The United States in 2006 issued a national emergency that placed sanctions on Belarusian authorities for undermining democratic processes in the country. In a June decision, the White House renewed the emergency after taking note of a 2011 crackdown on political opposition and restrictions on the freedom of press.
The Human Rights Council adopted a resolution expressing "grave concern" about the pattern of systemic abuses in Belarus. The resolution called for the appointment of a special human rights envoy to the country to examine the violations of human rights.
Julie de Rivero, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch, said the U.N. action sends a strong message to Belarus.
"It's vital for the new expert to shed light on the root causes of rights violations in Belarus," said de Rivero in a statement.
The rights organization said there were more than a dozen opposition leaders behind bars in Belarus for what were described as politically motivated charges.
Many of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko's political opponents were imprisoned following December 2010 elections.