News / USA

UN Passes Landmark Arms Treaty

The U.N. General Assembly vote approving the first U.N. treaty regulating the international arms trade, April 2, 2013.
The U.N. General Assembly vote approving the first U.N. treaty regulating the international arms trade, April 2, 2013.
The United Nations has overwhelmingly approved a landmark treaty regulating trade in conventional arms.

The legally binding treaty sets international standards to regulate the import, export and transfer of conventional weapons - from battle tanks, warships and attack helicopters to small arms and light weapons. Major arms exporters, such as the United States and Russia, as well as major importers like China, India and Pakistan, took part in the negotiations.

The vote in the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday was 154-3, with 23 abstentions. The three nations voting against the treaty were Iran, Syria and North Korea. China and Russia were among the abstentions.

The Arms Treaty

  • Approved in U.N. General Assembly by a vote of 154 to 3, with 23 abstentions
  • North Korea, Iran and Syria voted against the treaty
  • Regulates trade in conventional arms
  • Does not ban or prohibit the export of any type of weapon
  • Does not impair states' right to self-defense
Daryl Kimball, head of the Arms Control Association, an independent research firm, said the treaty is "historic in the sense that it is the first time that there will be international standards to guide how countries authorize weapons transfers - and the first time that there will be annual reporting on those transfers by all of the state signatories of the new arms trade treaty.”

Human Rights Part of Arms Treaty

Martin Butcher, arms policy adviser with the international humanitarian organization Oxfam, said the treaty also establishes key human rights criteria.

“It’s really important that this treaty puts human rights and humanitarian law in control of the arms trade," said Butcher. "The states will now have obligations not to transfer weapons to countries where human rights are being abused, where for example civilians are being killed by a government - that’s a strong obligation.”

Paul Holtom, arms transfer expert with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), said the treaty also regulates the transfer of ammunition.

Ammunition Regulated by Treaty

“The case has been made very strongly by states from Latin America and Africa that they feel it’s one thing to control the weapons, to control items," said Holtom, "but they feel that it’s the small munitions that are a key problem in terms of the fuel for many of the conflicts.”

Daryl Kimball agreed, saying "we have to remember that AK-47s last a long, long time - these are durable weapons. But they can’t function without a fresh supply of ammunition. So these requirements on the export of ammunition are very important."

No Enforcement Mechanisms

Some experts pointed out that the treaty does not have any enforcement mechanisms. But Oxfam’s Martin Butcher said other means can be used to make states accountable for their actions.

“There will be a lot of moral pressure on countries. They will come together on a regular basis and scrutinize what each other is doing," said Butcher. "And we shouldn’t underestimate the power of that moral pressure on countries to make them change their behavior.”

The United Nations approval of the treaty brings to a close seven years of negotiations. The pact will now be open for signature and will become part of international law once 50 countries ratify it.

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

You May Like

Germany Celebrates 25 Years of Unity

October 3 is a public holiday, marking the day in 1990 when East Germany and West Germany reunited More

Analysts: Russia's Syria Strikes Shake Regional Powers

If Moscow bolsters Assad, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries may feel obliged to step in More

Video Innovative Nano-Tech Water Filter Prevents Disease

It can absorb contaminants like copper, bacteria, viruses and pesticides, says Askwar Hilonga, who has been successfully trying out his product in Arusha More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
by: Dominiq from: France
April 02, 2013 7:31 PM
yeah... that will work... hey UN, just stick to condemning the US and Israel... that is the only thing you were meant to do... well, that and having Syria as the International protector of "Human Right..."

by: Jose79845
April 02, 2013 7:12 PM
The UN has declared that there is no human right to self defense and are following through with the eventual ban of all small arms for civilian use.

by: R.U. Cerius from: Arkham, GC
April 02, 2013 5:46 PM
Oh, joy. Finally we have world peace. Nobody will ever violate a UN treaty, because we all know what violation of a UN treaty means....yes, that's right - absolutely nothing.

Oh, golly - if they're caught, it means some mean old sanctions, just like the ones which prevented Iran and North Korea from developing their nuclear programs.

Provided, of course, that the president of the UN isn't involved in profiting from the violation.

Another useless "victory" for he guys in the blue helmets.

by: ChasL from: Seattle
April 02, 2013 5:46 PM
The human rights provision says arms can go to countrys that are not killing civilians, so there will be arms to kill civilians?

Am I the only one noticed the irony of all this self-righteousness? I bet the human rights provision doesn't even apply to us and our weapon exports, which is 2nd biggest in the world.

by: Sask father of three
April 02, 2013 5:40 PM
Seems to me it is the first step that big Gov. will use to keep my grandchildren from hunting.

by: stroydex from: US
April 02, 2013 5:13 PM
China will sign then promptly ignore the treaty.

by: stroydex from: US
April 02, 2013 5:11 PM
China will sign then promptly ignore the treaty.

by: M from: UK
April 02, 2013 5:07 PM
God, go away UN and stop acting like you have any impact on anything. What are you going to do when someone breaks the agreement? Write angry letters to them? You have no power and therefore are useless. No one cares about you UN.

by: john237 from: USA
April 02, 2013 1:56 PM
So now the USA and the West will not supply arms, ammunition and smart bombs to rebels groups to over-throw the legitimate governments for achieving their goals of regime change? Also, such arms and bulldozers will not be sold for continuing human occupation, land grab or human rights violations? Or the resolution is only targeted towards few selected countries to whom the West has red eyes?
In Response

by: Anonymous
April 02, 2013 9:04 PM
The USA isn't providing weapons to rebels in Syria, they are providing non-lethal help. The Arab League however has passed days ago the right to provide weaponry to the Syrian people and the FSA. This is a great thing, helping the people protect themselves from a tyrant ex-dictator that thought he could kill all opposition.

I know this is what you were referring to and are wrong.

by: RelevantRyan from: Washington
April 02, 2013 1:54 PM
I guess since the United States is a signatory for this agreement that from this point on they will not be supplying weapons to FSA any longer.
In Response

by: Anonymous
April 02, 2013 9:07 PM
They haven't been suppolying them with weapons. Do you see american weapons there? no. That was just propaganda lies.

The Arab League however just ok'd the right to sell weapons to the FSA and Syrian people to protect themselves against the Tyrant Bashar al Assad because he has been killing thousands of innocent civilians.

Which overall is a great idea. The sooner Bashar is captured or killed the better the world will be.

Comments page of 2

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs