian police authorities have stated that they will seek to establish the facts in this case. We welcome this commitment, and urge the Government to ensure that the apparent serious human rights violations are swiftly and effectively investigated by an impartial and competent authority, and that the findings are made public,” Mr. Colville said.  “We also call on the authorities to ensure that perpetrators – who are clearly visible in the video and should be easily identifiable – are brought to justice, and that a concerted effort is made to ensure that this type of treatment is not repeated,” he said. “Victims of the abuse must have access to the necessary medical and psychological support, as well as redress.”

Mr. Colville reiterated the OHCHR’s readiness to assist the Government in their effort to eradicate torture and ill-treatment, and said it will continue to follow the case closely as well as the outcome of the police investigations.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

March 16, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Another Report on Civilian Casualties in Syria

The violence in Syria has reached “new heights of destruction,” independent United Nations human rights investigators said this week, presenting a new report which urges a political solution to what has become an increasingly militarized and sectarian conflict.  “There is an urgent need for a sustained diplomatic initiative to put an end to the violence and the suffering of the Syrian population,” the Chair of the UN Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Paulo Pinheiro, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“If the national, regional, and international actors fail to find a solution to the conflict and stop the agony of millions of civilians, the alternative will be the political, economic and social destruction of Syria and its society, with devastating implications for the region and the world,” Mr. Pinheiro warned, speaking on behalf of the four-member Commission.  He added that “the war displays all the signs of a destructive stalemate” where neither the Government nor anti-Government forces have been able to prevail militarily and are thus escalating force “in the fallacious belief that victory is within reach.”

In the report presented by Mr. Pinheiro, the Commission concluded that the main cause of civilian casualties, mass displacement and destruction “is the reckless manner in which parties to the conflict conduct hostilities,” including indiscriminate shelling and aerial bombardment. “The parties must take all feasible precautions to protect civilians,” the Commission urges, reiterating that the conflict is waged by both Government forces and anti-Government armed groups in violation of international humanitarian law.

The 10-page update, which is based on first-hand accounts from 191 interviews conducted last month, describes a dramatic erosion of civilian space with mass displacement exacerbated by diminishing areas in which civilians can seek refuge.

Up to 70,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011 and about a million people have fled to neighbouring countries. In addition, 2 million have been internally displaced and over 4 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.  The report notes in particular the use of medical care as a tactic of war. Medical personnel and hospitals have been deliberately targeted and are treated by parties to the conflict as military objectives, the Commission notes, adding that medical access has been denied in certain cases “on real or perceived political and sectarian grounds.”

In addition, the human rights investigations call attention to so-called “Popular Committees,” which comprise local residents who reportedly protect their neighbourhoods against anti-Government armed groups and criminal gangs.  “In a disturbing and dangerous trend, mass killings allegedly perpetrated by Popular Committees have at times taken on sectarian overtones,” the Commission writes. 

The report also notes at least three massacres reportedly committed in Homs governate since December 2012, noting that the bodies of those killed or executed are often desecrated, by being burned or dumped in waterways, making identification difficult. Despite a lack of access, the Commission said it is investigating approximately 20 cases of alleged massacres.

In a sign of the increasing recklessness with which the parties to the conflict treat human life, Mr. Pinheiro noted in his statement the capture and detention of 21 UN peacekeepers by the Martyrs of Yarmouk armed group last week in the Golan Heights.  “We welcome their safe release,” Mr. Pinheiro said, but noted that members of the Commission also “condemn such outrageous acts and consider it a clear violation of international humanitarian law.”

In addition, the report cites the use of child fighters, some recruited as young as 13 by anti-Government forces for weapons training and operational roles; while there are instances of Syrian boys as young as 12 being pushed to support Government troops.  There are also reports of sexual violence, including at checkpoints or while being held by intelligence agencies.

“A failure to resolve this increasingly violent conflict will condemn Syria, the region and the millions of civilians caught in the crossfire to an unimaginably bleak future,” the Commission summarizes, urging all stakeholders to redouble their efforts to facilitate a negotiated settlement.

“The latest initiative by the UN and Arab League Joint Special Representative for Syria suggesting that the UN is willing to facilitate negotiations between the parties represents a step in the right direction and deserves to be supported,” the Commission, which also includes
Karen Koning AbuZayd, Carla del Ponte and Vitit Muntarbhorn, writes in the report.

