(Geneva) – UN member states must take immediate steps to improve cooperation with the Human Rights Council, particularly with the independent experts it has appointed to look at human rights issues, Human Rights Watch said today.

More than 80 states have outstanding requests for visits by council independent experts, according to information on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, including half of the council’s members.

“The members of the council must lead by example,” said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “All council members should issue standing invitations to any expert appointed by the council to visit, without restrictions, before the end of this session.”

The council today concluded a series of “interactive dialogues” during which some 27 experts reported on human rights issues such as torture, trafficking in persons, and violence against women. Twelve additional experts reported on the human rights situation in particular countries.

Although these experts depend on fact-finding missions in order to prepare their reports, numerous states have persistently blocked their visits. Experts appointed in 2000 for Burma and in 2004 for North Korea have never been allowed access to the countries they are intended to monitor. But the problem extends well beyond such notorious human rights abusers. Seven additional states – Ethiopia, India, Philippines, Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe – have failed to cooperate with at least five experts.

The interactive dialogue was intended to mark a new commitment to the council’s experts, all of whom were originally appointed by the council’s predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights. For the first time, each expert was able to report extensively, and to take questions from states and non-governmental organizations. The session played an important role in exposing ongoing abuses in many countries. Long-time observers of the Commission on Human Rights noted that these sessions were truly innovative. Governments were reported to be “glued to their chairs” in recognition of the fact that the issues discussed touched on all states, and that any state might at some point be questioned regarding its approach.

A number of governments took this opportunity to respond to visit requests previously made by council experts, while others noted their standing invitations for any of the council’s experts to visit. While 55 countries had extended such invitations to the council’s thematic experts as of July, only 17 of the council’s current members had done so. In many cases, however, the council’s experts also reported on how their work has been undermined by the absence of government cooperation.

Council members “shall abide by the highest standards for the promotion and protection of human rights and fully cooperate with the Council” under the UN General Assembly resolution which established the council. Despite this requirement, one-half of the council’s members have outstanding requests for visits by council experts. And such visits are only part of the picture – the real test is the record of states in responding to findings by these experts regarding human rights violations.

“Dialogue is good, but governments must match their words with action,” Hicks said. “States, and particularly members of the council, must give the council’s experts full access so that they can do their jobs, and take prompt action to implement their recommendations.”