The announcement by the U.S. Defense Department at the end of April of a move toward the use of more Aarea weapons@ in Operation Allied Force, and the reports of a growing shortage of precision-guided weapons, point to an increased use of unguided (Adumb@) weapons by North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces in the war against Yugoslavia, including so-called cluster bombs.1 Human Rights Watch is concerned that the use of cluster bombs raises questions of humanitarian law, and that the use in particular of the CBU-89 AGator@ scatterable mine would directly violate the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which bans the production, use, trade, and stockpiling of antipersonnel landmines.2
The extensive use in armed conflict of cluster bombs, which contain large numbers of submunitions, uniquely threatens the civilian population. These submunitionsCwhich are expendable because they are designed simply to make them plentiful and individually less expensiveCare dispersed over large areas, creating a grave lingering danger for the noncombatant civilian population. This is because cluster bomb submunitions have been shown to have a significant Adud,@ or failure, rate.3 The duds in effect become antipersonnel landmines, incapable of distinguishing between combatants and innocent civilians.
The Gulf war experience verifies the unique dangers involved in the use of cluster bombs. Hundreds of thousands of weapons were fired from the ground and the air at Iraqi forces in 1991, comprising tens of millions of submunitions. One consequence of this massive use of fire power was the post-war unexploded ordnance challenge represented by hundreds of thousands of bomblets than had not detonated on contact nor as a result of secondary fuses or Aself-destruct@ mechanisms. The hazardous after-effect of the war was particularly acute because cluster bomb submunitions cannot be Adefused@: they must be destroyed in place.
Recognizing the danger to civilians inherent in the use of cluster bombs, air combat commander Maj. Gen. Michael Ryan (now U.S. Air Force chief of staff) decided during Operation Deliberate Force in Bosnia in 1995 to prohibit their use. AThe problem was that the fragmentation pattern was too large to sufficiently limit collateral damage and there was also the further problem of potential unexploded ordnance,@ says one Air Force-sponsored study.4
The mounting toll of civilian casualties caused by NATO=s air war against Yugoslavia is taking place against a backdrop of widespread abuses against civilians in Kosovo. Human Rights Watch has documented summary executions, including numerous massacres, incidents of rape and other physical violence, and the indiscriminate shelling and razing of entire villages by the Yugoslav National Army (JNA) and Serbian special police forces, as well as a number of paramilitary units, since the NATO bombing campaign began on March 24, 1999. Attacks on civilians and the systematic destruction of villages have effectively Acleansed@ large areas of Kosovo of ethnic Albanians. However, civilians have been the targets of war crimes and other violations of humanitarian law since the very beginning of the Kosovo conflict in early 1998.5
Use of Cluster Bombs in Yugoslavia
Despite their acknowledged threat to civilians, cluster bombs have already been used in Operation Allied Force. Both the U.S. and Britain have acknowledged using cluster bombs. U.S. F-15E and F-16 aircraft have dropped CBU-87 cluster bombs,6 and British Royal Air Force (RAF) Harrier GR7s began dropping RBL755 cluster bombs on April 6.7 (Appendix A contains a description of the main cluster bombs mentioned in this report.) The CBU-87 and RBL755 weapons have been used against airfields, communications and early-warning sites, vehicle concentrations on roads, Yugoslav Army command posts, troop compounds and concentrations, artillery, and armor units.8 There have been reports of cluster bombs being used at Batanica airbase near Belgrade and Podgorica airfield in Montenegro, as well as in the following areas in Kosovo: an Aagricultural school@ on the outskirts of Pristina, near Belacevac, Djakovica, Doganovic, Lukare, Mt. Cicavica (northwest of Pristina), Mt. Pastrik (near Prizren), and Stari Trg (near Kosovska Mitrovica).9
Though probably no more than a few hundred air-delivered cluster bombs have been used to date in Yugoslavia, there reportedly already have been civilian casualties. A NATO airstrike involving cluster bombs on an airfield in Nis on May 7 went off target, hitting a hospital complex and adjoining civilian areas. On April 24, five boys were reported to have been killed and two injured when what was evidently a cluster bomb submunition exploded near the village of Doganovic, fifteen kilometers from Urosevac in southern Kosovo. The munition was described as having a yellow-colored jacket, identical to that of the CBU-87 or RBL755 bomblets.10
High Dud Rate
The CBU-87 and RBL755 are both mixed antipersonnel/antiarmor weapons that dispense explosive and incendiary submunitions fused to explode on contact. With 202 individual bomblets, the CBU-87 disperses its submunitions over an area at least the size of a football field. The RBL755 dispenses 147 bomblets. Most cluster bombs are intended for Asoft@ targets, that is, troops or unarmored vehicles, as well as fixed targets of a dispersed yet unprotected nature, such as communications sites.
