The U.N.'s top human rights body on Friday sharply condemned Syria's bloody crackdown on opposition groups, and extended the mandate of a U.N. expert panel tasked with reporting on alleged abuses in the country.
The 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council voted 41 to three in favor of an EU-sponsored resolution that was backed by Arab nations and the United States. China, Russia and Cuba voted against. Two countries abstained and one didn't vote.
The resolution condemned "widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms perpetrated by the Syrian authorities" including summary executions, torture and sexual abuse of detainees and children, and other abuses.
It also condemned "the deliberate destruction of hospitals and clinics, the obstruction and denial of medical assistance to the injured and sick, and the raids and killing of wounded protesters in both public and private hospitals."
Such actions are clear breaches of international law, but in times of conflict they can constitute war crimes.
The Geneva-based council cited the U.N. expert panel's previous report on Syria, which noted that "particular individuals, including commanding officers and officials at the highest levels of Government, bear responsibility for crimes against humanity and other gross human rights violations."
The panel, led by Brazilian professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, said last month that it had compiled a confidential list of top-level Syrian officials who could face prosecution over the atrocities. It handed the document to the U.N. human rights office for safekeeping, so that it might be used by Syrian or international prosecutors in future cases against the regime.
Syria's ambassador Fayssal al-Hamwi rejected Friday's vote as "biased."
"It does not reflect the reality on the ground, on the contrary," he told the meeting.
The council's decisions aren't legally binding, but they are seen as an important indicator of the international community's stance on human rights issues.