Last week, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi met in Mt. Pelerin, Switzerland, to discuss the situation in Syria. They reiterated that the UN would welcome and be prepared to facilitate a dialogue between a strong and representative delegation from the opposition and a credible and empowered delegation from the Syrian Government.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

March 15, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Updates from Washington D.C.

The following legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate:

  • HR 1039 (Fitzpatrick, R-PA), to rescind unobligated amounts for foreign assistance to Egypt and to appropriate funds for the Department of Defense tuition assistance program; to Appropriations. CR 3/11/13, H1330.
  • HR 1130 (Davis, D-CA), to authorize further assistance to Israel for the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system; to Foreign Affairs. CR 3/13/13, H1395.
  • HR 1195 (Moran, D-VA), to establish a program to provide grants to nonprofit organizations to enable such organizations to assign and support volunteers to assist foreign countries in the administration of their natural resource in an environmentally sustainable manner; to Foreign Affairs. CR 3/14/13, H1427.
  • S 559 (Isakson, R-GA), to establish a fund to make payments to the Americans held hostage in Iran, and to members of their families who are identified as members of the proposed class in case number 1:08-CV-00487 (EGS) of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia; to Foreign Relations. CR 3/13/13, S1786

The following hearings have been scheduled in the U.S. House of Representatives

  • The Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade Subcommittee, House Foreign Affairs Committee, will hold a hearing titled “Hezbollah's Strategic Shift: A Global Terrorist Threat.” 3/20/13, 1:30 pm, 2172 Rayburn.
  • Asia and the Pacific Subcommittee and Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, House Foreign Affairs Committee, will hold a joint hearing titled “After the Withdrawal: The Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” 3/19/13, 1 pm, 2172 Rayburn.

The following notices were issued by the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Trade Representative, and the Office of Foreign Assets Control:

  • On 3/14/13, the United States State Department announced the waiver of restriction on assistance to the Central Government of Somalia in accordance with Section 7031(b)(3) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2012. FR16356.
  • On 3/12/13, the Office of the United States Trade Representative announced redesignation, under the United States-Israel Free Trade Area Implementation Act (IFTA Act), of qualifying industrial zones (QIZs) encompassing portions of Israel and Jordan or Israel and Egypt that are eligible to receive duty-free treatment. FR15802.
  • On 3/15/13, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control announced that it is amending the Iranian Financial Sanctions Regulations (the IFSR) to implement Sections 503 and 504 of the Iran Threat Reduction and Syria Human Rights Act of 2012, which amended Section 1245 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012; and Section 1, portions of section 6, and other related provisions of Executive Order 13622 of July 30, 2012. FR16403.

Hat tip to the American Bar Association Government Affairs Office


March 15, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Human Rights Watch Statement on the Cambodia Trials

