GENEVA (AP) — The U.N.'s top human rights body on Friday named renowned former U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla Del Ponte to its independent panel probing alleged war crimes in Syria's 18-month conflict.
Her appointment came as a sign of stepped-up efforts to gather evidence against members of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.
The U.N. Human Rights Council also voted to extend by six months the mission of its probe.
The panel, whose mandate was due to expire within days, has blamed Syria's government forces for the majority of serious abuses since the uprising began in March 2011.
Activists say some 30,000 people have died in Syria since the uprising began. In addition, hundreds of thousands have fled the violence, many going across the border to Turkey.
The collected evidence could one day be used in a war crimes tribunal hearing — although none is so far planned at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.
Last week, the panel led by Brazilian professor Paulo Sergio Pinheiro submitted a confidential second list of suspected war crimes perpetrators to the U.N. human rights office.
Del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney general, has previously served as prosecutor of the international war crimes tribunals probing atrocities in Rwanda and Yugoslavia. Along with Del Ponte, the Council also named Vitit Muntarbhorn, a Thai professor who has investigated human rights in North Korea.
Members of the 47-nation Human Rights Council voted 41 to three in favor of a resolution put forward by Arab states to extend the panel's mission until the council's next session in March. Russia, China and Cuba opposed the resolution and three countries abstained.
Syria's ambassador, Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, denounced the resolution and lashed out at those who backed it — in particular Arab states who are funding Syrian opposition fighters.
"They have decided to draft a resolution that is very tolerant to al-Qaida," he said, insisting that Syria will "never become an extremist Islamic emirate."
The U.S. ambassador, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, said that the investigative panel "has been doing its job" — notably to turn up information that could one day be used to prosecute those behind Syria's bloodshed.
The panel's members "will help ensure that this will not be a case where impunity prevails, but rather that those responsible for these crimes against the Syrian people will face justice and accountability," she said.