(Geneva) - The Human Rights Council's decision to hold an urgent full-day meeting on the situation in Burma is a welcome step, for Burma and for the council, Human Rights Watch said today. Fifty-three states called for the special session, which will be held on October 2, 2007.

“The council’s quick action on Burma reflects the severity of the crisis there,” said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Burma’s rulers should realize the world is watching, and they must end their appalling abuse of human rights.”

Human Rights Watch said that the council, now in its second year of operation, took some additional steps forward during this session that broke today and will resume in December. However, the council continues to disappoint by failing to act regarding serious human rights abuses in many countries across the globe.

The council renewed the mandates for human rights experts appointed to address the situations in Haiti and Burundi. Both countries had supported the renewals, demonstrating a constructive approach which signals recognition that council engagement in the human rights situation in their countries is both appropriate and necessary. Discussions on the renewal of mandates for experts on Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo were postponed, leaving both mandates intact.

The council continued to neglect a number of countries with endemic human rights problems, including Uzbekistan and Iraq, while adopting two resolutions relating to Israeli violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The council again ignored Human Rights Watch’s call to move from polemics to addressing the situation comprehensively, by including abuses by Palestinian armed groups and authorities, in order to improve its credibility and effectiveness.

The group of experts charged by the council with working to implement recommendations on Darfur presented an interim report in which it noted that it was “not in a position to report that a clear impact on the ground has been identified.” Human Rights Watch called for the council to hold Sudan accountable by assessing Sudan’s implementation of 10 concrete steps before the group of experts presents its final report in December.

In addition to Burma, council members raised a number of other situations which required the council’s attention, including Sri Lanka, Iran, North Korea, Belarus and Zimbabwe, but did not take further action in those cases. There was no discussion whatsoever of the human rights situation in Somalia, despite the expression of deep concern over the deterioration of the situation there by the council-appointed expert on that situation, Ghanim Alnajjar, following his recent mission to the country. Human Rights Watch has reported on ongoing violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes, by Somali and Ethiopian armed forces and insurgent groups that have displaced up to 400,000 people.

“The council’s engagement on Burma, Burundi, Darfur and Haiti allayed the worst fears that it would back away from addressing countries in need of attention,” Hicks said. “But the council still has left a lot of work undone.”

The HRC initiated the first phase of the Universal Periodic Review, under which the human rights situation in all UN member states will be examined, by determining the initial group of 16 countries to be reviewed. The review of those states should take place in early 2008.

The council also looked at how it will integrate gender and address the human rights of women throughout its work. More than 30 states took the floor during this discussion, a hopeful sign of enhanced commitment to addressing these issues.

Despite such glimmers of hope, the council is a long way from being the strong, credible institution which was envisioned when the council was created, and which victims of human rights violations and their defenders desperately need. That gap, however, demands greater engagement by states professing to support human rights, rather than disengagement.

“Backing away from the Human Rights Council because it hasn’t yet fulfilled its promise is an affront to those facing human rights abuses around the globe,” Hicks said. “There are no viable alternatives to the council, and states committed to human rights must re-dedicate themselves to making this institution everything it should be.”