UNITED NATIONS - The U.N. Human Rights Council has failed to criticize egregious human-rights violations since it replaced a discredited U.N. rights body last year, two watchdog groups said yesterday.

U.N. Watch and Freedom House released reports contending that rights violators such as Cuba, Saudi Arabia and China had shielded themselves, and countries such as Sudan and Zimbabwe, from criticism as members of the new group.

The groups said the U.N. General Assembly is also expected to select several other countries with poor rights records to become new members of the body this month. The groups named Angola, Belarus, Egypt and Qatar as candidate nations they said were unqualified for membership because of their poor rights records. There are only 15 candidates for the 14 open seats in the 47-member council.

U.N. Watch, based in Geneva, Switzerland, called the council's first year "profoundly disappointing." U.N. Watch is associated with the American Jewish Committee. Freedom House is a New-York based democracy watchdog.