* Forum easily adopts U.S. resolution after heated debate
* Syrian activist welcomes move, says regime isolated
* Amnesty reports “harrowing testimony of torture”
(Updates with comments by U.S. envoy in New York Susan Rice)
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, April 29 (Reuters) - The top U.N. human rights body condemned Syria on Friday for using deadly force against peaceful protesters and launched an investigation into killings and other alleged crimes.
The 47-member forum, which held an emergency session at U.S. request, endorsed a U.S.-sponsored resolution by 26 votes to 9 with seven abstentions.
It also called on Damascus to allow freedom of expression, access to the Internet and to release political prisoners.
“With today’s vote, the Council has stood against attempts to silence dissent with the use of gratuitous violence, which is not the act of a responsible government,” said Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in New York.
Her statement came after U.S. President Barack Obama imposed new sanctions against Syrian figures, including a brother of Assad in charge of troops in Deraa, the first diplomatic reprisal for Syria’s violent crackdown.
Syrian human rights group Sawasiah said it had the names of a total of 62 people killed on Friday by security forces during protests in Deraa, Rustun, Latakia, Homs and the town of Qadam, near Damascus.
Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and Bahrain were among five delegations absent for the vote, which came after heated debate and behind-the-scenes negotiations that led to some watering down of the text.
“In general it is a good result, we knew it would be a compromise,” Radwan Ziadah, a Syrian exile who heads the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies, told Reuters.
“At the same time, the countries who were absent was very telling. Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Jordan, four Arab countries, this is very telling, it tells you how much the Syrian regime is isolated. This very important step for us,” added Ziadah, a visiting scholar at George Washington University who came to Geneva for the session.
A Syrian rights group said this week at least 500 civilians had been killed since unrest broke out in Deraa in mid-March. Authorities dispute the death toll.
Amnesty International said that Syrian forces were committing grave violations with total impunity and it voiced concern over the fate of hundreds of people held in custody.
“We have received harrowing first-hand testimony of torture and other ill-treatment, including severe beatings with sticks, rifle-butts and cables, electrocution and sexual assault, that has been meted out on detainees, some of them children,” Peter Splinter, Amnesty’s representative in Geneva, told the Council.
Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ghana and Zambia were among key swing states that supported the Western resolution. Pakistan, China and Russia voted against, denouncing meddling in Syria’s internal affairs and accusing the council of double standards.
“My country has always believed that ‘naming and shaming’ is an approach which is counterproductive,” Pakistani ambassador Zamir Akram told the gathering.
“This will only complicate the situation of human rights in Syria and increase tensions in the country,” China’s envoy warned before the vote.
Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, Syria’s ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, defended Syrian forces saying they were showing “maximum self-restraint to avoid victims among innocent civilians.”
Some 60 officers and soldiers had been killed in the violence, he said.
Britain and France condemned Syria’s crackdown and said Syria had no place in the forum. “The appropriate response to the protests is reform, not repression,” British ambassador Peter Gooderham said.
Human Rights Watch called for the Arab League to withdraw its support for Syria’s candidacy to the rights forum. (Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau and Patrick Worsnip in New York; Editing by Jon Boyle)