The United Nations launched a new investigation into Syria on Tuesday for “arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and killing of anti-government protesters” adding pressure on the isolated government of President Bashar al-Assad.
Overcoming objections by Russia, China and Cuba, the UN Human Rights Council agreed to the international commission of inquiry into possible crimes against humanity at the end of a two-day emergency session on Syria.
“We will not stand by silently as innocent civilians and peaceful protesters are slaughtered by security forces. We are working to ramp up pressure on the Syrian authorities to help ensure that the violence ends,” US ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe said in an email response sent to Reuters.
Syrian forces shot dead three people in Homs during a visit by a U.N. humanitarian team on Monday, activists said.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Monday more than 2,200 people have been killed in the five-month-old crackdown which has intensified during August.
Pillay, a former UN war crimes judge, has called for the UN Security Council to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged crimes against humanity.
“This is excellent, it’s a strong resolution,” Radwan Ziadeh, an exiled Syrian activist who heads the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Reuters. “This puts much more pressure on the Security Council (to act).”
Syria’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, rejected the resolution as unbalanced and amounting to interference an independent, sovereign country.
“This once again confirms that there is a determination to politically condemn Syria and pass over any proposal for opening and reform that exists in this country,” he said.
The 47-member rights council easily adopted the resolution presented by the European Union, the United States and all four Arab members -- Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Russia, China and Cuba denounced the resolution and warned that its adoption could destabilize further the key Middle East country. Ecuador joined them in voting against the text.
The vote was 33 states in favor with four against and 9 abstentions including India. Libya’s membership in the council was suspended earlier this year so it has no vote.
“Today’s resolution sends a clear message from the international community: the writing is on the wall for the Syrian regime,” Hillel Neuer, director of the Geneva-based group UN Watch, said in a statement.
Ensuring perpetrators held accountable
UN investigators, in a report issued last week, documented killings, disappearances and torture that they said may amount to crimes against humanity.
They have also drawn up a confidential list of 50 suspected perpetrators for possible prosecution, according to the report, based on extensive interviews with victims and witnesses.
The council on Tuesday launched an international inquiry to establish the facts “and where possible to identify those responsible with a view of ensuring that perpetrators of violations, including those that may constitute crimes against humanity, are held accountable.”
The team, due to report back by the end of November, is expected to be composed of several independent experts.
Their report is to be sent to the General Assembly and “all relevant bodies” of the United Nations -- implicitly including the Hague-based ICC.
“In the face of the overwhelming and compelling evidence presented...the situation must now urgently be referred by the Security Council to the International Criminal Court,” said Gerald Staberock of the World Organization against Torture.