A historical agreement that regulate the most bloody trade
The Arms Trade Treaty — the culmination of decades of campaigning and seven years of tortuous negotiations at the UN — was passed by a majority vote in the assembly hall, days after it had been blocked by delegates from Iran, North Korea and Syria.
Cheers erupted as the results of the vote were posted, showing 154 votes in favour. A delegate from the tiny Pacific republic of Palau rose, fists clenched, waving to arms-control campaigners in the gallery.
It was thought that the treaty might be passed by consensus of all 193 nations last week, following a fortnight of negotiations, but those hopes were dashed when Iran, North Korea and Syria raised objections, claiming that the treaty was discriminatory and unbalanced.
Among objections was the contention that the treaty placed all the power with nations exporting arms: these countries are bound to ensure that arms are not likely to be used for assaults on civilians, or to perpetuate genocide or human rights atrocities. Supporters of the treaty noted that it had the power to halt the supply of arms to the embattled regime in Syria, though it also has the potential to stop shipments to any country with a record of human rights violations.
The same three countries voted against the treaty and 23 nations abstained. Most troubling for arms-control campaigners were the abstentions of Russia and China, both major arms exporters, as well as that of India, an emerging arms exporter.
The treaty becomes law once more than 50 countries have ratified it, though it cannot bind non-signatories. The text covers battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, as well as small arms and light weapons. A phrase stating that the treaty included these weapons “at a minimum” was dropped, apparently at the insistence of the United States.
Despite this, arms-control campaigners were jubilant.