(Geneva) - The United Nations Human Rights Council took positive steps to respond to human rights emergencies in Kyrgyzstan and Somalia in its session that ended on June 18, 2010, Human Rights Watch said today. But the council's failure to act on Iran and its weak response to the situation in Afghanistan indicate that the body is still taking a piecemeal approach to fulfilling its mandate, Human Rights Watch said.

The council condemned the ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan and called on its government to conduct a full and transparent investigation into the events of April 7 that led to the ouster of the previous government and the ongoing ethnic violence, while also agreeing to examine the situation in Somalia during its next session. The council also decided to send a fact-finding mission "to investigate violations of international law resulting from Israeli attacks on the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian assistance" on May 31.

"The council should show the same willingness to act in other situations like Iran and Afghanistan as it has shown on Kyrgyzstan and Gaza," said Julie de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "It's time for the council to stop being selective and recognize that people facing human rights violations deserve the council's attention no matter where they live."

The council did not take any action on Iran during its session despite calls from Iranian civil society activists for a response to the government's continuing crackdown on civil society. However, 56 states joined a statement made at the session expressing concern over "the lack of progress in the protection of human rights in Iran, particularly since the events surrounding the elections in Iran last June."

On Afghanistan, the council adopted a narrow resolution that focused only on attacks on school children. While the council's belated attention to the dire human rights situation in that country was a step forward, the council's failure to address the full range of rights violations in Afghanistan or even to call for accountability for the attacks on the children was regrettable, Human Rights Watch said.

In other action during this council session, a group of UN experts presented a report on secret detentions that revealed the use of that practice by a number of countries in their counterterrorism programs. In addition, the council-appointed expert on the right to health, Anand Grover, called in his annual report for same-sex practices among consenting adults to be decriminalized in all countries, leading to the first discussion at the council on this issue.

The council also adopted by consensus a resolution on religious freedom, after three years in which it had been strongly divided on this issue. The resolution expressed concern at the overall rise in intolerance and violence directed at members of religious communities. The council also appointed a new expert on the right to freedom of religion and belief with a three-year mandate.

The close of this council session was delayed for several hours when some countries objected to two people nominated by the council president for appointments to positions as experts on various aspects of human rights. After a lengthy adjournment following the intervention by those states, the council president's nominations were withdrawn, and two other nominees were selected for these posts.

"The council's actions regarding selection of experts to fill these positions call into question its commitment to put an expert's qualifications ahead of politics in making appointments," de Rivero said.

A group of 108 states also took the positive step of coming together to emphasize their concerns about high rates of maternal mortality, Human Rights Watch said. They called for the UN high commissioner for human rights to promote a human-rights-based approach to maternal mortality by presenting her recent report about the issue at the Millennium Development Goals Summit in September, aimed at accelerating progress towards attainment of the goals.

"While the council's overall performance has improved in some ways, much more needs to be done," de Rivero said. "There is a huge gap between the council's actions and the real needs of people facing human rights violations across the globe."