The U.N. Human Rights Council has ordered an investigation into possible rights violations committed by Syrian security forces during a deadly crackdown against dissent.
The 47-member council voted Tuesday to approve a resolution by a 33 - 4 margin, with the rest of the members abstaining. China and Russia were among those that opposed the measure, saying it was an unnecessary intervention.
The council's action comes a day after witnesses and rights groups said Syrian forces killed eight people as thousands of anti-government protesters taunted President Bashar al-Assad.
The witnesses said several hundred people converged on the main square in the central city of Homs Monday after a U.N. humanitarian team visited the town. Pro-government troops fired on the protesters, many of whom had shouted "Gadhafi is gone; now it is your turn, Bashar!" Six people were reported killed.
Similar demonstrations were held in other Syrian cities, including Hama, where two more civilians were reported killed.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navy Pillay (File)
Earlier Monday, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said the Syrian government has resorted to an apparent "shoot-to-kill" policy against civilians. She told the U.N. Human Rights Council that more than 2,200 people have been killed in the unrest. The U.N. special rapporteur on torture, Juan Mendez, also briefed the council Monday, saying the "threshold of systematic and widespread violence has clearly been reached."
All four Arab nations on the U.N. body - Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia - joined calls condemning the violence and urged Syria to cooperate with an international investigation on whether crimes against humanity have been committed in the country. The U.N. team in Homs had been granted permission to visit some of the protest centers to assess the humanitarian situation in those locations.
Also Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it is "troubling" that Assad has not kept his word about ending the brutal military crackdown in his country.
Ban told reporters in New York that the Syrian president assured him in a recent phone conversation that military operations had stopped.
The Syrian leader has defended his crackdown by describing the opposition as armed gangs and terrorists. He also said criticism from Western countries means nothing to him.
The United States, the European Union and other Western powers have said that Assad must step down.
The Syrian leader repeated plans to introduce reforms, adding that he expects new elections for Syria's national assembly in six months. He said that laws on the establishment of new political parties will be ready in the next few days, and that people who want to create a new party will have a 45-day period to apply through a committee.