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Collected remnants of Russian cluster munition rockets that were used to attack the city of Kharkiv, at a storage area in Kharkiv, Ukraine, December 22, 2022. © 2022 Evgeniy Maloletka / AP

(Washington DC, May 29, 2023) – Greater global efforts are needed to ensure that the international treaty banning cluster munitions achieves its goal of ending the suffering and harm caused by these indiscriminate weapons, Human Rights Watch said today. May 30, 2023 marks 15 years since the Convention on Cluster Munitions was adopted in Dublin, Ireland.

“Fifteen years after its adoption, the international ban on cluster munitions is being tested as never before,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the international Cluster Munition Coalition. “To prevent further human suffering, governments need to make greater efforts to ensure that the treaty banning cluster munitions succeeds in eradicating these heinous weapons.”

Cluster munitions are delivered by artillery, rockets, missiles, and aircraft. They open in mid-air and disperse dozens or hundreds of submunitions, also called bomblets, over a wide area. Many submunitions fail to explode on initial impact, leaving duds that can indiscriminately wound and kill, like landmines, for years until they are cleared and destroyed.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions prohibits the use, production, acquisition, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions and requires destruction of stockpiles. The treaty’s humanitarian provisions also require countries to clear areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants and provide victim assistance.

There have been no reports or allegations of new use, production, or transfers of cluster munitions by the 123 countries that have signed or ratified the convention. However, a handful of countries outside the convention have produced or used cluster munitions.

A 2023 Human Rights Watch report details how Russian armed forces have repeatedly used cluster munitions in Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion on February 24, 2022 in attacks that have caused hundreds of civilian casualties and damaged civilian objects, including homes, hospitals, and schools. A single Russian cluster munition attack on a train station in Kramatorsk on April 8, 2022, killed at least 58 civilians and wounded 100 others. The stigma created by the convention has led to widespread international condemnation of these attacks.

Ukrainian forces have also used cluster munitions on several occasions.

In Syria, the Syrian-Russian military alliance used cluster munition rockets in attacks on camps for internally displaced people in Idlib governorate on November 6, 2022, killing and wounding civilians. Myanmar’s air force used an apparent domestically produced cluster bomb in an attack on July 2, 2022, according to Amnesty International and the Cluster Munition Monitor.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions’ member states include 17 former producers of cluster munitions. However, 16 non-signatories have not ended production, including China and Russia, which are both actively researching and developing new types of cluster munitions. The United States last produced cluster munitions in 2016, but still has not heeded calls to reverse a 2017 policy that opened the path for it to restart production of these weapons.

Since the convention was adopted, 37 states parties have altogether destroyed a total of nearly 1.5 million stockpiled cluster munitions and more than 178 million submunitions. The total is 99 percent of all cluster munitions that states parties have reported stockpiling.

States parties Bulgaria, Peru, and Slovakia continue to make progress toward meeting the treaty’s stockpile destruction obligation. In 2021 and the first half of 2022, the three countries collectively destroyed at least 1,658 stockpiled cluster munitions and 46,733 submunitions. South Africa also stockpiles cluster munitions, but does not appear to be on track to destroy them by the deadline of November 1, 2023, despite its commitment to do so.

The pace of countries joining the Convention on Cluster Munitions has slowed significantly, but in February, Nigeria became the first country to ratify the convention in more than three years.

Human Rights Watch co-founded and chairs the Cluster Munition Coalition, the global coalition of nongovernmental organizations working to promote universal adherence to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The 11th annual meeting of the Convention on Cluster Munitions will be held at the United Nations in Geneva on September 11-14, under the presidency of Ambassador Abdul-Karim Hashim Mostafa of Iraq.

“The record of compliance by countries that have ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions is impressive, but today’s challenges need to be overcome if the treaty is to achieve its goals,” Goose said. “Countries that have endorsed the ban on cluster munitions have a collective responsibility to end the suffering caused by these weapons.”

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