More than 60 countries sign U.N. arms trade treaty

Delegates from more than 60 countries on Monday took up their pens to loud cheers in the chamber to sign a historic treaty on arms trade at the United Nations, taking a first step towards ratification.

The ceremony came after an overwhelming majority of member states backed the treaty, the first of its kind to regulate the global flow of conventional arms, at the General Assembly two months ago.

Only North Korea, Iran and Syria voted against the treaty on April 2.

"This third day of June represents the junction between the outcome of the complex negotiation process and the opening of a new chapter in which states will sign up to an international contract bringing responsibility and transparency to the global arms trade," said Angela Kane, U.N. high representative for disarmament affairs.

Mari Amano, Japan's ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, was among representatives from seven countries which jointly issued a statement welcoming the "extremely important milestone."

"It is vital that the treaty comes into force as soon as possible and is effectively implemented," the statement said. "It is only then that the international community will have an effective tool to address the unregulated and illicit conventional arms trade that causes unspeakable human suffering throughout the world and undermines peace, security, stability and human rights."

Japan along with Argentina, Australia, Britain, Costa Rica, Finland and Kenya coauthored a General Assembly resolution in 2006 that paved the way for the treaty.

Hector Timerman, Argentina's foreign minister, was the first official to sign the treaty.

"As a proverb goes, 'the pen is mightier than the sword,'" Amano said in his speech. "It is not arms that end conflict but words that prevent one."

Major arms exporters such as Britain, Germany and France and emerging exporters such as Brazil and Mexico were among countries signing the treaty.

Oxfam International estimates that more than 500,000 people are killed by armed violence annually with millions living in fear of rape, assault and death from the proliferation of conventional weapons.

Meanwhile, the United States, the world's largest arms exporter, is set to sign the treaty once the official translations are completed, according to a statement released by the U.S. State Department.

"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," U.S Secretary of State John Kerry said in a press release.

Fifty countries must ratify the treaty before it can take effect. Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said the treaty could come into force in "slightly more than a year" if nations are able to push their ratifications through.

While there are mechanisms to curb the proliferation of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, the international flow of conventional weapons had not been regulated until now.

Aiming to reduce human suffering, the treaty, covering eight categories including battle tanks, armored combat vehicles and small arms and light weapons, is expected to serve as a check to some degree on both exporters and importers of arms.

Major human rights advocates and arms control campaigners have been pressing for nearly two decades to adopt such a treaty.

"The treaty itself has opened a door to hope to millions of women, men and children who live in deprivation and fear because of the poorly controlled international arms trade and the proliferation of deadly weapons," U.N. 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."