(Geneva) - The United States is missing a crucial opportunity to address serious human rights violations in several states, including Russia, by failing to participate in the ongoing country-by-country review at the UN Human Rights Council, Human Rights Watch said today. 

Within the "universal periodic review" (UPR), the Human Rights Council examines human rights situations in each UN member state once every four years. The review provides a chance to draw attention to, and make recommendations about, human rights violations in all UN member states. It may provide the only realistic opportunity at the UN to publicly confront powerful Security Council members Russia and China, which is up for review next week, on their human rights records. States under review submit written reports concerning the human rights situation in their country, and respond to the questions and recommendations put forward by other UN member states. 

"Change has not yet come to Geneva, where the US remains inexplicably silent about human rights abuses in places such as Russia, and looks on track to be AWOL when China is considered next week," said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "If the US is truly committed to addressing abuses and re-engaging with the world, it should speak out at the Human Rights Council." 

Human rights defenders and democracy activists face growing threats in Russia. On January 19, 2009, one of Russia's leading human rights lawyers, Stanislav Markelov, was shot dead in broad daylight in downtown Moscow. Yet when Russia's human rights record was up for review during the UPR session on February 4, the US chair was vacant and it failed to make either a written or oral statement. 

This continues the policy of disengagement from the Human Rights Council initiated by the Bush administration in June 2008. Since that time, the US has sent only low-level observers to council meetings, and has not spoken for the record. 

All states, not just the 47 members of the rights council, are entitled to participate actively in council sessions. Within the UPR, observer states take the floor on a routine basis. Countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom continue to participate actively in the UPR, and Israel engaged constructively in the review of its own human rights record, which took place on December 4. 

At the current UPR review session, which ends on February 13, 16 countries will be considered: Germany; Djibouti; Canada; Bangladesh; the Russian Federation; Azerbaijan; Cameroon; Cuba; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; China; Nigeria; Mexico; Mauritius; Jordan; and Malaysia. The United States will be reviewed within the UPR in December 2010.