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Report: banned cluster bombs widely used

Gabriel BorrudSeptember 3, 2015

Cluster bombs, which are intended to cause indiscriminate harm when detonated, were used in five countries this year. But the latest CMM report says progress is being made to eradicate the banned weapons.

Syrien Krieg Bombe
Image: Getty Images

More and more nations are backing a 2008 treaty to end the use and legacy of cluster munitions, a form of explosive weaponry that has killed thousands of civilians and children over the years, according to an annual monitoring report issued from Geneva on Thursday.

"More countries are embracing the ban on cluster munitions by joining the treaty and rapidly destroying their stocks - evidence the treaty is working well five years on," said Human Rights Watch's Mary Wareham, who also edited part of the Cluster Munitions Monitor 2015 (CMM).

Although the number of countries signing on to the treaty - now at 117 with 93 having ratified it - has increased, the use of cluster bombs still persists. In 2015, there were five different arenas of conflict identified in which the weaponry was used: Libya, Sudan, Yemen, Ukraine, and Syria.

According to the CMM, it wasn't clear who was responsible for two isolated deployments of cluster munitions in Libya in early 2015. Sudan's armed forces were said to have dropped cluster bombs in Southern Kordofan province in the first half of this year as well.

According to the Sudanese broadcaster Radio Tamazuj, government aircraft dropped two bombs on Tongoli village in Delami on March 6, and four bombs on the village of Rajeefi in late February. In both instances, not all of the bomblets ejected were detonated, resulting in explosives akin to land mines now buried in the ground.

Streubomben Abwurf
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Syria 'most egregious'

The CMM indicated that Saudi Arabia had used US-made cluster munitions in its ongoing coalition conflict in Yemen, mainly against Houthi rebels lodging an insurgency against forces loyal to President Abd Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists have used cluster bombs against one another in Donetsk and Luhansk. However, according to the CMM, no deployments have been seen following the Minsk truce agreed by both sides in February this year.

Cluster bombs have been widely used in Syria, both in the civil war waged between opposition rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, and by the "Islamic State" during its onslaught in northern Syria.

"By far, the most egregious use has been in Syria," said CMM coordinator Jeff Abramson in an interview with DW. "There have been a lot of casualties in Syria this year, and this has become increasingly difficult to track due to the inaccessibility of the area."

Since 2012, almost 2,000 people have been killed by cluster bombs in Syria alone, with the overwhelming majority of those casualties civilians - around half of which were children.

"Cluster munition victims must see an end to the threat of harm, on the one hand, and major improvements in the adequacy of the services that they need on the other," said Loren Persi, editor of the report's section on victim assistance.

Image: Cluster Munitions Coalition

Cluster bomb legacy

In addition to victim assistance and a bid to halt use around the world, the CMM also strives to eradicate the remains of cluster bombs, in the form of undetonated bomblets that are ejected from the original weapon.

"Despite challenges, many of the 25 countries contaminated by cluster munitions remain committed to clearance of impacted areas," said Abramson.

Among the challenges, Abramson named the "nasty" nature of the bomblets, which often become buried over time and difficult to find, but can be triggered by simple contact and movement nonetheless.

"There's also an extremely labor-intensive process when it comes to clearing areas designated as contaminated," referring to the 255 square kilometers of land that has been cleared since the CMM was initially ratified in 2010, resulting in the destruction of 295,000 bomblets. "Teams have had to walk through entire swathes of territory to find just a few explosive devices."

Around 55,000 people have been killed by cluster bombs since their initial design and deployment decades ago; the CMM is all about mitigating - and ultimately eliminating - this potential for destruction, Abramson concluded.

"The end goal is of course to see no more use, and to have their remnants cleared from the ground, so that these weapons have no more legacy."