Among other things, the treaty prohibits countries from exporting conventional weapons in violation of arms embargoes, or weapons used to commit genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or terrorism, the BBC said. It also requires countries to keep conventional weapons from entering the black market.
In total, 154 nations supported the measure. Iran, Syria and North Korea last week blocked an effort to approve the treaty by consensus and opponents said much of the language was too vague. They were the three lone dissenting votes Tuesday. Russia led a group of 23 nations that abstained. The United States voted in favor of the measure despite pressure from the National Rifle Association, which opposed the treaty and said it would work to ensure it isn't ratified in the U.S. Senate.
However, with or without U.S. ratification, as soon as 50 countries approve the treaty it will become international law.
U.S. diplomats said much of what's in the legislation is in practice in the United States, where weapons companies are forbidden from selling to nations or groups likely to commit genocide.
Human rights advocates lauded the treaty's passage as a proactive step in preventing mass violence in the future.
"The Arms Trade Treaty provides a powerful alternative to the body bag approach currently used to respond to humanitarian crises," said Ray Offenheiser, the president of Oxfam America. "Today nations enact arms embargoes in response to humanitarian crises only after a mass loss of life. The treaty prohibits the weapon sales in the first place."
Amnesty International echoed those remarks.
"The world has been waiting a long time for this historic treaty. After long years of campaigning, most states have agreed to adopt a global treaty that can prevent the flow of arms into countries where they will be used to commit atrocities," said Brian Wood, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International, from the UN conference in New York.
Diplomats have worked for nearly 10 years to reach agreement on principles to control the flow of such arms, the BBC said. Attempts to finalize the treaty last year collapsed after the United States, Russia and China said they needed more time to consider the issues.
The treaty covers an estimated $70 billion trade in tanks, armored combat vehicles, large-caliber weapons, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and launchers, small arms, light weapons and ammunition.