Thursday's vote followed "two days of intense and many times emotional deliberations", according to the UN press office. The document, jointly introduced by the 27-nation European Union along with 60 other countries calls for establishing "a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty."
The U.S. and several Muslim countries included an anti-abortion clause, which was voted down, in a bid to block the draft resolution. Thirty-three countries abstained from the vote in New York.
Former Soviet republics Russia, Georgia, and Ukraine gave their backing. Moscow has not outlawed capital punishment, but imposed its own moratorium in 1996.
A total of 17 amendments were introduced by opponents, which included China, India, and Japan, and all were rejected.
Tokyo's representative said the issue of abolishing the death penalty "should be decided only after every country had considered the matter in light of its own criminal issues," and China's representative said the large number of votes against the draft showed there was no consensus on the issue.
Singapore, which has one of the world's highest execution rates, dismissed the committee's vote as a "pyrrhic victory".
The document will be considered by the 192-member General Assembly in December. However, even if the assembly backs the document, it will remain non-binding.
The previous two drafts on a death penalty moratorium reached the UN General in 1994 and 1999, but were rejected.
According to Amnesty International, about 20,000 people were on death row in 2006, and 1,591 people were executed during the year, down from 2,148 in 2005. Capital punishment continues to be practiced in 69 countries. Around 90% of known executions take place in China, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan and the U.S., according to the international rights organization.