(Geneva) - The defeat on June 18 in the UN Human Rights Council of efforts led by Egypt and Sudan to end the scrutiny of Sudan was an important step, Human Rights Watch said today.

"Most member governments made it clear that they intend to keep an eye on Sudan," said Julie de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. "That is a strong signal to the people of Sudan that the victims of human rights abuses will not be forgotten."

Human Rights Watch said it was concerned, though, about a number of attacks during its just-concluded 11th session on independent voices reporting on human rights abuses in Sudan and elsewhere.

The Human Rights Council decided to appoint an independent expert on the situation in Sudan. The independent expert will continue the work carried out by the special rapporteur on Sudan of reporting to the Human Rights Council on the situation in the country, including the implementation of recommendations made on Darfur.

"The lack of mechanisms for civilian protection and the rule of law in Darfur and Southern Sudan are serious concerns that the Human Rights Council should continue to monitor closely," de Rivero said. "Though the vote was close, we are pleased that governments such as Brazil, Mauritius and Zambia voted to keep this situation under close scrutiny."

More than a thousand civilian deaths from armed conflict in Sudan have been reported so far in 2009. Many thousands more are at risk following the government's expulsion of humanitarian organizations. The harassment and arbitrary arrest of human rights defenders by security forces and increasing censorship and restrictions on media freedoms have also caused serious concern, particularly because such measures diminish the chances that elections currently slated for February 2010 will be free and fair.

Other action by the Human Rights Council included the adoption of a groundbreaking resolution recognizing that the scale of deaths of women in pregnancy and as a result of childbirth is a major human rights issue requiring significantly enhanced efforts by governments and more systematic reporting. More than 500,000 women and girls die every year as a result of pregnancy and childbirth.

The council also supported the initiative of Cote d'Ivoire to examine the human rights of migrants in detention. The council stressed that "international action is needed to address administrative detention of undocumented migrants, which creates potential conditions for the violation of their human rights, including cases of arbitrary detention." At its 12th session, scheduled for September 2009, the council will convene an expert panel to identify alternatives to detention and ways to reduce the length and overuse of detention of migrants.

Human Rights Watch said it was concerned about verbal attacks at the session that ended today on independent experts and nongovernmental organizations for their criticisms of states' human rights records. The Organization of the Islamic Conference filed a complaint against the special rapporteur on freedom of expression because of his decision to issue a joint statement with experts from regional bodies commenting on the issue of defamation of religions, anti-terrorism, and anti-extremism legislation.

The African Group protested about the conduct of Philip Alston as a special rapporteur on executions following his critical report on extrajudicial killings and impunity in Kenya. Cuba tried and failed to pass a resolution that called on UN experts not to challenge or question the mandates given to them, and labeled nongovernmental organizations that criticized its record "mercenaries."

"Governments criticizing independent voices do so to hide their own deplorable human rights record," de Rivero said. "Instead of attacking the messengers, these governments should concentrate on ending abuses."