UN creates expert mission to boost Mali rights

The United Nations will appoint an independent expert to investigate and help improve the human rights situation in war-torn Mali, the UN Human Rights Council decided Thursday.

The 47 members of the UN's top human rights body approved the resolution presented by Gabon on behalf of the African group of nations by consensus, clearing the way for an expert to spend one year working to protect and promote human rights in Mali.

The text, which did not specify who would be appointed to the position, also called on the Malian government "to guarantee freedom of expression and to as quickly as possible organise free and transparent elections".

The transition government in place in Bamako for the past year has promised the country will hold elections in July.

Thursday's resolution asks that all armies and armed groups in Mali respect international law, and urged "an immediate halt to all human rights violations and acts of violence".

The resolution also condemns all abuses carried out in the country, especially in the north by the armed groups that seized the vast stretch of land last April.

French forces launched a surprise intervention on January 11 in a bid to stop Al-Qaeda-linked fighters there from moving southward and threatening the capital Bamako.

Islamist groups have now largely been driven out of the main cities in the north and are waging a guerrilla war against French, Malian and other troops seeking to help the government assert its control over the entire territory.

Thursday's resolution meanwhile made no reference to allegations put forward last week by the UN's second in command on human rights that Malian soldiers have carried out retaliation attacks against ethnic groups suspected of sympathising with the rebels.

Human Rights Watch welcomed the resolution, but advocate Philippe Dam insisted "the council's failure to clearly condemn serious exactions recently committed by members of the Malian army is a disservice to the Malian people".

"If Mali is to turn a new page, the new UN expert and UN rights monitors will have to investigate abuses by all sides and hold the Malian authorities accountable for their part," he said in a statement.

Speaking on behalf of the EU, Irish ambassador Gerard Corr also emphasised the allegations of abuses by Malian soldiers, calling before the council on the Malian government to "work firmly against impunity and to ensure that no crimes committed in Mali go unpunished".

The resolution also requires UN rights chief Navi Pillay to present a report on the situation in Mali at the next session of the Human Rights Council, which will take place in May and June.