The weapons are kept relatively inexpensive (in comparison with guided weapons) through the economical use of fuses and materials.11 The side-effect of keeping the expense of individual bomblets low is a significant dud rate. Estimates of overall dud rates vary from the conservative 2-5 percent claimed by manufacturers, to up to 23 percent observed in acceptance and operational testing, to some 10-30 percent observed on the ground in areas of Iraq after the Gulf War.12 Human Rights Watch has used a conservative estimate of 5 percent mechanical and fuse failures to estimate the humanitarian effect.13 This number seems credible to most experts. In the Gulf war, cluster bomb use left some two million unexploded bomblets behind in Iraq and Kuwait, almost half from air-delivered bombs. It is important to note that these are dud rates associated with some of the newest technologies in the U.S. arsenal.14 Older Vietnam-era cluster bombs such as the Rockeye (not yet used in Operation Allied Force, according to current information) may have much higher dud rates.
Thus for Operation Allied Force, the historical record and testing experience would tend to indicate that for every single CBU-87 used, there will be an average of some ten unexploded bomblets, and for every RBL755, there will be an average of five unexploded bomblets. Bombing in Operation Allied Force to date has been almost exclusively from medium altitudes (circa 15,000 feet), raising important questions regarding the ability to control the collateral damage effects of the use of cluster bombs, and the number of dispersed unexploded bomblets.15 It is also important to note that the experience of cluster bomb use in the Gulf war and other conflicts indicates that the failure to fuse properly does not mean that submunitions on the ground are harmless. Cluster bomb submunitions, however fused, may explode at the slightest touch, even after extended periods of time.16
Human Rights Watch=s Concerns
The current use of CBU-87 and RBL755 cluster bombs in Operation Allied Force raises serious concerns under international humanitarian law (also known as the laws of war). Article 51 of Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions (1977) prohibits indiscriminate attacks, which include attacks which Aemploy a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol.@17 The high dud rate of cluster bomb submunitions turns these weapons effectively into antipersonnel landmines that do not distinguish between combatants and noncombatants, detonate on contact, and may lie undisturbed for years after a conflict has ended until someone happens upon one. Cluster bomb submunitions, like antipersonnel landmines, therefore have the unique potential to injure and kill civilians both during and after a conflictCcluster bombs despite, and antipersonnel landmines because of their design.
Moreover, because of the cluster bomb submunitions= appearanceCthe CBU-87 and RBL755 bomblets are bright orange/yellow soda-can sized objects, while the ATACMS bomblets are bright baseball-sized spheresCchildren are particularly drawn to the volatile live remnants. In the short term, live submunitions impede civilian and refugee movement; in the long term, they inhibit agriculture and economic recovery. As the Gulf war experience indicates, the widespread use of cluster bombs can also pose a severe hazard to friendly ground force operations (see below).
Human Rights Watch is disturbed by the possibility that more cluster bombs, and new types of cluster bombs, will be brought into the mix as NATO=s military campaign in Yugoslavia continues to unfold. The U.S. Army is deploying 155mm artillery guns and Multiple-Launch Rocket System (MLRS) launchers as part of Task Force Hawk in Albania. Both of these systems are capable of dispensing submunitionsCthe ATACMS missile fired from the MLRS launcher dispenses as many as 955 bomblets.18 There has also been speculation that the CBU-89 Gator scatterable mine is available for use, and the U.S. government has stated that it reserves the right to use this weapon should the need arise, despite its being banned under the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which came into force in March 1999.19 The United States has not signed the treaty, but all other NATO members, except Turkey, have.
Human Rights Watch condemns NATO=s use of cluster bombs in Yugoslavia, given the proven high dud rate of the submunitions employed, as indiscriminate in effect and the equivalent of using antipersonnel landmines. Human Rights Watch also calls on the United States not to use the CBU-89 Gator scatterable mine system, because this is an inherently indiscriminate weapon. Finally, Human Rights Watch is concerned that cluster bombs may be used in attacks on urban centers. This would present a particularly hazardous condition for the civilian population and should therefore be avoided.
1 To date, over 90 percent of all weapons used have been precision-guided weapons. The remaining 10 percent are a mix of unguided bombs, including some cluster bombs. On April 12, a Department of Defense official stated that the percentage of precision weapons being used was in Athe high 90s.@ Maj. Gen. Chuck Wald, Vice Director J-5, JCS, DOD News Briefing, April 12, 1999.
2 The U.S. military defines a scatterable mine as Aa mine laid without regard to classical pattern and which is designed to be delivered by aircraft, artillery, missile, ground dispenser, or by hand.@ Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), AJoint Doctrine for Barriers, Obstacles and Mine Warfare,@ Joint Pub. 3-15, June 30, 1993, p. GL-8.
