The United States and the European Union have a special responsibility to pull the United Nations Commission on Human Rights back from the brink of disaster, Human Rights Watch urged today.

The annual meeting of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights is due to begin on Monday, March 17. Several of the world’s worst rights violators are now among its 53 members, Human Rights Watch said.

“The sustained attention of the world’s major powers can still reverse this dangerous trend,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “But if the United States and the European Union don’t engage themselves systematically in the work of the Commission this year, it could slide into irrelevance.”

With Libya assuming the chairmanship of the Commission, media attention has focused on the abusive governments who have gained seats there in recent years. Indeed, governments who have felt the sting of human rights scrutiny have sought to immunize themselves against criticism by working energetically to limit monitoring by the Commission.

The West, in particular the European Union countries and the United States, have been largely indifferent to this trend, and at times complicit in it, Human Rights Watch said. The European Union still sponsors most country resolutions and takes the lead on many other initiatives at the Commission. But its effectiveness has been diminished in recent years by its internal consensus rule, under which resolution drafts and statements have settled at the most watered-down version presented by one of the fifteen.

Human Rights Watch called on the Commission to pass resolutions on several countries, including: China, Colombia, Iran, North Korea, the Russian Federation (Chechnya), and Turkmenistan.

Human Rights Watch has also urged the appointment of a Special Representative to monitor counter terrorist measures worldwide and their impact on human rights, as well as the appointment of a special envoy to secure the release of children abducted in northern Uganda.