Ivan Simonovic, the U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights, arrived Friday in Mali for a four-day visit to assess the situation in the country.
Foreign fighters and groups affiliated with al-Qaida claimed autonomy for northern Mali following a coup early this year. Northern militants have been accused of serious human rights violations. Islamic rebels have razed protected heritage sites in Timbuktu.
The United Nations said Simonovic is to meet with civil society groups and displaced people in northern Mali to better understand the situation in rebel areas.
Malian Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra had told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly that Mali as "an inch away from chaos."
The central Malian government in Bamako has agreed to host 3,000 members of a military unit backed by the Economic Community of West African States.