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N. Korea, Mali on UN rights council agenda

Senegalese women in Dakar show their solidarity with the women in Mali on November 30, 2012
Organisers prepare placards before a march by Senegalese women in Dakar to show their solidarity with the women in Mali on November 30, 2012. Widespread abuses in North Korea and Mali are set to be the subject of heated debate at the 22nd session of the U

Widespread abuses in North Korea and Mali are set to be the subject of heated debate at the 22nd session of the UN Human Rights Council, which kicks off 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 February 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, 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.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay pictured in Jakarta on November 13, 2012
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, pictured in Jakarta, on November 13, 2012.

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 NGOs in Geneva expect the rights council to adopt a resolution on this issue.

Delegates are seen prior to a session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, on April 29, 2011
This file photo shows delegates having informal discussions prior to a session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, on April 29, 2011.

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.

A review of the situation in Sri Lanka will also be a priority during the coming session, according the NGOs, which are demanding a resolution paving the way for an international probe.

The situation in Syria -- where a spiralling civil war has left an estimated 70,000 people dead, spurred more than 850,000 people to flee the country and left more than four million others in dire need of aid -- will also be on the agenda.

A UN commission of inquiry on Syria will officially present its latest report, which was published earlier this month and which flagged up war crimes by both government forces and rebels.

The rights council will also debate a report published last month by a group of independent experts that found that Israeli settlements were leading to widespread violations of the rights of Palestinians and urged Israel to withdraw all settlers.

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