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The point of impact of a unitary parachute-retarded blast and fragmentation Smerch rocket on a street in Barda. The impacts of the metal fragments produced by the detonation of this weapon are visible in the asphalt. © 2020 Aziz Karimov

(Geneva, November 25, 2020) – Countries still using and producing cluster munitions should reject these indiscriminate weapons and join the international treaty banning them, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing the 100-page Cluster Munition Monitor 2020 report.

“Certain actors have yet to accept that most of the world prohibits cluster munitions. These weapons should no longer be used or produced under any circumstances,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the Cluster Munition Coalition. “To prevent further human suffering, greater effort is needed to ensure that the stigma against cluster munitions sticks.”

Cluster munitions can be fired from the ground by artillery, rockets, and mortars, or dropped by aircraft. They typically open in the air, dispersing multiple bomblets or submunitions over a wide area. Many submunitions fail to explode on initial impact, leaving dangerous duds that can maim and kill like landmines for years.

In October, Armenia and Azerbaijan used cluster munitions against each other during the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. Libyan Arab Armed Forces, an armed group under the command of General Khalifa Haftar, used cluster munitions in airstrikes on and around the capital, Tripoli, in 2019.

The Cluster Munition Monitor 2020 reports that 286 people were killed or wounded by cluster munitions in 2019, of whom 232 were in Syria, where government forces, with the assistance of Russia, have undertaken more than 686 cluster munition attacks since July 2012.

A total of 110 states have ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which took effect on August 1, 2010. It comprehensively bans cluster munitions and requires destruction of stockpiles. The treaty’s humanitarian provisions require states to clear areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants, and provide victim assistance.

There have been no reports or allegations of new use, production, or transfer of cluster munitions by any state party since the treaty took effect. However, since then, cluster munitions have been used in Cambodia, Libya, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen.

Civilians accounted for 99 percent of all cluster munition casualties worldwide in 2019, where the status was recorded, as in previous years. Forty percent of all recorded cluster munition casualties have been children.

“The treaty banning cluster munitions is firmly taking hold, but all governments need to unequivocally condemn any use and production of cluster munitions,” Goose said. “Governments committed to eradicating cluster munitions should demonstrate that this goal is achievable by implementing the treaty’s provisions.”

The treaty also requires member states to “promote the norms” established by the treaty and make their “best efforts” to discourage any use of cluster munitions.

Under the treaty, 36 member states have destroyed a collective total of 1.5 million cluster munitions and more than 178 million submunitions, 99 percent of all cluster munitions that member states have reported stockpiling. 

In 2019, Bulgaria, Peru, and Slovakia destroyed a total of 212 cluster munitions and more than 14,000 submunitions.

The treaty’s member states include 17 former producers of cluster munitions. However, 16 non-signatories have not made a commitment to end their production, including China and Russia, which are both actively researching and developing new types of cluster munitions. A 2017 Trump administration policy allows the United States to develop, acquire, and use cluster munitions.

“Governments that still regard cluster munitions as legitimate weapons show a shocking disregard for the victims of these weapons,” Goose said.

Cluster Munition Monitor 2020 is the 11th annual report of the Cluster Munition Coalition, the global coalition of nongovernmental organizations working to eradicate cluster munitions.

On November 25-27, 2020, Switzerland will convene the Second Review Conference of the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

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