The World Council of Churches (WCC) has hailed a vote at the United Nations to start work on drawing up an arms trade treaty that had been called for by religious leaders and Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town Desmond Tutu.
"The vote at the UN to begin work on a future 'Arms Trade Treaty' is the best disarmament news for several years," Clement John of the WCC's international affairs commission said after the October 26 vote at a UN committee in New York.
The treaty would aim to close loopholes in existing laws which mean guns still end up in areas of conflict despite arms embargoes and export controls.
A total of 139 states voted for the proposal. Only the United States voted against. Russia, China, India and Pakistan were among countries that abstained.
"It is especially encouraging to see the large majority of member states supporting this resolution," John told Ecumenical News International. "Many states small and big are finally sending a signal about arms control that will be heard by the few who have stalled and stopped progress in recent years."
The vote gives the UN secretary general one year to produce a report on how to introduce common standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional weapons.
In advance of the vote, the WCC warned of a "dysfunction" in arms control efforts.
"The proliferation of weapons causes violent deaths, acute suffering and an unconscionable diversion of resources from things that make for peace," said WCC’s general secretary, the Rev. Samuel Kobia.
Tutu was one of 15 Nobel Peace Prize laureates who urged governments to support the proposal. He said the amount spent by rich countries annually on the fight to stem the HIV pandemic is equal to just 18 days' global spending on arms.
The WCC's 348 mainly Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican churches represent more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries.