Chinese officials assured the United Nations they are committed to the protection of human rights Monday, a claim challenged by a handful of Western nations.

China is in the spotlight in Geneva as the UN Human Rights Council launched its review of the communist country's human rights record. The 47-member council examines the human rights record of each UN member nation once every four years.

"China is fully committed to the promotion and protection of human rights," China's ambassador to the UN and delegation head, Li Baodong, told the council.

Li said the government opposes torture and would never allow it to be used against ethnic or religious minorities, a charge levelled by human rights groups against Beijing.

"At this moment, about 50 governmental agencies are working on a human rights action plan …  which would soon be made public," said Li. "It is the first of its kind in China and will set targets for all departments, in a major move to advance human rights protection in China."

China also dismissed allegations of repression of Tibetans and Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.

Beijing allows regional autonomy in areas with significant proportions of ethnic minorities, said a member of the Chinese delegation, who stressed "there is no ethnic conflict" in China.

"Regrettably, a few people with external forces try to split Tibet and Xinjiang. They by no means represent Tibetans and Uighurs.

"[Tibet and Xinjiang] are inseparable parts of China," he added.

Groups such as New York-based Human Rights Watch say they have extensively documented cases of abuse in the Tibet autonomous region and elsewhere.

China won praise and support from council members Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Myanmar, Zimbabwe and Sudan, said Reuters. Egypt and Zimbabwe hailed Beijing for protecting human rights, while Pakistan and Sri Lanka called Tibet an "inalienable" part of China.

Canada challenges Chinese record

Several Western countries, including Canada, questioned allegations of religious and ethnic persecution in China. Italy and Austria took China to task over the death penalty.

"Canada is deeply concerned about reports of arbitrary detention of ethnic minority members, including Tibetans, Uighurs and Mongols, as well as religious believers, including Falun Gong practitioners, without information about their charges, their location and well-being," said Louis-Martin Aumais, Canada's representative at the hearings.

Canada also urged China not to use statements obtained under torture and to end its practice of deporting North Korean asylum seekers.

Created in 2006, the Human Rights Council replaced the world body's Human Rights Commission, which came under fire for including notorious rights abusers among its membership.

The 47 members of the council were elected by the UN General Assembly. The United States declined to stand for membership, while others such as Sudan, Venezuela and Iran failed to win a seat.

Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Pakistan and China were elected to the council despite objections.

With files from the Associated Press