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The first session of the new U.N. Human Rights Council was largely successful in laying a foundation for its future work, but there are signs that it may repeat some of its predecessor’s mistakes, Human Rights Watch said today. The inaugural session of the council concluded today.

“The Human Rights Council put in place a framework for its future efforts, but the real work of the council is yet to come,” said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The council must move quickly from discussion to action on the full range of situations that demand its attention worldwide.”

Human Rights Watch noted that the council adopted by consensus the draft International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and sent it to the U.N. General Assembly for adoption. Human Rights Watch said the new treaty is a huge step forward in combating the practice of forced disappearances, and is a tribute to the tireless efforts of the families of the “disappeared” and other groups working to end this crime.

The council also took needed procedural steps, including the establishment of working groups to set up a process for periodic review of the human rights situation within all U.N. member states, and for the review of the system of human rights experts appointed by the council’s predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights. Both working groups will conduct “transparent and inclusive” consultations in which non-governmental organizations will be able to participate. In addition, the council extended the mandates of the human rights experts already appointed, ensuring that there will be no gap in their work during this transition period.

On the last day of the session, the council adopted a resolution on the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which calls for existing human rights experts to report on Israeli human rights violations at its September session and for consideration of this situation at subsequent sessions. Based on a request by more than one-third of the council’s members, the council will also hold a special session on the situation in the occupied territories, possibly next week. Human Rights Watch agreed that the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories should be considered by the council, but urged it to look at international human rights and humanitarian law violations committed by Palestinian armed groups as well.

Human Rights Watch called on the council to avoid the selectivity that discredited its predecessor and urged it to hold special sessions on other urgent situations, such as Darfur. The council’s ability to take up such situations quickly and send in human rights experts to do fact-finding should be a valuable tool in tackling violations.

"The council’s singling out the Occupied Palestinian Territories for special attention is a cause for concern,” said Hicks. “The human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories deserves attention, but the new council must bring the same vigor to its consideration of other pressing situations.”

Also at this session, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights raised a number of human rights situations that require the council’s urgent attention, including Uzbekistan, North Korea, Iraq, Burma, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Sudan, Somalia and the abuse of human rights in counter-terrorism efforts. Human Rights Watch estimated that the list of pressing situations that the council should take up numbered at least two dozen.

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