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Civilians still being harmed by cluster munitions, 15 years after Convention ratified by 123 states

May 30 marked 15 years since the Convention on Cluster Munitions was adopted in Dublin. In the face of continuing harm from these weapons across the globe, Human Rights Watch called for greater international efforts to ensure its goals are achieved.

Cluster munitions

Delivered by artillery, rockets, missiles, and aircraft, cluster munitions open mid-air and indiscriminately deliver clusters of submunitions, or bomblets, over a broad area. Beyond the immediate human and environmental harm caused by these explosive weapons, many submunitions fail to explode on impact, remaining in the landscape for years after hostilities end. These remnants kill and wound civilians indiscriminately until they are cleared and destroyed.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions

Adopted by 123 countries in 2008, the convention prohibits the use, production, acquisition, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions. It also requires that states parties destroy their stockpiles, clear contaminated areas, and provide victim assistance.

Since the convention’s adoption, 37 states parties have altogether destroyed almost 1.5 million stockpiled cluster munitions, and over 178 million submunitions. This adds up to 99% of the cluster munitions which states parties have reported stockpiling.

Cluster munitions continue to harm civilians

While HRW reports that there have been no allegations of new use, production, or transfers of cluster munitions by the 123 states parties, countries outside of the convention have continued to use or produce these harmful and indiscriminate weapons.

16 non-signatories have not ended their production of cluster munitions, including China and Russia. The United States ended production in 2016, but has ignored calls to reverse a 2017 policy allowing production to resume.

Earlier this year, HRW released a report detailing the repeated use of cluster munitions in Ukraine by the Russian armed forces, highlighting the April 8 2022 attack on a train station in Kramatorsk that killed 58 civilians and injured 100. The report also sheds light on the use of cluster munitions by the Syrian-Russian alliance in Syria, as well as  Myanmar’s production and use of domestic cluster bombs.

Global efforts

Human Rights Watch co-founded and chairs the Cluster Munition Coalition, the global coalition of nongovernmental organisations working to promote universal adherence to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch, and chair of the international Cluster Munition Coalition, said “Countries that have endorsed the ban on cluster munitions have a collective responsibility to end the suffering caused by these weapons.”

The 11th annual meeting of the Convention on Cluster Munitions will be held at the United Nations in Geneva on September 11-14, under the presidency of Ambassador Abdul-Karim Hashim Mostafa of Iraq.

AOAV condemns the use of violence against civilians and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. The use of cluster munitions disproportionately affects civilians, creating additional challenges to post-conflict development and security and leading to long-term physical and psychological harm.  All actors should stop using explosive weapons with wide-area effects where there is likely to be a high concentration of civilians.