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UN General Assembly Approves Arms-Trade Treaty

The UN General Assembly adopted the treaty with 154 of the 193 members voting in favor of it and three against.
The UN General Assembly has voted to approve a first-ever treaty regulating the international arms trade.

The UN General Assembly adopted the landmark treaty on April 2 with 154 of the 193 members voting in favor of it and three against.

The three no votes were cast by Syria, North Korea, and Iran, the same three countries that jointly blocked the treaty's adoption last week under different voting rules..

Russia was among the 23 nations that abstained on April 2.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement praising the treaty and saying it "can strengthen global security." He also emphasized that it does not infringe on the constitutional right of U.S. citizens to own guns.

Speaking to journalists, UN General Assembly President Vuk Jeremic of Serbia declared the treaty an unprecedented development.

"I believe that the final text is robust and actionable. It is also, in many ways, groundbreaking. It indicates that arms-exporting countries would be legally bound to report arms sales and transfers," Jeremic said.

"They would also be obliged to make an assessment as to whether the weapons they sell could be used to facilitate human rights abuses and violations of humanitarian law."

The agreement has been more than a decade in the making, as activists and governments have lobbied to regulate the trade and try to prevent weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists, insurgents, and criminals.

The treaty does not apply to domestic use of weapons but does require countries to establish national regulations to control arms transfers.

"The final text also respects and protects the right of its signatories to regulate the buying and selling of conventional armaments both domestically and internationally, as well as the primacy of national legislation in defining the conditions under which their citizens may own and operate arms," Jeremic explained.

Meanwhile, speaking to journalists before the vote, Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that the treaty did not clearly define the humanitarian criteria for assessing risks. This, he said, might be interpreted ambiguously and might be used by some states to serve their political interests.

"Despite persistent appeals from many states, [the draft treaty] still does not contain a ban on arms supplies to unauthorized nonstate entities," Churkin said. "This is a considerable systematic flaw that will unavoidably affect the effectiveness of the implementation of the arms-trade treaty.

Jeffrey Laurenti, a UN affairs expert at Century Foundation think tank in New York, says the treaty has set high standards that will be applied after member states ratify it.

"What you do have is a treaty that is going to apply at least the same standards as the United States already applies in its arms sales globally," Laurenti says, "and this becomes a cornerstone in the next 10 years as countries ratify it for a much stronger set of controls on the flow of arms that have leached out into so many conflicts in the world beyond whatever the initial arms sellers had intended -- that this can help put a lid, put a clamp, on the explosion of violent warfare through shadowy arms dealers."

With reporting by AFP, AP, Reuters, and RFE/RL correspondent Courtney Brooks
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