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'Civilians will bear the brunt of cluster munitions for decades to come'

Explosive weapons Rights

Following its decision in July to supply Ukraine with cluster munitions, the Biden Administration will send a second transfer of these weapons, which are banned by the Oslo Convention.

Students participate in an explosive ordnance risk education at a school in Ukraine.

Students participate in an explosive ordnance risk education at a school in Ukraine. | © R.Crews

Humanity & Inclusion’s Advocacy Director, Anne Héry, explains what this decision means for the protection of civilians.

Why are cluster munitions so dangerous for civilians?

Cluster munitions are among the most dangerous weapons for civilians. Civilians account for 95% of all casualties. Cluster munitions are inherently indiscriminate because when a cluster bomb is dropped from a plane, it releases hundreds of submunitions (bomblets) that can cover an area as large as a football field. Between 10% to 40% of these bomblets fail to explode on impact, often leaving behind heavily contaminated lands that will continue to pose a serious threat to the local population long after the fighting has ended.

We have seen a recent resurgence in the use of these weapons and in the number of casualties caused by them: 1,172 people were killed or injured by cluster munitions in 2022, the highest annual toll reported by the Cluster Munition Monitor since it was first published in 2010.

How widespread is the use of cluster munitions in Ukraine?

Since 2014, Russian forces have made intensive use of cluster munitions in Ukraine, causing the death and injury of hundreds of civilians and massive damage to vital civilian infrastructure. The use of these weapons by Ukrainian forces has also been reported on several occasions.

As Cluster Munition Monitor reports, 916 cluster munition casualties were recorded in Ukraine in 2022, including 890 directly due to cluster munition attacks. This figure is probably under-recorded.

Whenever cluster munitions are used, they have both an immediate and long-term impact. Directly, these weapons create immediate deaths or devastating injuries, often followed by psychological trauma and other mental health issues. Long-term, unexploded bomblets also prevent the reconstruction of infrastructure and will continue to impede physical access for many humanitarian actors, affecting the necessary delivery of assistance to civilians in Ukraine.

Ukraine is already massively contaminated by explosive ordnance that will affect the daily lives of entire Ukrainian communities for decades to come. The impact of the contamination, regardless of what we witness now, will depend on the future use of these weapons. However, history has taught us, that whenever and wherever cluster munitions are used, the civilians will be the ones who will suffer the most. Almost all the victims of this legacy are likely to be civilians.

What is HI’s position on the Biden Administration’s decision to supply cluster munitions?

HI strongly condemns the Biden Administration’s decision. We are opposed to any transfer of cluster munitions in any circumstances and to any party, in accordance with the 2008 Oslo Convention banning the use, storage, transfer, production and sale of cluster munitions. 123 States have joined the Oslo Convention and the prohibition of this barbaric weapon is now a strong international norm.

This transfer by the U.S. government to Ukraine is weakening the global consensus against the use of cluster munitions and is seriously undermining efforts to eradicate them.

HI is calling on both parties to the conflict to immediately stop the use of cluster munitions. We are also urging all States to put pressure on all the countries that use cluster munitions to put an end to such practices. We are also calling on State parties to the Convention to fulfill their legal obligations to firmly, publicly and systematically condemn any new use and to hold users accountable.

Date published: 10/02/23


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