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Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW): First Look at Israel’s Use of Cluster Munitions in Lebanon in July-August 2006

Briefing Delivered by Steve Goose, Director of Human Rights Watch Arms Division, at the Fifteenth Meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts

Geneva, Switzerland  
30 August 2006
I want to thank Chris Clark of the U.N. Mine Action Service (UNMAS) for the excellent work that he is doing in south Lebanon, and for the very powerful presentation he has just provided. After seeing their devastating effects in Lebanon, it should be clear to government delegates that inaccurate and unreliable cluster munitions should never be used, that existing international humanitarian law is not sufficient regarding cluster munitions, and that States Parties to the CCW should at the Review Conference in November agree to a mandate to negotiate a new protocol on cluster munitions.  

My remarks will reinforce what you have heard from Chris. Human Rights Watch had researchers in Lebanon and Israel throughout the recent conflict. They were the first to confirm Israel’s use of cluster munitions when they documented an attack on Blida on July 19. Immediately after the cease-fire, they spent six days in south Lebanon, primarily looking at the cluster munition situation.  
Key Findings  

  • Israel used cluster munitions extensively in south Lebanon, with particularly heavy use in the final days prior to the cease-fire.  
  • The density of cluster munition contamination in south Lebanon in the immediate post-conflict period appears to exceed that of Iraq, Afghanistan, or Kosovo at the same stage.  
  • Israeli cluster strikes frequently hit towns and villages, including many sizeable locations; these sites were apparently deliberately targeted.  
  • Israel primarily employed surface-delivered cluster munitions, especially 155mm artillery projectiles, as well as Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS). An apparently smaller number of very old air-dropped cluster bombs were also used.  
  • The number of hazardous unexploded submunition duds is very large and the failure rates for Israeli submunitions appear in many cases to be very high.  
  • Little is yet known about civilian casualties caused by cluster munitions at the time of attack, but there have been numerous civilian deaths and injuries caused by submunition duds since the cease-fire. Submunition duds and other explosive remnants of war have impeded the return home of many Lebanese and have hindered relief efforts.

