The 193-nation UN General Assembly has overwhelmingly approved the first-ever treaty on global arms trade that seeks to regulate the $70bn international trade in conventional arms.
The resolution adopting the landmark treaty was approved by a vote of 154 to three, with 23 abstentions.
As the numbers appeared on the electronic board, loud cheers filled the assembly chamber.
A group of treaty supporters sought a vote in the world body after Iran, North Korea and Syria blocked its adoption by consensus at a negotiating conference last Thursday.
The three countries voted “no” on Tuesday’s resolution.
“Despite Iran, North Korea and Syria’s deeply cynical attempt to stymie it, the overwhelming majority of the world’s nations have shown resounding support for this lifesaving treaty with human rights protection at its core,” said Brian Wood, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International, at the UN conference in New York.
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Source: Amnesty International
Major arms producers China and Russia joined Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and other countries in abstaining.
“Those countries that voted no are no surprise really,” Al Jazeera’s Cath Turner reported from the UN headquarters. “Twenty-three other countries abstained. Most abstained instead of voting against it because they did not want to be lumped in with the other three countries.”
The United States, the world’s number one arms exporter, said last week it would vote in favour of the treaty despite opposition from the National Rifle Association, a powerful US pro-gun lobby group.
The NRA opposes the treaty and has vowed to fight to prevent its ratification by the US Senate when it reaches Washington – saying it would undermine domestic gun-ownership rights.
Every country would be free to sign and ratify the treaty. It will take effect after the 50th ratification, which could take up to two years.
The treaty will not control the domestic use of weapons in any country, but it will require all countries to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms, parts and components and to regulate arms brokers.
The first major arms accord since the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty would cover tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, as well as small arms and light arms.
States would also have to assess whether a weapon could be used for genocide, war crimes or by so-called “terrorists” or organised crime before it is sold.
For more than a decade, activists and some governments have been pushing for international rules to regulating the arms trade.
Hopes of reaching agreement at a UN negotiating conference were dashed in July when the US said it needed more time to consider the proposed accord – a move quickly backed by Russia and China.
In December, the UN General Assembly decided to hold a final negotiating conference to agree on a treaty and set last Thursday as the deadline.
After two weeks of intensive negotiations, there was growing optimism as the deadline approached that all the member states would approve the final draft treaty by consensus – a requirement set by the United States.
This time, the US was prepared to support the final draft treaty, but Iran, North Korea and Syria objected.
Iran said the treaty had many “loopholes”, was “hugely susceptible to politicisation and discrimination”, and ignored the “legitimate demand” to prohibit the transfer of arms to those who committed aggression.
Syria cited seven objections, including the treaty’s failure to include an embargo on delivering weapons “to terrorist armed groups and to non-state actors”.
North Korea said the treaty favoured arms exporters who can restrict arms to importers that have a right to legitimate self-defence and the arms trade.
Amnesty International said all three countries “have abysmal human rights records, having even used arms against their own citizens”.