GENEVA — Amid unrelenting conflict and reports of new massacres in Syria, the United Nations’ human rights body voted Friday to strengthen and extend the term of the commission gathering evidence of abuses that could provide a basis for future prosecution by national or international courts.
The U.N. Human Rights Council voted to continue the work of the Commission of Inquiry for another six months and to increase its staff and resources. This was understood to include the appointment later Friday of two more commissioners to join the two already on the panel. The council also called on the panel to continue its efforts to map gross human rights abuses committed since March 2011, when the uprising began, and to report back in March of next year.
The resolution, presented by Morocco on behalf of a group of Arab countries, won the backing of 41 of the council’s 47 members. It was opposed by China, Cuba and Russia. Three other members, including India, abstained.
Russia, saying that cooperation with Arab countries was a “strategic priority," complained that the panel had been one-sided, prematurely blaming the Syrian government for the massacre at Houla and failing to report on other abuses. China also voted against the resolution on the grounds that “putting pressure on one party to the conflict will not help to solve the problem."
The commission told the council this month that it had collected “a formidable and extraordinary body of evidence" of war crimes and crimes against humanity, committed by Syrian government forces and militia and, on a lesser scale, by the rebels, including summary executions. The evidence includes the names of individuals and units responsible for alleged crimes, which have been sent to the U.N. human rights chief for use in any future prosecutions, the panel said.
The fighting in the capital, Damascus, and the northern city of Aleppo is presenting the panel with more reports of atrocities to investigate. Among the latest are accounts of a massacre in the Damascus suburb of Thiyabiya, where activists say at least 40 people died Wednesday; video showed bodies of people that appeared to have been summarily executed.
Paulo Pinheiro, the Brazilian investigator leading the panel, has already called for further investigation of a massacre in the town of Daraya in late August, where government forces and militia members appear to have killed more than 100 people.
To bolster the investigations, the Human Rights Council’s Uruguayan president, Laura Dupuy Lasserre, was due Friday to announce two more commissioners. Such appointments would bring in additional legal and other experts to reinforce the panel’s research into international crimes and human rights abuses.
Panel investigators have not been allowed to enter Syria, whose government has rejected their reports as politically biased and inaccurate, but they are in Turkey and Jordan, interviewing refugees who have fled the conflict.
The Human Rights Council has already forwarded the panel’s findings to the U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, but authority to refer the evidence to the International Criminal Court in The Hague lies with the U.N. Security Council, which is paralyzed by the rift between Western governments, which are urging action to halt the fighting, and Russia and China, which have used their veto powers to block it.