3 A dud is defined as a submunition that does not explode upon impact, as is intended.
4 Michael O. Beale, ABombs Over Bosnia: The Role of Airpower in Bosnia-Herzegovina,@ thesis presented to the faculty of the School of Advanced Airpower Studies, Air University, June 1996. See also Air University, ADeliberate Force: A Case Study in Effective Air Campaigning, Final Report of the Air University Balkans Air Campaign Study,@ June 1998, p. 8-32. According to these sources, one U.S. Air Force A-10 unit dropped two CBU-87s as a result of a miscommunication during the Bosnia campaign, but there was no subsequent use.
5 Human Rights Watch has published a number of reports on human rights conditions in Kosovo and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 1998 and 1999. They include: A Week of Terror in Drenica (New York: Human Right Watch, 1999); AAcademic Freedom: Deepening Authoritarianism in Serbia,@ A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 11, no. 2, January 1999; ADetentions and Abuse in Kosovo,@ A Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol. 10, no. 10, December 1998; and Humanitarian Law Violations in Kosovo (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1998). News flashes on the war in the former Yugoslavia can be found at Human Rights Watch=s web site at http://www.hrw.org/campaigns/kosovo98/.
6 Kenneth Bacon, DOD spokesperson, and Maj. Gen. Chuck Wald, Vice Director J-5, JCS, DOD News Briefing, April 15, 1999; and Maj. Gen. Chuck Wald, Vice Director J-5, JCS, DOD News Briefing, April 12, 1999. On April 15, General Wald said: AWe have been dropping cluster bombs. They=re well within the confines of international law.@
7 John Phillips, ACluster-bombing ends frustration of Harrier pilots,@ Times (London), April 7, 1999. The RBL755 is a modified version of the BL755, which the British Royal Air Force used in the Gulf war in 1991 (see below).
8 AWar Briefing, Days 31 & 32,@ Irish Times (Dublin), April 26, 1999; AHarriers Use Cluster Bombs on Enemy HQ,@ Birmingham Post, April 23, 1999; David A. Fulghum, AIsolated, Serb Army Faces Barrage,@ Aviation Week & Space Technology, April 19, 1999; and Tim Butcher, AConflict in the Balkans: Rains restrict the full wrath of NATO air offensive: Rogue bomb has set back allies= propaganda war,@ Daily Telegraph (London), April 10, 1999.
9 AFive Boys reportedly killed by NATO cluster bomb,@ Pristina Media Center, as reported in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, April 26, 1999; ANATO accused of dropping cluster bombs on Kosovo,@ Pristina Media Center, as reported in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, April 22, 1999; ANATO planes continue to bomb civilian facilities,@ ITAR/TASS, April 20, 1999; AConflict in the Balkans; Balkans Notebook; Cluster Bombs Killed Refugees?,@ Atlanta Journal and Constitution, April 18, 1999; ANATO reported to have dropped >over 10 cluster bombs= on southwest Kosovo,@ Tanjug News Agency, as reported in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, April 17, 1999; Paul Watson, ADispatch from Kosovo: Break in Clouds Can Give Allies Clear Views of Targets; Yugoslavia: If weekend skies brighten as expected, Milosevic=s forces won=t be able to hide from NATO,@ Los Angeles Times, April 3, 1999; and AYugoslav news agency says NATO missiles shot down, repeats cluster bomb charge,@ Tanjug News Agency, as reported in BBC Worldwide Monitoring, March 31, 1999.
10 Paul Watson and Elizabeth Shogren, ADispatch from Kosovo,@ Los Angeles Times, April 25, 1999; AChildren play with NATO bomb, five killed - Serbian media centre,@ Deutsche Presse Agentur, April 24, 1999; Paul Watson, AUnexploded Weapons Pose Deadly Threat on Ground,@ Los Angeles Times, April 28, 1999; and AFive boys reportedly killed by NATO cluster bomb,@ Pristina Media Center, as reported in BBC Summary of World Broadcasts, April 26, 1999.
There was also some press speculation that cluster bombs were used in NATO attacks on roads in Kosovo on April 14. Observers reported seeing two-foot long Afin-shaped bomb remnants@ with the name ALCOA stamped on the side. According to the Los Angeles Times, the metal fins of the fragments contained the numbers: ALCOA 2 B24, a serial number 8377401, followed by ALCOA 7075, and the number 961. Paul Watson, ADispatch from Kosovo: Cluster Bombs May Be What Killed Refugees,@ Los Angeles Times, April 17, 1999. There are a number of cluster bombs that the general description could correspond with, though the link made by the Times to the U.S. manufacturer ALCOA is likely to be in error, as ALCOA is not known to have been a producer of cluster munitions. It should be noted that the weapons fragments could also be Yugoslav mortar rounds or artillery fragments. See also, AConflict in the Balkans; Balkans Notebook; Cluster Bombs killed Refugees?,@ Atlanta Journal and Constitution, April 18, 1999.
