News / Press Releases

August 28, 2013

Syrian Civilians Face Extreme Risk if U.S. Launches Cluster Bombs

Takoma Park, Maryland — As President Obama weighs the possibility of launching strikes on Syria following the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons, Handicap International urges the United States government to avoid any use of cluster munitions.

For more than three decades, Handicap International has witnessed and responded to the devastation wrought by cluster bombs. Designed to break open in mid-air, cluster bombs release hundreds of bomblets, or submunitions, over an area that can be as large as several football fields. When submunitions explode, they fire hundreds of fragments of metal that travel at the speed of a bullet. Not only are cluster munitions indiscriminate weapons that kill and maim innocent men, women, and children when deployed, but many submunitions fail to explode on impact and become de facto landmines that continue to pose a fatal threat to civilians decades after conflict has ended.

An August 27 New York Times article noted that any U.S. strikes “are expected to involve scores of Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from American destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean Sea…” Tomahawk missiles can carry different types of payloads—including cluster submunitions. One particular missile model type—which has been reportedly used by the U.S. in Afghanistan, Iraq, Serbia, Sudan, and as recently as 2009 in Yemen—can carry a payload of 166 BLU-97 cluster bomblets.

“Make no mistake: a BLU-97 cluster bomb is not a targeted weapon, and the submunitions that fail to detonate will haunt Syrians for years after the conflict ends,” said Elizabeth MacNairn, Executive Director of Handicap International-US. “Such unexploded bomblets, which look like toys to children and can tempt those searching for valuable scrap metal, will result in death and disabling injuries.”

The U.S. is not a States Party to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions an international treaty signed by 112 countries banning the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions. 

Handicap International is an impartial aid organization, and does not make comment on whether or not the U.S. should take military action. However, MacNairn noted that any use of cluster munitions would “put the very Syrians the U.S. is hoping to protect in serious danger.  A full recovery in Syria would be stalled until all unexploded bomblets could be cleared—a careful, dangerous process that would take years to complete.”

About Handicap International
Co-winner of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, Handicap International is an independent international aid organization. It has been working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster for 31 years. Working alongside persons with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, our actions and testimony focus on responding to their essential needs, improving their living conditions, and promoting respect for their dignity and basic rights. Since 1982, Handicap International has set up development programs in more than 60 countries and intervenes in numerous emergency situations. The network of eight national associations (Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States) works constantly to mobilize resources, jointly manage projects and to increase the impact of the organization's principles and actions. Handicap International is one of six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, and winner of the 2011 Hilton Humanitarian Prize. Handicap International takes action and campaigns in places where “standing tall” is no easy task. Handicap International has been working with Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan since the summer of 2012.