Although cluster bombs have been banned under the Convention on Cluster Munitions since 2010, they continued to be used in Syria, and there were allegations of new use in Libya, according to the Landmine & Cluster Munition Monitor. Cluster bombs have killed and maimed thousands of civilians, who are overwhelmingly the main victims. But what exactly are these weapons?
A cluster munition (or cluster bomb) is a container filled with small explosive bombs called “sub-munitions.” This container may be a shell, rocket, missile, or other device. Dropped from an aircraft or fired from the ground, it opens in the air and releases the sub-munitions. This scatters a carpet of bombs over a large area without any degree of accuracy.
Civilians are the main victims
Cluster bombs kill, injure, and maim people and cause serious psychological trauma. Up to 87% of recorded victims are civilians—in other words, almost all victims are civilians.
Up to 40% of sub-munitions do not explode on impact: either they are too light or the ground is too soft, or a technical fault prevents them from exploding.
While still active, these sub-munitions are as hazardous as anti-personnel landmines. They can explode at any moment, triggered by even slight movements. They render whole areas uninhabitable, prevent social, and economic life from returning to normal, and displace people from their homes.
These explosive weapons pose a threat to civilians, sometimes for decades after a conflict has ended.
Laos is the most heavily contaminated country in the world
Laos is sadly an example of the long-term hazard posed by cluster bombs. Although Laos was bombed many years ago, between 1964 and 1973, the sub-munitions that did not explode on impact still cause casualties today. Very often children are the victims.
Who produces cluster bombs?
Eleven countries are still believed to be cluster munition producers, including China, Russia, and Vietnam. The United States no longer produces cluster munitions but retains the option to produce them in the future.
Overall, 41 states have ceased production of anti-personnel mines, including Egypt, Israel, Nepal, and the US, which are not party to the Mine Ban Treaty.
What does the Convention on Cluster Munitions say?
The Convention on Cluster Munitions (Oslo Convention) entered into force in August 2010. As of July 2020, it has been signed by 121 States. The Convention bans the use, production, trade, and stockpiling of cluster bombs. It also requires States parties to provide victim assistance and to clear contaminated areas. For more information on cluster munitions, visit the website of the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor.
Decades of campaigning to protect civilians
Humanity & Inclusion was created in 1982 (under the name Handicap International) in response to the horrific landmine injuries suffered by Cambodian refugees. Soon, we realized that action needed to be taken at an international level to ban these indiscriminate weapons.
Humanity & Inclusion played a key role in founding the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, for which we were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, following the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty in 1997.
We are a founding member of the Cluster Munition Coalition, and we actively support the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
Humanity & Inclusion is also a founder and coordinating member of Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor, which monitors these two international treaties and produces annual reports on their implementation. And we are a founding member of the International Network on Explosive Weapons.
Learn more about Humanity & Inclusion and how you can support victims of these indiscriminate weapons.
Photo caption: A cluster munition found by Humanity & Inclusion's teams in a rice paddy in Laos.