Human Rights Watch in New York has issued the following statement on the Death of Ieng Sary. HRW Says that His Death Shows Khmer Rouge Court Failings, and that Cambodian Government Obstruction and Non-Cooperation Sabotage Justice. Here is their press release:
(New York, March 14, 2013) – The death of Ieng Sary, on trial before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia after indictment for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, means that another senior leader of the Khmer Rouge has not been held accountable for his crimes, Human Rights Watch said today. Ieng Sary, the foreign minister of the Khmer Rouge regime that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, died in a Phnom Penh hospital on March 14, 2013.
“Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen asked the United Nations in 1997 for assistance in holding Khmer Rouge leaders accountable – and since then has done everything in his power to stymie the tribunal’s work,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Hun Sen bears primary responsibility for denying justice to the victims of Ieng Sary’s atrocities.”
Khmer Rouge rule under the leadership of Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan, and others resulted in the deaths of at least 1.7 million Cambodians, about one-quarter of the population. Pol Pot, known as Brother Number One, died in 1998 after years of protection from Thailand and China.
Ieng Sary’s responsibility for the regime’s crimes derived from his position as a Permanent Member of the Khmer Rouge Standing Committee, which formulated policy and oversaw its implementation nation-wide. As Khmer Rouge minister of foreign affairs, he also directly oversaw the purge of ministry officials, sending many accused of treason for torture and execution. He repeatedly endorsed the Khmer Rouge policy that he helped formulate of “smashing” to death all those deemed to be enemies of the radical Khmer Rouge revolution, making baseless claims that those executed were agents of the US Central Intelligence Agency, Soviet KGB, or the Vietnamese Communists. He blamed those who were executed for the policies that brought about mass starvation and death from disease. He also defended the Khmer Rouge’s abusive policies in speeches and communications to the UN.
“It is a sad indictment of the Khmer Rouge tribunal that after more than six years, only one person has been convicted and only two others, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, remain on trial for Khmer Rouge-era crimes,” Adams said. “Cambodians now face the prospect that only three people will be held legally accountable for the destruction of their country.”
The Tribunal’s Genesis
Negotiations for the establishment of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal began in 1997 when Hun Sen wrote to then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan asking for help in establishing a court similar to the International Criminal Courts for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. However, after a UN Group of Experts provided detailed suggestions about how this could be done in order to ensure judicial independence from Cambodia’s politically controlled judiciary, Hun Sen insisted that trials could only be conducted by Cambodian courts. He also rejected a UN proposal for an independent, international prosecutor.
The slow pace of establishing the Tribunal reflected a longstanding policy articulated by Hun Sen during internal discussions with other former Khmer Rouge members at the highest levels in his ruling Cambodian People’s Party. For example, Hun Sen explained in a February 2000 Central Committee meeting of the party that stalling would be his main tactic to assert control over the UN and the tribunal. This allowed the government to play what Cambodian analyst Lao Mong Hay rightly predicted in 2000 would be a long-term “cat and mouse game” to “delay to wear out the patience of the UN.”
In 2002 the UN announced that it was pulling out of negotiations with Hun Sen to create a tribunal. Annan concluded that “interference by the executive with the independence of the judiciary” in Cambodia meant that “established international standards of justice, fairness and due process might therefore not be ensured.” The UN was fully aware that the government would use delaying tactics in negotiations to obtain a court it could control. In February 2002, Hans Corell, the chief UN negotiator, warned that foot-dragging and convoluted judicial decision-making procedures meant the Tribunal would be a “monster court … unable to produce a final judgment” since it was likely that key figures among the accused would die before that happened, given their already advanced age. He also foresaw that this would make it inevitable that the Tribunal would be “extremely costly.”
However, UN member states, led by the US, Japan, France, and Australia, forced the UN to resume negotiations. This led to an agreement to create the Tribunal with a majority of Hun Sen-appointed and controlled judges and a minority of judicial officers nominated by the UN secretary-general. Judges would make some decisions according to a complicated “super-majority” formula that recognized but sought to mitigate the inevitability of government interference in the court.
The UN’s concerns have been proven to be accurate, Human Rights Watch said. Government-installed Cambodian court personnel have obstructed investigations. The government has failed to require its members to provide evidence to the Tribunal’s judicial investigation and trial proceedings. Serious corruption allegations affecting the proceedings have never been adequately investigated. 
Justice Denied
Only one trial of the five people that Hun Sen allowed to be indicted has been completed: Kaing Guek Eav alias Duch, the chairman of the Khmer Rouge S21 Security Office in Phnom Penh known as Tuol Sleng, who confessed to overseeing mass murder and torture there and was convicted of crimes against humanity and war crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment in February 2012. Ieng Thirith, the wife of Ieng Sary and the former Khmer Rouge minister of social action, was ruled unfit for trial in November 2011 due to worsening dementia. She was subsequently released from detention under judicial supervision. Only former Khmer Rouge Deputy Communist Party Secretary Nuon Chea and Central Committee member Khieu Samphan remain on trial.
Meanwhile, Cambodian judges and prosecutors are continuing successfully to block the arrest and indictment of five additional suspects whom UN prosecutors have named as responsible for serious crimes during the Khmer Rouge period. Hun Sen has publicly called for no further trials. For instance, in a March 2009 speech he stated that if attempts were made to expand the number of suspects beyond those he wanted prosecuted, he would instead have the tribunal fail, even if this meant completion only of the trial of Duch and the death of the other four during subsequent proceedings. He also said if such efforts to expand the scope of prosecution persisted, he would “pray for the court to run out of money” as a result of donor country dissatisfaction, and would prefer the departure of the international prosecutor and international judges to trials of additional suspects.
“There are real questions about the purpose of continuing international UN involvement and donor support for the Khmer Rouge Tribunal,” Adams said. “Hun Sen has run circles around the UN and donors while successfully denying justice for the Cambodian people.”
(Human Rights Watch Press Release)

March 14, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Executions by Firing Squad in Saudi Arabia

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has strongly condemned the executions on Wednesday of seven people in Saudi Arabia, saying that “they clearly violate international safeguards in the use of the death penalty.”  The seven men were reportedly arrested in January 2006 and charged with organizing a criminal group, armed robbery and breaking into jewellery stores. They were sentenced to death by a court in Asir province in August 2009, and the sentences were carried out yesterday by firing squad.

