United Nations - France circulated a draft resolution to UN Security Council members on Monday that seeks to refer the three-year-old civil war in Syria to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The 15-member council is due to meet on Wednesday to discuss the draft and it could be voted on within days, diplomats said.
But Moscow - a veto-wielding council member and ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - has made clear it is against such a move. Russia, supported by China, has already blocked three resolutions that would have condemned Assad's government, threatened sanctions and called for war crimes accountability.
Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin has reinforced Moscow's stance against referring Syria to The Hague-based court, telling Reuters: “Our position has not changed.”
More than 150 000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict. Some 2.5 million people have fled abroad and 9 million people inside the country need help, including nearly 3.5 million who have no access to essential goods and services.
UN investigators said in March that they had expanded their list of suspected war criminals from both sides in the civil war and that the evidence was solid enough to prepare any court indictment.
UN human rights chief Navi Pillay told the Security Council last month that human rights violations by Syrian government forces “far outweigh” those by armed opposition groups.
The United States agreed to support the French draft after ensuring that Israel would be protected from any possible prosecution at the International Criminal Court related to its occupation of the Golan Heights in Syria, UN diplomats said.
“We are grateful the US (has) overcome objections and constraints to support the referral of Syria to the ICC,” French UN Ambassador Gerard Araud posted on Twitter on Friday.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed the strategic plateau in a move the world has not recognized. Syrian troops are not allowed in an area of separation - monitored by UN peacekeepers - under a 1973 ceasefire formalized in 1974.
The draft resolution specifies that the situation to be referred to the court is “the widespread violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by the Syrian authorities and pro-government militias, as well as the human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law by non-State armed groups, all committed in the course of the ongoing conflict in the Syrian Arab Republic since March 2011.”
Eleven countries on the Security Council are members of the International Criminal Court. The United States, Russia, China and Rwanda are not.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Friday: “We've long said those responsible for atrocities in Syria must be held accountable. We will also continue to support efforts to gather evidence to hold accountable those responsible for atrocities in Syria.”
In an informal Security Council meeting organized by France last month, member states viewed graphic pictures taken in Syria by a former Syrian military police photographer that showed what appeared to be evidence of brutal torture, including eye gougings, strangulation and long-term starvation.
Former war crimes prosecutors have described the thousands of photos as “clear evidence” of systematic torture and mass killings in Syria's civil war.