A committee of the UN General Assembly has voted for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
A total of 99 countries voted for a suspension of capital punishment worldwide, while 52 voted against and 33 abstained.
Although the vote is not legally binding, human rights groups say it is a significant demonstration of worldwide opinion.
Some 130 countries have already outlawed the practice.
After two days of fractious and sometimes bad-tempered debate, 99 countries voted for a worldwide pause in the use of the death penalty, with a view to ending the practice.
Italy was the driving force behind the vote.
A series of what are called wrecking amendments were tabled by the opponents of the measure, but they were all rejected.
Britain’s ambassador to the UN, Sir John Sawers, said the vote showed international opinion was changing.
“When we tried this eight years ago, it was mainly Europeans who voted in favour of such a moratorium,” he said.
“We now have a global coalition and I think it’s an important sign that the death penalty is increasingly unpopular and is seen as unreliable.”
The US was among the countries to vote against.
Singapore led the opposition, arguing that capital punishment is a criminal law issue which should be left to countries to decide on.
Singapore’s ambassador to the UN, Vanu Gopala Menon, said the European Union was trying to impose its values on the rest of the world.
“They claim to support freedom of expression, but vote to deny it to others,” he said.
“They claim that they do not seek to impose their views, but now they intend to force through a resolution that a significant number of other countries do not agree with.
“How else can this behaviour be described, other than as sanctimonious, hypocritical and intolerant?”
Now the entire UN General Assembly will vote on whether to adopt this call for a worldwide moratorium. That is expected to go through.
Campaigners say even though that will not be a legally binding vote, it will still be influential.
By Laura Trevelyan
BBC News, New York