N.Korea, Mali could stir up UN Human Rights Council

GENEVA (AFP) - Widespread abuses in North Korea and Mali are set to be the subject of heated debate at the 22nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which kicks off on Monday, observers say.

Around 100 ministers and other dignitaries are set to take part in the most important of the council's three annual sessions, which will last from Feb 25 through March 22.

Among the many resolutions set to be adopted during the final two days of the session is one that would pave the way for a commission of inquiry into rights abuses in secretive North Korea.

It would mark the first "initiative to do a comprehensive investigation on systematic violations of human rights and crimes against humanity" in North Korea, Ms Juliette De Rivero, head of Human Rights Watch's Geneva office, said.

The resolution, to be tabled by Japan and the European Union, comes after UN human rights chief Navi Pillay last month decried the "deplorable" situation in North Korea.

Ms Pillay stressed that "an in-depth inquiry into one of the worst, but least understood and reported human rights situations in the world is not only fully justified, but long overdue."

She described meetings in December with two survivors of North Korea's network of political prison camps - believed to hold at least 200,000 people - listing rampant violations inside the camps that "may amount to crimes against humanity".

Last year, for the first time, both the UN's General Assembly in New York and its Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted strong resolutions by consensus condemning North Korea for its systematic rights violations.

It remains to be seen whether the commission of inquiry resolution will pass with consensus - which is by far preferred in the council.

Russia, China and Cuba, which have often in the past demanded votes on such resolutions, are not among the rotating list of 47 member states this year, leaving Venezuela as the only likely obstacle to full consensus, observers say.

Another expected resolution during the coming session will be on conflict-torn Mali, amid reports of widespread human rights abuses, including by Malian troops which with France's help, have been struggling to expel Islamists from the vast northern territory the militants seized last April.

France has asked the UN Security Council to quickly deploy observers to oversee the human rights situation in the country, and non-governmental organisations in Geneva expect the rights council to adopt a resolution on this issue.

Ms Julie Gromellon of the International Federation for Human Rights' Geneva office, told AFP she wants a resolution to create a surveillance system aimed at warding off "retaliations" once French troops leave the country.

Such a resolution is expected to be tabled by the group of African nations, with support from France and the United States.