The United Nations General Assembly, over strenuous objections from Russia and Syria, voted to establish a panel to prepare cases involving war crimes and human rights abuses in Syria.
The resolution, drafted by Liechtenstein, was adopted by 105 to 15 on December 21, with 52 abstentions, despite warnings from Russia that the assembly was interfering in the work of the Security Council, where Russia has repeatedly blocked moves to prosecute alleged war crimes in Syria.
Iran and China also were among those voting against the resolution.
"We have postponed any meaningful action on accountability too often and for too long," signalling that Syria's brutal tactics are "condoned and have no consequences," Liechtenstein's UN Ambassador Christian Wenaweser said.
The panel will work closely with the UN Commission of Inquiry, which has submitted several reports detailing atrocities committed during the war.
Syria's UN Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari objected that the resolution was "illegal" and "a direct threat to a solution" of the conflict.
Human Rights Watch official Balkees Jarah applauded the "unprecedented" move by the general assembly to act in light of the "deadlock" over Syrian war crimes in the security council, saying it "took a critically important stand for victims of grave crimes."