“I strongly condemn the execution of these seven men,” High Commissioner Navi Pillay said in a news release.  “Under international safeguards adopted by the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and reaffirmed by the General Assembly, capital punishment may be imposed only for ‘the most serious crimes’ and only after the most rigorous judicial process. As I pointed out to the Government of Saudi Arabia before the men were executed, neither of those fundamental criteria appear to have been fulfilled in these cases.”

“The term ‘most serious crimes’ has been interpreted to mean that the death penalty – in the relatively few countries where it is still used – should only be applied to the crime of murder or intentional killing,” she said.  “In this particular case, no crime of murder or intentional killing was committed. Thus, the use of the death penalty in these seven cases constitutes violations of the international safeguards in the use of the death penalty.”

Ms. Pillay said she is also extremely concerned that the death sentences were imposed largely based on initial confessions allegedly extracted under torture, and that the allegations of torture were not investigated.  Information she had received suggested that the seven accused men had reportedly only made brief appearances before the court, and were not allowed to speak or given adequate opportunities to conduct their defence, she noted. The defendants claimed they were not present at all during the appeal stages and had no defence counsel representing them.  “These serious failings in the process, if confirmed, would constitute violations of international safeguards in the use of death penalty, especially those related to the right to a fair trial and the right to appeal,” Ms. Pillay said.

She urged the Saudi authorities to join the worldwide trend against the death penalty and, as a first step, establish a moratorium on its use.

According to the High Commissioner’s office (OHCHR), a growing number of States – around 150 in all – have either abolished capital punishment or do not practise it. Also, several UN General Assembly resolutions include a call to all States to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

In addition to murder, Saudi Arabia applies the death penalty for crimes not considered “serious” under international norms, including drug offences, apostasy, heresy, sorcery and witchcraft. At least 27 people are believed to have been executed so far in 2013, including another two men reportedly executed on Wednesday in Riyadh and Mecca provinces, representing “a major upsurge” compared to recent years, said OHCHR.

(UN Press Release)

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Recreational Use of Cannabis in United States

Implementing the decisions of popular votes held in the United States in Colorado and Washington to allow for the recreational use of cannabis would be a violation of international laws, the United Nations body tasked with monitoring the production and consumption of narcotics worldwide said today.  The move “would be a violation of international law, namely the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, to which the United States is party,” the President of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), Raymond Yans, told the 56th session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.

In November 2012, the electorate in Colorado and Washington voted to legalize recreational marijuana use in their states. Medical marijuana businesses operate in Colorado, Washington and 16 other states, but the US Government continues to oppose any decriminalization of the drug. The Office of the U.S. Attorney General said in December 2012 that regardless of any changes in state law, growing, selling or possessing any amount of marijuana remained illegal under federal law.

Mr. Yans called the statement “good but insufficient” and said he hoped that the issue would soon be addressed by the U.S. Government in line with the international drug control treaties.

Based in Vienna, the INCB is an independent and quasi-judicial monitoring body mandated to implement UN international drug control conventions.

(UN Press Release)

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ICC Prosecutor Drops Charges Against Muthaura Because Witnesses Have Died, Are Too Afraid to Testify, or Have Been Bribed

The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has filed to drop charges against Francis Muthaura, who was accused of crimes against humanity and other offences allegedly committed following general elections in late 2007, but reiterated that charges remain against the president-elect, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta.  “This is an exceptional decision.  I did not take it lightly, but I believe it is the right thing to do,” Fatou Bensouda said in a statement.

She said that she had explained to the judge that several people who may have provided important evidence in the case have either died or are too afraid to testify for the Prosecution. Ms. Bensouda also noted that the Prosecution lost the testimony of its key witness “after this witness recanted a crucial part of his evidence, and admitted to us that he had accepted bribes.” In addition, the Prosecutor said it was “disappointing” that the Government of Kenya failed to provide her office with important evidence and failed to facilitate access to critical witnesses.  

