2 April 2013 – The United Nations General Assembly has approved a global arms trade treaty that failed to achieve unanimous support last week but which garnered the support of a majority of Member States when put to a vote today.
The resolution containing the text of the treaty, which regulates the international trade in conventional arms, received 154 votes in favour. Three Member States – Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Iran and Syria – voted against the decision, while 23 countries abstained.
Today’s action follows the failure of the Final UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) last Thursday to reach an agreement among all 193 Member States on a treaty text at the conclusion of its two-week session.
Speaking ahead of the vote, the President of the General Assembly, Vuk Jeremic, called the text “groundbreaking,” as well as “robust and actionable.”
He recalled that in 2006, Member States had pledged in the same General Assembly Hall to engage in a multilateral effort to produce a legally binding instrument, establishing common standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms – including warships and battle tanks, combat aircraft and attack helicopters, as well as small arms and light weapons.
“I personally believe that the final text of this conference meets those commitments to a great extent,” Mr. Jeremic said, adding that the lack of a regulatory framework for such activities had made a “daunting” contribution to ongoing conflicts, regional instabilities, displacement of peoples, terrorism and transnational organized crime.
The text draws a link with the presence of weapons across the developing world, especially in conflict-affected areas, with the challenge of sustainable development and safeguarding human rights, added Mr. Jeremic.
The President of the ATT conference, Ambassador Peter Woolcott of Australia, noted that the conference “came very close to success.” He praised all delegations for “working hard and negotiating in a constructive manner and looking for success,” adding that the different interests and perspectives in the conference room required work through complex issues.
Each version of the text built on previous ones, Mr. Woolcott said, and represented “a fair expression of negotiation, compromise between many different interests in the room, and ultimately what might command consensus at the end of the final conference.”
Once the text was rejected Thursday evening, a Member State introduced a General Assembly draft resolution that same evening, according to the Office of the President of the Assembly.
Unlike in the Conference, where all 193 Member States had to agree on the final text, the Assembly needed only a simple majority, or 97 votes, to pass the text. The treaty will enter into force 90 days after ratified by the 50th signatory.
The treaty regulates all conventional arms within the following categories: battle tanks, armoured combat vehicles, large-calibre artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small arms and light weapons.
According to the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, the treaty will not do any of the following: interfere with domestic arms commerce or the right to bear arms in Member States; ban the export of any type of weapon; harm States’ legitimate right to self-defence; or undermine national arms regulation standards already in place.
The United States, which co-sponsored the treaty, said several U.S. agencies will conduct a review before the accord is presented to President Obama for signature. The treaty would require ratification by the Senate.