Human Rights Watch today called on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to appoint an envoy to investigate the mounting atrocities in Algeria.

"The human rights crisis in Algeria is very alarming, and the government has refused to allow human rights investigators access to the country," said Joanna Weschler, United Nations representative of Human Rights Watch. "We are calling on the Commission to appoint a special rapporteur to examine the massacres and the government's possible role in them." Algeria has long stated its agreement "in principle" to a visit by U.N. experts on torture and executions, but has never permitted the visit to take place, and has rebuffed all requests for visits by private groups, including Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Watch also called on the Commission, which meets until April 24, to maintain its scrutiny of the Congo, where the new government of Laurent Kabila has cracked down on civil society and undermined the U.N.'s investigation into massacres of Rwandan refugees, most recently by arresting witnesses who talked to investigators. The organization also urged the Commission to express deep concern at the deterioration of the situation in Burma, and to urge the government to stop blocking access to the rapporteur and to an International Labour Organization probe into forced labor. The group also requested the Commission to:

place human rights field officers in and around the Sudan, to monitor both government and rebel abuses;

call on the Cambodian authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the killing of opposition leaders and violent attacks on the press;

expand the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia;

press the authorities in the former Yugoslavia to hand over suspects indicted by the international tribunal;

express concern over on-going repression and the detention of activists in Bahrain;

send human rights experts to Tajikistan where widespread abuses threaten a fragile peace agreement.

Human Rights Watch also supported High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson's request that the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Mr. Bacre Waly Ndiaye, be able to visit Kosovo immediately in order to report to the Commission.
While welcoming China's decision to sign the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the group deplored the decision of western countries not to pursue a resolution on China. "The pattern of flagrant, widespread human rights violations in China and Tibet remains basically unchanged," Weschler said, "and China's rights record deserves U.N. condemnation."

Human Rights Watch will also bring before the Commission evidence of degrading prison conditions in the United States, in particular the intransigence of the government in addressing pervasive sexual abuse and inhumane treatment by prison staff of women incarcerated in state prisons. The group will also offer documentation of poor conditions of confinement of thousands of asylum seekers and other immigrants who are housed, sometimes indefinitely, in inappropriate criminal environments. The group will also raise concerns about jails in Brazil, about the widespread use of torture in Russia, Uzbekistan, Peru and Turkey and about the treatment of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia.

Human Rights Watch will also urge the Commission to strengthen its system of special rapporteurs and working groups. "The use of urgent action appeals has often saved lives," said Weschler. "These experts, on themes like torture and violence against women, have conducted on-site investigations in countries which, because of their political power, have never faced U.N. scrutiny, including all five permanent members of the Security Council."