These key findings, as disturbing as they are, were predictable. They are similar to what we found in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo. This is what happens when cluster munitions are used. They get used in populated areas, they get used in ways that violate international humanitarian law, they kill and injure civilians during attacks and after attacks, they kill and injure civilians who stay put in their towns and villages, they kill and injure civilians when they return home. Old submunitions get used with very high failure rates, new submunitions get used that still have unacceptably high failure rates. This is what happens when cluster munitions are used. There is a stark disconnect between this reality and the sterile discussions that are taking place in the CCW.  
Extent of Use  
As of 29 August, the U.N. Mine Action Coordination Center in South Lebanon (U.N. MACC SL) had identified 390 individual cluster munition strike locations. Previously, it reported that as of 24 August, it had identified 285 individual cluster munition strike locations, and about 40 percent of the Area of Operations had not yet been covered.  
The number of cluster munitions, and their submunitions, employed is unknown, but it appears that at a minimum tens of thousands of submunitions were used, and possibly hundreds of thousands. 1  
While there were sporadic reports of Israeli use of cluster munitions throughout the conflict (HRW confirmed on a cluster strike on Blida on July 19), it appears that Israel unleashed a huge barrage of cluster attacks in the final days and hours prior to cease-fire.  
During its visits to about 30 towns and villages hit by cluster munitions, Human Rights Watch researchers were struck by the degree to which the areas had been blanketed by cluster munition attacks, and by the density of the hazardous submunition dud contamination. They indicated that in the concentrated area of south Lebanon, the situation was much more severe than what HRW had encountered in Iraq, Afghanistan or Kosovo.  
Types Used and Failure Rates  
Israel used cluster munitions delivered by artillery projectiles, ground rockets, and aircraft bombs. It appears that 155mm artillery was used most extensively, followed by Multiple Launch Rocket Systems, with a small number of aerial cluster bombs.  
Based on the submunition duds that have been encountered, Israel apparently used the M395 and M396 155mm artillery projectiles that it produces, and the M483A1 155mm artillery projectiles produced by the United States. The Israeli versions contain 63 and 49 M85 submunitions, respectively, that have a self-destruct device, with a reported failure rate of 1.3-2.3 percent, based on testing. The U.S. version contains 88 M42 and M46 submunitions with a reported failure rate of 3 to 14 percent.  
Israel also used Multiple Launch Rocket Systems with M26 rockets, manufactured in the United States. Each MLRS can fire up to 12 rockets at once, and each rocket contains 644 M77 submunitions. A typical volley of six rockets would release 3,864 submunitions over an area with a one kilometer radius. The M77 submunition has a reported failure rate of 5 to 23 percent. U.S. use of M26 rockets in Iraq in 2003 caused hundreds of civilian casualties.  
Israel also used CBU-58B cluster bombs supplied by the United States. Each CBU-58B contains 650 BLU-63 bomblets. These were developed in the early 1960s. Human Rights Watch researchers saw a CBU-58B canister in Nabatiyah stamped with a load date of September 1973. They saw two CBU-58B “catastrophic” failures where the weapon completely failed to function and none of the bomblets were dispersed or exploded. The U.S. last used this cluster bomb in the 1991 Gulf War and no longer has it in its inventory.  
Mine clearance personnel in Lebanon are speculating that the failure rates for Israeli submunitions was very high, given the large number of duds compared to impact sites.They are indicating that the failure rates appear to be much higher than those reported from testing conditions. Chris Clark of UNMAS has estimated that the average failure rate may be as high as 50 percent, with many catastrophic failures. Others have estimated an average failure rate of 30-40 percent, with up to 70 percent in some locations, such as Yahmor.  
Targets and Israeli Justification  
During parts of six days immediately following the cease-fire, Human Rights Watch researchers documented approximately 50 Israeli cluster strikes, including strikes in about 30 towns and villages. Many strikes hit in the middle of and throughout these urban areas, indicating deliberate targeting of the areas. Large urban areas such as Tibnine and Nabatiyah were hit. The town of Yahmor was hit especially hard, as were Tibnine, Ain Ibel, Yaroun, Bint Jabael, and Qfar Tibnit.  
Often, the targeted towns and villages had been largely or completely abandoned by the Lebanese people, as they heeded Israel’s warnings to depart before an attack. But civilians are encountering large numbers of submunition duds as they return to populated areas.  
Many strikes were targeted at olive groves and tobacco fields, which would have been likely locations for Hezbollah to launch rocket attacks at Israel.  
Israel has made few comments on its use of cluster munitions in Israel. Officials have said that cluster munitions were only used in accordance with international humanitarian law. Some have indicated that cluster attacks were aimed at Hezbollah forces responsible for rocket attacks on Israel. Israel has given no information regarding any vetting process it may have used in determining when to use cluster munitions.  
It has been reported that the U.S. State Department is investigating Israeli use of U.S.-supplied cluster munitions in Lebanon to determine if Israel violated agreements first reached in 1976 on when and how Israel may employ U.S. cluster munitions.  
Hazardous Duds and Civilian Casualties  
As of 29 August, the U.N. MACC SL reported that 2,171 submunition duds had been located and destroyed, in just two weeks of operations. This total did not include submunitions cleared by the Lebanese Army or Hezbollah. It consisted of 820 M77 MLRS submunitions, 715 M42 artillery submunitions, 631 M85 artillery submunitions, and five BLU-63 aerial bomblets.  
The number of M85 duds is most striking, since that submunition has a self-destruct feature that is claimed to reduce dramatically the failure rate.  
As of 29 August, U.N. MACC SL reported 52 civilian casualties to submunitions since the cease-fire. Many of the casualties have been children.  
Little is yet known about civilian casualties caused by cluster munitions at the time of attack. HRW reported that the attack on Blida on July 19 killed one and wounded at least 12 civilians, including seven children.  
Armed forces should not use unreliable and inaccurate cluster munitions, including all of the types used by Israel in Lebanon. If employed, cluster munitions should never be used in urban areas. Nations should prohibit the transfer of all unreliable and inaccurate cluster munitions, and destroy existing stockpiles.  
In keeping with CCW Protocol V, Israel should provide to the United Nations and other appropriate bodies technical, financial, material and other assistance to facilitate the marking and clearing of cluster duds and other explosive remnants of war. In particular, Israel should provide detailed information on the location, number and type of cluster munitions it used in Lebanon.  
States party to the CCW should agree on a mandate to begin negotiations on a new Protocol that specifically addresses cluster munitions.  

[1]For comparison, Coalition forces used about 13,000 cluster munitions with about 1.9 million submunitions in Iraq in 2003, the U.S. Air Force used 1,228 cluster bombs with about 248,000 bomblets in Afghanistan in 2001-2002, and allied air forces used 1,765 cluster bombs with about 295,000 bomblets in Kosovo in 1999.


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