More than 1,100 people were killed, 3,500 injured and up to 600,000 forcibly displaced in the violence that followed the December 2007 elections. In January of last year, the ICC said it had established substantial grounds to believe that the crimes of murder, deportation or forcible transfer, rape, other inhumane acts and persecution were committed in an attack on the civilian residents of Nakuru and Naivasha towns between 24 and 28 January 2008.

The Court named Mr. Muthaura criminally responsible for the alleged crimes as an indirect co-perpetrator, alongside Mr. Kenyatta, the deputy Prime Minister and winner of last week’s presidential election.

“Let me be absolutely clear on one point – this decision applies only to Mr. Muthaura. It does not apply to any other case,” the Prosecutor said in her statement. She added that, while aware of political developments in Kenya, “these have no influence, at all, on the decisions that I make as Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.”

Ms. Bensouda said she remained committed to justice for the victims of the 2007-2008 post-election violence. “The real victims of the terrible violence in Kenya five years ago are the men, the women, and the children, who were killed, injured, raped, or forcibly displaced from their homes – and whose voices must not be forgotten,” she noted.

(Adapted from a UN Press Release)

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U.N. Expert on Torture Calls for Investigation of Use of Solitary Confinement

The United Nations expert on torture has called on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to investigate the practise of solitary confinement and its harmful effects in the Americas, particularly in Latin America, and urged stronger regulation of its use.  “I am concerned about the general lack of official information and statistics on the use of solitary confinement,” the Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, told the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in its first-ever briefing on solitary confinement in the Americas.  “The use of solitary confinement can only be accepted under exceptional circumstances, and should only be applied as a last resort measure in which its length must be as short as possible,” the Special Rapporteur added at the meeting in Washington D.C.

Mr. Méndez warned that there are insufficient safeguard mechanisms in the region for preventing, detecting, and responding to the use of solitary confinement, such as making sure that the prisoners held in solitary confinement retain access to legal counsel and medical assistance.  He also called for the absolute prohibition of solitary confinement for juveniles and persons with mental disabilities and for an equally absolute prohibition on indefinite or prolonged solitary confinement lasting longer than 15 days. “It is important for States to advance in modifying their legislation, policies and practices that are not in accordance with these standards,” he urged.

Mr. Méndez spoke to the Commission, which is part of the Organization of American States, in his capacity as an unpaid independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on thematic issues.  In a 2011 global report to the UN General Assembly, Mr. Méndez called solitary confinement a “harsh measure which is contrary to rehabilitation, the aim of the penitentiary system.”

(From a UN Press Release)

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Cambodia Tribunal Defendant "Brother Number Two" Dies

The trial chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) has terminated the proceedings against former foreign minister Ieng Sary, who died this morning after being hospitalized since March 4, 2013. He was on trial on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s.  He had been hospitalized several times since being detained by the Court, and an assessment of his fitness to stand trial by local and international medical experts was scheduled for later this month, according to a statement by the Court.

The ECCC has terminated all criminal and civil actions against him, the ECCC Trial Chamber stated in its decision.

Mr. Sary, former so-called Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, was on trial along with his wife, Ieng Thirith, who formerly served as Social Affairs Minister for the Democratic Kampuchea – as Cambodia was known during the Khmer Rouge regime’s leadership of the country – as well as former head of State Khieu Samphan.

Last September, the Court found Ms. Thirith unfit to stand trial owing to medical reasons and granted her a provisional release. Expert psychiatrists who examined diagnosed her with clinical dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s, which would hinder her participation in court hearings.

Nearly two million people are thought to have died during the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979.

(mew) (adapted from a UN Press Release)

March 14, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Chicago International Dispute Resolution Association Board Member Roderic Heard has Died

We have been informed that H. Roderic Heard died last week.  He was a partner in the Chicago office of Barnes & Thornburg, and for many years before that, a partner at the lawfirm Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon.  Rod was an enthusiastic advocate for alternative dispute resolution and an engaged participant in programs of the Chicago International Dispute Reoslution Association (CIDRA). With his wife Susan Walker, he was a dedicated teacher of ADR at Northwestern University Law School.  Rod and Susan were also authors (with another CIDRA stalwart, Jack Cooley) of the 2011 treatise, International Commercial Arbitration Advocacy.  

We extend our sympathies to his wife Susan, their family, and to the many friends and colleagues who knew him.  Thank you to Peter Baugher who shared the news with us.



March 14, 2013 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)