The United Nations’ top human rights forum on Friday condemned Syria for “gross and systematic violations” after an independent panel found evidence suggesting the country’s security forces had committed crimes against humanity.
The resolution approved by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva adds to pressure on President Bashar Assad’s increasingly isolated government, which has faced multiple rounds of sanctions for its violent crackdown on an 8-month-old uprising.
Diplomats said it was also a call to action by the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly and the International Criminal Court, although there was no direct mention of those bodies in the approved version of the text.
It referred to the “main bodies” of the U.N. and urged them to “take appropriate action.” It also established the post of a special human rights investigator to investigate abuses in Syria.
Syria’s allies on the Security Council, Russia and China, vetoed a resolution in October condemning Assad’s handling of the unrest, in part because they said it could set the stage for a Libya-style military intervention.
Russia and China were among four countries that voted against the resolution at a special session. Of the Human Rights Council’s 47 members, 37 voted in favor of the resolution and six abstained.
The independent panel of experts commissioned by the council released a report Monday documenting what it described as systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights, including torture and the killing of children, shooting unarmed demonstrators and raping detainees.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged the council to refer the alleged crimes to the International Criminal Court in the Hague, saying that more than 4,000 people, including 307 children, had been reported killed since March, when major protests against Assad’s regime began.
“The Syrian authorities’ continual ruthless repression, if not stopped now, can drive the country into a full-fledged civil war,” Pillay said. “The international community needs to take urgent and effective measures to protect the Syrian people.”
Syria’s ambassador to U.N. offices in Geneva, Fayssal Hamwi, said the panel’s report was “not objective.” Syrian authorities dispute the U.N. figures and say the bloodshed has been caused armed gangs backed from abroad, which they say have killed more than 1,100 security force members.
But Reuters news agency quoted the U.S. ambassador, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, as saying that evidence left no doubt about the complicity of Syrian authorities. “We’ve set the stage in a very substantive way for strong action by the U.N. if other entities choose to take the opportunity,” she said.
In Syria, government news outlets and opposition activists reported large demonstrations for and against Assad’s regime on Friday, when protesters regularly take to the streets after midday prayers.
At least 13 people were reported killed, including two who allegedly died under torture, according to the Local Coordination Committees of Syria, a major opposition coalition. Journalists are heavily restricted in Syria, making it difficult to verify either side’s account.