Goto main content

Zelensky visit to U.S. | Cluster munitions have no place in war

DECEMBER 21, 2022

As President Zelensky arrives in the U.S., Humanity & Inclusion is deeply concerned by any potential transfer of cluster munitions from the U.S. to Ukraine, as previously reported by CNN.

Cluster munitions are banned by the Oslo Convention, which counts 123 States Parties. Russian forces have intensively used cluster munitions in Ukraine since February 2022, while alleged use by Ukrainian forces has been reported at least three times. Experience has consistently shown that almost all the victims of this weapon are civilians. Russia, Ukraine, and the United States are not parties to the Oslo Convention.

The devastations caused to civilian populations in Ukraine by repeated bombing and shelling of towns and cities, and by the recent strikes on critical civilian infrastructures by Russian forces are unacceptable and should be unanimously condemned.

“A U.S. transfer of cluster munitions to Ukraine would be counterintuitive on many levels,” says Jeff Meer, U.S. Executive Director of Humanity & Inclusion. “Any additional use of cluster munitions will aggravate not just a civilian toll, but also an economic one. As the world’s largest mine action donor, America will inevitably bear at least some of the cost of clearance.”

Humanity & Inclusion, a leading member of the International Campaign to Ban Cluster Munitions, will continue to denounce any use by any parties of this barbaric weapon. We call on Ukraine to abandon its alleged request to the U.S. to be provided with cluster munitions. We also call on the U.S. to block transfer of this devastating weapon. The U.S. should urgently review its policy on producing, selling and transferring cluster munitions.

“If Ukraine was also to use cluster munitions, it would only add devastation and despair to civilians and aggravate the already extended contamination of Ukraine by explosive remnants of war,” Meer adds. “Cluster munitions have been phased out of service in the world. There is a global trend to abandon the use of this banned weapon due to its indiscriminate impact.”

Press reports that Ukrainian officials and lawmakers have in recent months urged the Biden administration and members of Congress to provide the Ukrainian military with cluster munition warheads.

Why cluster munitions are banned

Cluster munitions are group of weapons designed to drop several hundred bomblets called submunitions, which are released from a canister mid-air and scattered. Designed to be dispersed over areas as large as a football field, submunitions inevitably affect civilian areas: killing and maiming civilian populations but also destroying and damaging vital civilian infrastructure.

Up to 40% of the bomblets fail, and do not explode on impact. The result is decades of explosive contamination. Like landmines, munitions can be triggered at the slightest contact, killing and maiming people during and long after conflicts.

Civilians account for the vast majority of casualties. In 2021, civilians accounted for 97% of all casualties whose status was recorded (Cluster Munitions Monitor 2022). More than 60% of those people killed and injured were children.

The use of cluster munitions triggers long-term needs for affected populations: the clearance of the land contaminated by unexploded cluster munitions and other explosive remnants of war, the reconstruction of damaged or destroyed civilian infrastructures and the access to vital services for persons injured, families of those killed and injured and affected communities.

By making no distinction between military targets and civilian areas, cluster munitions violate the rules of international humanitarian law.

Recent use in Ukraine

In the first half of 2022, according to preliminary reports by the Cluster Munition Monitor 2022, new uses of cluster munitions were reported in Ukraine, where Russian forces conducted hundreds of attacks. Ukrainian forces appeared to have used cluster munitions in at least three locations that were under the control of Russia’s armed force or affiliated armed groups at the time.

Since February 2022, at least 689 civilians were killed (215) or injured (474) during cluster munition attacks in Ukraine. The actual casualty total is likely greater due to challenges with casualty recording.

Cluster munition use in Ukraine mostly occurred in populated areas. Besides killing and injuring civilians, cluster munitions also damaged civilian infrastructure: homes, hospitals, schools, plants, playgrounds, etc. Cluster munition attacks also threatened internally displaced persons and those seeking humanitarian aid.

Extended consequences and contamination in Ukraine

Ukraine is currently affected by systematic attacks, using cluster munitions but also other type of explosive weapons, against critical civilian infrastructure, causing devastating consequences for access to essential services for civilian population, in addition to deaths and injuries.

Relentless artillery bombardment and aerial bombing, as well as the use of illegal weapons such as landmine and cluster munitions, has left behind heavy contamination by unexploded ordnance. Ukraine is supposedly becoming one of the most contaminated countries in the world.

Official estimates say that up to 300,000km2 of the country require some form of Humanitarian Mine Action interventions. If correct, Ukraine has become the most contaminated country on Earth.

US stockpiles

The exact size of the U.S. stockpile today is unknown, however, the U.S. appears to have made significant progress in recent years to remove cluster munitions from its active inventory and place them in its demilitarization inventory for destruction. In April 2022, the U.S. awarded the company Expal USA with a contract for the demilitarization and disposal of U.S. cluster munition stocks. 

Humanity & Inclusion calls the United States to review of its cluster munition policy, which currently allows for transfer of cluster munitions (so long as they have a failure rate below 1 percent). The last U.S. manufacturer of cluster munitions, Textron, ceased production in 2016.

A recent report from the Congressional Research Service can be found here (March 2022). The latest Cluster Munition Monitor update on the U.S. is found here

Oslo Convention

Cluster bombs are weapons containing several hundred mini-bombs called cluster munitions. Designed to be scattered over large areas, they inevitably fall in civilian neighborhoods. Up to 40% do not explode on impact. Like anti-personnel mines, they can be triggered by the slightest contact, killing and maiming people during and after conflicts. As they make no distinction between civilians, civilian property and military targets, cluster bombs violate the rules of international humanitarian law. 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 parties to this 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 40 years. Working alongside people with disabilities and other groups experiencing extreme vulnerability, our action and testimony are focused 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 (formerly Handicap International) 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), co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize, and winner of the 2011 Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize. Humanity & Inclusion takes action and campaigns in places where “living in dignity” is no easy task.”


Get the latest news about Humanity & Inclusion's work delivered straight to your inbox.