11 The materials used in cluster bomb submunitions are of inferior quality compared to the materials used in single bombs, especially laser-guided Asmart@ weapons, primarily because the bomblets are considered expendable.
12 The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) found that as many as 23 percent of MLRS rocket submunitions failed to explode during acceptance testing. U.S. Congress, General Accounting Office, AOperation Desert Storm: Casualties Caused by Improper Handling of Unexploded U.S. Submunitions,@ GAO/NSIAD-93-212, August 1993, p. 4.
One U.S. army expert estimated 15 percent of submunitions failed to detonate in 1991: ASometimes you get 50 percent duds.@ Quoted in James Vincent Brady, AKuwaitis dying from old menace: unexploded bombs,@ Fort Worth Star-Telegram, January 12, 1992. Another report on unexploded ordnance states that Aaround one third of submunitions failed to explode due to landing in soft sand.@ Trevor Nash, ARO in Kuwait: The Big Clean-Up,@ Military Technology, July 1991, p. 59. Another U.S. expert said that Aat least 600 bombs, rockets and artillery shells dropped or fired every day of the war will have failed to explode and thus constitute a continuing hazard somewhere in the war theater.@ Quoted in Ken Ringle, AAfter the Battles, Defusing the Debris,@ Washington Post, March 1, 1991. See also Chris Hedges, AWith a Bang! Bang! Bang! War Cleanup Goes On,@ New York Times, October 15, 1992; and Rick Atkinson, ADoing a Bang-Up Job: With Cautious Gusto, Troops Explode Iraq=s Munitions,@ Washington Post, March 26, 1991.
13 A submunition has a primary fuse that is designed to ignite on contact. Failing that, a secondary fuse is ignited via a time-delay mechanism. A mechanical failure refers to instances in which the submunition does not detonate either because the parachute fails to deploy (the deploying of the parachute is designed to pull the pin that arms the fuse), or the explosive itself fails to go off, or the spring malfunctions.
14 These numbers have been extensively discussed with U.S. Army and Air Force ordnance experts. Military officials agree that in Desert Storm 3 to 5 percent of the artillery projectiles and bombs failed to explode on average, although soft sand and water likely increased this dud rate to up to 15 percent in some areas. Some weapons types also experienced higher failure rates, such as the air-delivered Rockeye and ground-delivered 155mm artillery submunitions.
15 The higher the altitude at which cluster bombs are dropped, the wider will be the dispersal radius of the submunitions, and the greater, therefore, the potential risk to nonmilitary targets. Moreover, at higher altitudes, pilots have a reduced capability to make sighting corrections. Finally, at greater altitudes, the bomblets do not necessarily have the opportunity to fuse properly, and the dud rate is therefore likely to be higher.
16 The Mennonite Central Committee has done extensive work on the disposal of unexploded bombs left in Laos after the Vietnam War, and continues to find unexploded cluster bomb submunitions to be a significant problem. Experts in Laos have noted, moreover, that submunitions become less stable and therefore more dangerous with each passing year. See Mennonite Central Committee, ACluster Munitions as Inhumane and Indiscriminate Weapons,@ December 1997.
17 Moreover, article 35 of Protocol I stipulates that AIn any armed conflict, the right of the Parties to the conflict to choose methods or means of warfare is not unlimited.@
18 There have also been reports that the new CBU-97 Sensor-Fused Weapon (SFW) has been used, but this has not been confirmed. See David A. Fulghum and Robert Wall, AWeather, Weapons Dearth Slow NATO Strikes: Military officials worry that the limited number of air sorties is undermining the effectiveness of air strikes,@ Aviation Week & Space Technology, April 5, 1999.
19 Based on Human Rights Watch discussions with U.S. Defense Department officials, April 8 and April 15. See also Tom Curry, APentagon Denies Land Mine Report,@ MSNBC, April 14, 1999, located at http://www.msnbc.com/news/259325.asp and Kenneth Bacon, DOD spokesperson, and Maj. Gen. Chuck Wald, Vice Director J-5, JCS, DOD News Briefing, April 14, 1999. Bacon said: AWe have dropped, as General Wald said, cluster bombs, but we have not dropped the ones that he was talking about, which are a combination of anti-tank and anti-personnel landmines. These are the self-destructing ones called Gator.@
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