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Ukraine: Civilians will bear the brunt of US cluster munition transfer for decades

July 7, 2023

A small round bomb in gravel.

An example of cluster munition BLU 63 2, found in Lebanon. This U.S. cluster sub-munition contains around 115 grams of high explosive and is designed to function on impact or shortly after impact. | © Z. Johnson / HI

The Biden Administration is expected to announce today that it will transfer cluster munitions to Ukraine, a weapon that is banned by 123 countries that signed the Oslo Convention against this barbaric weapon.  

Cluster munitions do not discriminate between combatants and civilians. At least 149 civilians were killed or injured worldwide by this weapon in 2021, according to the 2022 Cluster Munition Monitor. As up to 40% of these weapons do not explode on impact, heavy contamination by cluster munition remnants poses a serious threat for the local population a long time after the conflict. 
Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion, provides the following comments: 

Make no mistake: civilians will bear the brunt of this decision over the coming decades. Cluster munitions are among the most harmful weapons for civilians. 

They are inherently indiscriminate and pose a grave risk to civilians as they can cause casualties long after the conflict has ended. For the past 40 years, HI has been working alongside victims and survivors of cluster munitions.

For us, the issue is first and foremost a humanitarian one: in addition to its deadly civilian toll, it will hinder physical access to many humanitarian actors.

There is simply no proof that any cluster munitions selected from the U.S. stockpile can be labeled, in any way, ‘safe.’ In fact, we know cluster munitions to be completely indiscriminate--almost exclusively targeting civilians as they scatter without aim and are notoriously prone to failure to detonate on impact. 

When cluster munitions don't kill the civilians in their path, they deliver life-altering injuries, often resulting in amputations. To omit these facts about cluster munitions would be a highly incomplete description. 

Any suggestion that cluster munitions will somehow help a party to any conflict ignores decades of research, and hundreds of personal testimonies from survivors of cluster munition pollution who tell us otherwise. In fact, the suffering will hit future generations. They will live in fear of encountering these weapons and will bear the burden of clearing their land when American cluster munitions fail to explode on impact.

Humanity & Inclusion fully supports the US Cluster Munition Coalition’s statement available here.

Victims of cluster munitions  

Cluster bombs kill and maim, and cause psychological trauma. Civilians account for the vast majority—90 percent—of all casualties. Half of those people killed and injured are children. 

Civilians are always the major victims of these weapons. At least 149 civilians were killed or injured in 2021 by cluster munition remnants, including 37 casualties in Syria, 33 in Iraq and 30 in Laos. The actual casualty total is likely greater due to challenges with recording. The Monitor also reports casualties in eight other countries and territories including Yemen, Lebanon, Nagorno-Karabakh and Tajikistan. 

What are cluster munitions? 

Cluster munitions consist of a container filled with multiple bomblets. When fired, the cluster munition opens in mid-air, releasing and dispersing the bomblets over a wide area. Not all bomblets are designed to detonate on impact. Some have time-delay mechanisms which can be set for hours, days, or even months. This adds an additional hazard because when they detonate either after a pre-programmed time or through a self-destruct function, civilians can be injured or killed by the fragmentation. Cluster munitions are indiscriminate weapons due to their wide area effect and the potential for unexploded bomblets to remain dangerous long after conflicts have ended.  

The Oslo Convention, which bans the use, storage, transfer, production and sale of cluster munitions, was opened for signature in December 2008. Currently, 123 countries are signatories to this convention. Russia, Ukraine and the U.S. have not joined the international convention. 

About Humanity & Inclusion 

Humanity & Inclusion is an independent international aid organization. It has been working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster for 41 years. Working alongside people with disabilities and individuals facing situations of extreme vulnerability, 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 it was founded in 1982, Humanity & Inclusion has set up development programs in more than 60 countries and intervenes in numerous emergency situations. There are eight national associations within the network (Germany, Belgium, Canada, United States, France, Luxembourg, UK and Switzerland), working tirelessly to mobilize resources, co-manage projects and increase the impact of the organization’s principles and actions. Humanity & Inclusion is one of six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), and an active member of the U.S. Cluster Munition Coalition. HI is co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its work establishing the ICBL, and won the 2011 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize. HI takes action and campaigns in places where “living in dignity” is no easy task. 


Elizabeth Johnson Sellers,
Communications Director

Email: e[email protected]
Phone: +1 (240) 450-3538
Mobile: +1 (270) 847-3443


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