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Country Violations Top UN Human Rights Council Agenda 

Overview of the session of the Human Rights Council during the speech of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, February 27, 2020. Picture taken with a fisheye lens. REUTERS/Denis…

Nations accused of violating their citizens’ rights and freedoms will come under intense scrutiny by the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council during its upcoming three-week session, which begins on Monday.

As its first order of business, the council is expected to consider a request by member countries to hold an urgent debate on the human rights situation in Belarus. The country has been in turmoil following the alleged rigging of the August 9 presidential election.

The alleged extrajudicial killings of thousands of people caught up in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs also will be a top issue. Beyond that, several perennial violators will come under the glare of the human rights spotlight.

Reports detailing summary executions, torture, arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, sexual assault and other violations in countries such as Syria, Myanmar, Venezuela, South Sudan, Libya, Iran and Cambodia will come under review.

In addition, some investigative mandates may come to an end. For example, the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Burundi, established four years ago, will present its final report later this month.

Human Rights Watch’s Geneva director, John Fisher says it is important the commission’s mandate be maintained. He says little has changed on the ground despite the coming into power of Burundian President Evariste Ndayishimiye following the death of long-serving President Pierre Nkurunziza.

“We are also very concerned that the president has made critical remarks about civil society, has signaled that they not be the mouthpiece of foreign powers or are involved in selling secrets or unveiling secrets to foreign powers, that they have tended to limit themselves to criticism, etc.," said Fisher.

Fisher says he is concerned that several people responsible for violations under Nkurunziza’s rule remain in the new government.

Human rights activists are pressing for accountability for the actions of so-called untouchable countries at this session. These are countries deemed to be too powerful to be put in the dock at the Council.

A global coalition of 321 civil society groups from 60 countries is calling for China to face greater scrutiny for its alleged systemic and serious human rights violations.

Activists expect Russia to come under heightened scrutiny because of its alleged poisoning of opposition figure Alexey Navalny with a deadly Soviet-era nerve agent.

Fisher says conditions in Saudi Arabia demand greater scrutiny," he said.

“A number of the women’s human rights defenders and other government critics remain held incommunicado in detention. There are details of situations of prison overcrowding, which of course exacerbated the health crisis, particularly during the COVID pandemic. Denial of access to health care, deaths of detainees in custody under suspicious circumstances.”

Fisher says all detainees should be released and the council should press for prison reforms and keep Saudi Arabia under its human rights lens.