(Geneva) – The new U.N. Human Rights Council must take urgent action to address crises from Darfur to Sri Lanka and expand its focus beyond the Middle East, Human Rights Watch said today.

The council begins its second regular session today. Thus far the council has held one opening session to establish its framework and two special sessions, one on the Occupied Palestinian Territories and one on Lebanon.

“It’s time for the Human Rights Council to get down to work,” said Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Victims of human rights violations from Darfur to Sri Lanka are looking to the council to take immediate steps for their protection.”

On Darfur, Human Rights Watch called on the council to condemn war crimes and crimes against humanity by Sudan and the janjaweed militia it supports and to recommend stronger Security Council action, including the extension of the arms embargo to cover all of Sudan and targeted sanctions on high-level Sudanese officials should they continue to block the deployment of a U.N. force in Darfur.

In Sri Lanka, the resumption of major fighting in the two-decades-long civil war that has already claimed 65,000 lives has now placed hundreds of thousands of civilians at risk. Human Rights Watch said the council must immediately dispatch a mission of inquiry into recent massacres and other atrocities and urge the government to accept the deployment of a U.N. human rights monitoring mission to conflict areas.

In its meetings to date, the council has adopted three resolutions on human rights abuses and violations of humanitarian law by Israel, but has ignored the responsibilities and roles of other parties in the Middle East, including Hezbollah and Palestinian armed groups, who have committed violations. In taking a one-sided approach, the council failed in its duty to act to protect the rights of all citizens in the region.

Over the course of the next year, the council will begin a system of “universal periodic review” of the human rights situations in all U.N. member states. However, it will be years before the council is able to subject all states to this review. Such reviews are thus not a substitute for council action to address human rights situations requiring more immediate attention or follow-up.

The council will also hear a report by five of its experts who found serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law at the U.S. detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Human Rights Watch urged the council to endorse the experts’ findings and to call on the United States to abide by international law in its treatment of detainees held in the fight against terrorism.

The council should also bring public scrutiny to abuses in Uzbekistan by not continuing to treat it as a “confidential procedure.” It should endorse the call for an independent, international inquiry into last year’s massacre of hundreds of unarmed protesters in Andijan and call for an end to the fierce crackdown on civil society that has ensued.

Human Rights Watch also urged the council to:

  • Call on all U.N. member states to allow visits by the council’s independent experts, and specifically identify those states which continue to block such visits, including Iran, Democratic Republic of Congo, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan; and,
  • In view of the council decision in June to extend the mandates of all independent experts for a year, resist pressure to end the mandates of the experts monitoring the human rights situations in particular countries, including Belarus and Cuba.

“If the Human Rights Council fails again to address human rights crises beyond those involving Israel, its credibility may be damaged beyond repair,” Hicks said.