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UN Human Rights Council Agrees to a Compromise On Scrutiny Of Abusive Countries

The U.N. Human Rights Council has overcome last minute objections by China and set new rules for investigating some of the world's worst human rights offenders. The compromises agreed on do not totally satisfy all council members, but they allow the body to end its first year of existence with a mandate to continue its work as the U.N.'s principle guardian of human rights. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from Geneva.

The compromise agreement was saved after the U.N. Human Rights Council forced China to back down on a demand that would have made it more difficult to criticize countries over their human rights records. China proposed that an investigation could be undertaken only after two-thirds of the 47-member Council approved the mission. Currently, a simple majority is required.

The country investigations are the backbone of the council's work. U.N. experts report on abuses around the world, identifying those countries that violate the rights of their citizens.

Some developing countries dislike the finger-pointing and had sought to impose limits on what the experts can do. They introduced a so-called Code of Conduct, which would have weakened the experts' role.

In the end, the experts' independence was retained. The outgoing President of the Council, Mexican Ambassador Luis Alfonso de Alba, said he was satisfied with the outcome. "I feel confident that the Code will strengthen and not weaken…The Code did not establish any ethical or any other mechanism to control the behavior…The Council has better tools to act and to really reduce the number of violations or identify a greater number of violators," he said.

De Alba said he was pleased the agreement was achieved by consensus. But, consensus carries a price. In exchange for approving the President's compromise text, some countries demanded that the Council drop further investigation of Belarus and Cuba and the council members agreed.

Global Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch Peggy Hicks called that decision completely unjustified based on the human rights situations in those two countries. "And, in particular, if you look at the fact that the General Assembly just in December condemned Belarus for its human rights record and implicitly reaffirmed that decision by rejecting Belarus' candidacy for the Human Rights Council just last month. It is inexplicable that the Council would not take a similar stand with regard to Belarus and continue its consideration of Belarus through continuing the work of the independent expert," she said.

The council established a so-called Universal Periodic Review System under which all countries will have their human rights records regularly scrutinized. It also said it would regularly examine the situation in the Palestinian Occupied Territories. Some countries and human rights groups are critical, believing this puts undue focus on Israel and deters action against other violators.

Independent experts will continue to report on abuses found in a number of countries including Haiti, Somalia, Congo, Sudan, Burma, and North Korea.