Dozens of nations Monday signed a treaty designed to prevent deadly weapons and ammunition from getting into the hands of despots and terrorists, a universal document that aims to regulate the $85 billion global arms trade.
At least 67 nations signed the Arms Trade Treaty, a document that was seven years in the making.
"It is worth reflecting on the absolutely historic landmark," said Brian Wood, head of arms control and human rights at Amnesty International, at a news conference at UN headquarters in midtown Manhattan. "It's the first time we have a treaty that has rules that prohibit arms transfers that would be used for crimes against humanity, genocide, war crimes."
Once ratified, the treaty would also require countries to monitor such transfers and sales, and work to prevent them, Wood said.
He appeared with Angela Kane, UN high representative for disarmament affairs, Peter Woolcott, president of the Final United Nations Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty, Christine Beerli, permanent vice president of the International Committee of the Red Cross and Anna Macdonald, head of arms control for Oxfam.
"The signing of the Arms Trade Treaty gives hope to the millions affected by armed violence every day," Macdonald said in a statement. "Gunrunners and dictators have been sent a clear message that their time of easy access to weapons is up. For generations the arms trade has been shrouded in secrecy, but from now on it will be open to scrutiny."
Conflicts like the 27-month-old civil war in Syria, which is awash in weapons as evidence of human rights violations on both sides mounts, would be less likely, Macdonald said.
"Can this treaty prevent another Syria?" she asked. "Yes, if it's implemented effectively, and that is the point."
The pact would go into effect 90 days after 50 nations ratify it, which the panelists expect to occur within two years.
UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-moon said: "With the ATT, the world has decided to finally put an end to the 'free-for-all' nature of international weapons transfers."
The United States, China and Russia, some of the world's largest exporters of weapons, were not among the signers, though U.S. officials said they would sign it soon.
The United States was one of 154 nations that voted in favor of it in the UN General Assembly in April. Russia and China were among 23 nations that abstained. North Korea, Iran and Syria were the only countries to vote against it. Thirteen other nations were absent for the vote.
"The Treaty is an important contribution to efforts to stem the illicit trade in conventional weapons, which fuels conflict, empowers violent extremists, and contributes to violations of human rights," said Secretary of State John Kerry in a statement. "The Treaty will require the parties to implement strict controls, of the kind the United States already has in place, on the international transfer of conventional arms to prevent their diversion and misuse, and create greater international cooperation against black market arms merchants."
He added that the treaty "will not undermine the legitimate international trade in conventional weapons, interfere with national sovereignty or infringe on the rights of American citizens, including our Second Amendment rights."
Kerry's statement was aimed at congressional opposition to the treaty, embodied prominently by a resolution urging the United States not to adopt it as it is now written.
"The United States should ratify treaties only when they are in our national interest, clear in their goals and language, respect our sovereignty, and do not create any openings to infringe upon our constitutional freedoms," said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), who sponsored Concurrent Resolution 7. "The Arms Trade Treaty fails to meet any of these tests, which is why I urge the president not to sign it, and why a bipartisan coalition of 36 U.S. senators will remain united in opposition to ratification."