UN rights council centres on Mali and North Korea

The 22nd session of the UN Human Rights Council, which opens in Geneva on Monday, is set to discuss the widespread abuses in Mali and North Korea, according to observers.

UN rights council centres on Mali and North Korea
UN Human Rights Council headquarters in Geneva. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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 25th through March 22nd.

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.

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.

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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Swiss hostage ‘killed by jihadis in Mali’: ministry

A Swiss woman being held hostage in Mali "was apparently killed by kidnappers... about a month ago", Bern's foreign ministry said in a statement Friday.

Swiss hostage 'killed by jihadis in Mali': ministry
The information was provided by Sophie Petronin (above), who returned to France on Friday after four years in captivity. Photo: Stringer/AFP
“It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of our fellow citizen,” foreign affairs chief Ignazio Cassis said, adding that “I condemn this cruel act and express my deepest sympathy to the relatives”.
Switzerland did not release the name of the hostage who had been killed, but said they had been held by the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), an alliance comprising several jihadist groups aligned to al-Qaeda that has claimed responsibility for some of the biggest attacks in the Sahel region.
The foreign ministry (DFAE) said that “information about the killing was obtained by the French authorities from the recently released French hostage” Sophie Petronin, who returned to France on Friday after being freed by the Malian insurgents following almost four years in captivity.
Swiss authorities “are making every effort to find out more about the circumstances of the killing and the whereabouts of the remains,” the DFAE said, adding  that it “demands handing over” of the hostage's body.