The UN General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the first UN treaty regulating the multibillion-dollar international arms trade yesterday, a goal sought for over a decade to try to keep illicit weapons out of the hands of terrorists, insurgent fighters and organised crime.
The resolution adopting the landmark treaty was approved by a vote of 154 to 3, with 23 abstentions. As the numbers appeared on the electronic board, loud cheers filled the chamber.
A group of treaty supporters sought a vote in the 193-member world body after Iran, North Korea and Syria blocked its adoption by consensus at the end of a two-week final negotiating conference last Thursday. The three countries voted "no" on yesterday's resolution, while Russia and China, both major arms exporters, abstained.
Many countries, including the United States, control arms exports. But there has never been an international treaty regulating the estimated US$60 billion global arms trade.
The Australian ambassador, Peter Woolcott, who chaired the negotiations, said the treaty would "make an important difference by reducing human suffering and saving lives".
"We owe it to those millions – often the most vulnerable in society – whose lives have been overshadowed by the irresponsible and illicit international trade in arms," he said before the vote.
The treaty will not control the domestic use of weapons in any country, but it will require countries that ratify it to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms, parts and components, and to regulate arms brokers.
It covers battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small arms and light weapons.
The treaty prohibits states that ratify it from transferring conventional weapons if they violate arms embargoes or if they promote acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes. It also bans the export of conventional arms if they could be used on civilians or civilian buildings such as schools and hospitals.
In considering whether to authorise exports, the treaty says a country must evaluate whether the weapon would be used to violate international human rights or be used by terrorists.