UNITED NATIONS -- The combatants who launched chemical weapons, including sarin and chlorine gases over the course of the four-year civil war in Syria may be brought to justice, diplomats said after the UN Security Council adopted a resolution creating a panel to identify the perpetrators.
The resolution, which passed unanimously Friday, creates a Joint Investigative Mission, comprising the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to "identify to the greatest extent feasible individuals, entities, groups, or governments who were perpetrators, organizers, sponsors or otherwise involved in the use of chemicals as weapons, including chlorine or any other toxic chemical," reads the text of the measure drafted by the United States.
The mission would last for a year, but its mandate could be extended.
"The Security Council has decided to act and take the necessary action not just to halt the continued use of toxic chemicals as weapons by any party to the conflict, but also to send a strong collective message that any such use will not be tolerated," said UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, said the resolution could represent fresh unity in the once-divided Security Council, which failed to adopt a series of resolutions designed to end the conflict in Syria, which the UN's former humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, called "breathtakingly savage."
Speaking after the vote, Power said: "It is this kind of unity that we need to bring to bear on behalf of the political efforts that are now being undertaken to try to bring about a peaceful political transition in Syria in order to bring an end to the gruesome violence -- which includes not only chemical weapons use but barrel bombs use, beheadings, indiscriminate attacks on civilians across Syria. So this is just the beginning, we hope."
The war has intensified since it broke out in March 2011, an outgrowth of the Arab Spring. It has claimed the lives of an estimated 250,000 people, displaced millions more who spilled over borders into neighboring countries to create an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.
The conflict has also become a magnet for thousands of foreign fighters, including the al-Qaida-affiliated al-Nusra Front and Islamic State, also known as Daesh, to join the fight to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Last year, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and UN successfully removed Syria's stockpile of such weaponry, including hundreds of metric tons of sarin gas, even as the military conflict waged on.
But chemical weapons attacks continued, Power said, citing reports earlier this year by an OPCW fact-finding mission that there was a high-degree of probability that chlorine gas was detected.
"Everybody needs to see with equal urgency the moral depravity of what is going on every day in Syria," Power said. "The tragedy across all sects and all geographic areas in Syria, the heartbreak that families are experiencing every day, unable to get water for their kids, dodging barrel bombs. So that same, you know, impulse that motivated the creation of this mechanism has to be in place."