Syria cluster bomb use denounced

Handicap International today denounced the Syrian government's use of cluster bombs in Deir al-Assafeer, a town in northern Syria.

This practice was recently confirmed by Human Rights Watch. The organization first drew attention to the use of these weapons in Syria in July and October. Handicap International is extremely concerned by these latest developments and the recent upsurge in fighting in urban areas, which is having a serious impact on civilians. According to Handicap International teams supplying humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon, more and more people injured in the conflict, including many children, are arriving every day.

New victims of cluster bombs in Syria
Handicap International has been shocked by the use of cluster bombs (cluster munitions) in Syria. These weapons are banned under an international treaty that came into force in August 2010. According to Human Rights Watch, the weapons were used during bombing raids on the town of Deir al-Assafeeron Sunday 25 November, killing at least 40 people, including 11 children, and injuring many others.

“Cluster munitions appear to have been used repeatedly and on a massive scale over the course of several months,” says Marion Libertucci, Handicap International's Weapons Advocacy Manager. “Governments urgently need to put pressure on Syria to stop using these weapons.”

According to Handicap International, 94% of recorded victims of cluster munitions are civilians. The use of cluster munitions in densely populated areas therefore poses an unacceptable threat to the civilian population. The organization's teams supplying humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon report that the number of people fleeing Syria with serious injuries is increasing daily. Many are children.

A cluster munition is a type of bomb designed to break apart and release hundreds of smaller explosives, or sub-munitions, over a wide area. Often cluster munitions fail to explode on impact and remain a deadly threat to anyone who ventures close.

These weapons are banned under the Oslo Treaty, which has been signed by 111 States. The treaty bans the use, production, stockpiling and trade of these weapons. Handicap International played a key role in driving forward efforts to secure the Treaty. Although Syria is not currently a State Party to the treaty, its actions mark a break with the practice adopted by other non-States Parties, which have refrained from using these weapons.

Fighting continues in heavily populated areas
Handicap International is alarmed by the continued fighting and shelling in heavily-populated areas, which continue to kill and maim civilians and violate the principle of distinction between combatants and civilians as codified in the Geneva Conventions. As a result of the conflict, many residential areas are scattered with explosive remnants of war, posing a constant threat to their inhabitants, even during breaks in the fighting.

The Geneva Conventions stipulate that States must never make civilians or civilian property the object of attack. They must strictly adhere to the definition of military objectives and fully respect the ban on the use of disproportionate force and indiscriminate attacks. They must also protect civilians caught up in the war zone. Handicap International is calling on the parties to the conflict to respect these rules and to end violence against civilians, including an immediate end to the use of cluster bombs.

Handicap International witnesses impact of the conflict 
Handicap International is a daily witness to the impact of the conflict in Syria. The organization's teams report that many of the injured people arriving from Syria have only received basic treatment and include many children injured in the bombing, families who have lost their homes, women traveling alone with their children and marginalized people.

Handicap International also runs risk education activities on mines and explosive remnants of war in Jordan and is looking into the possibility of intervening in affected areas of Syria.