US-Supplied Cluster Bombs May Have Been Used To Target Civilians In Yemen

Claire Bernish
June 2, 2015

(ANTIMEDIA) Human Rights Watch has uncovered strong evidence of the use of internationally banned cluster munitions by Saudi Arabian-led coalition forces in Yemen, and that civilians have been the target in some cases.

Visiting the Saada Governate, also known as Ansar Allah, in northern Yemen, HRW discovered a number of civilians had been injured by cluster bombs, including a 10-year-old boy who picked up an unexploded ordnance that he thought was a toy.

Cluster bombs are far from precise in their ability to hit a target, and often leave behind submunitions that fail to detonate on impact, but remain live for decades — creating de facto mines that can maim or kill, spread out over an area the size of a football field. Civilians are most often the victims when they stumble across these unexploded ordnances years after the original bomb was dropped.

A provision in the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions bans the use, production, stockpiling, and transfer of the insidious bombs, and though none of the ten members of the Saudi-led coalition is party to that agreement, HRW and other nations have implored those responsible to end their use in Yemen. In total, 116 countries have signed the treaty, but the US and Saudi Arabia are not among them.

“The Cluster Munition Coalition condemns the use of cluster munitions in Yemen and calls on all parties to ensure no future use,” said Megan Burke, Director of the Cluster Munition Coalition. Ole Solvang, a senior emergencies researcher for HRW, echoed the concern.

The Saudi-led coalition and other warring parties in Yemen need to recognize that using banned cluster munitions is very likely to harm civilians. These weapons can’t distinguish military targets from civilians, and their unexploded submunitions threaten civilians, especially children, even long after the fighting.”

In one instance, a civilian pointed out items that HRW identified as BLU-108 canisters from the CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon, manufactured by Textron Systems — supplied by the US to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in recent years. This particular cluster bomb is banned by the Convention, but US policy allows for its export as the submunitions meet reliability standards. Though export policy decrees the receiving country must agree the bombs “will only be used against clearly defined military targets and will not be used where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians”, it appears they were used near populated areas in Yemen.

The DOD is conducting an investigation into the reports, and a spokesperson urged all parties to “comply with international humanitarian law, including the obligation to take all feasible measures to minimize harm to civilians.” Plans to discontinue US transfer of such weapons to foreign governments won’t take effect until 2018.

One incident of a cluster bomb dropped in an air attack, which injured civilians, clearly originated with Coalition forces, as they are the only party in the conflict using air power.

Belkis Willie, Yemen and Kuwait researcher with HRW, told RT she has serious concerns about what the Coalition is actually targeting: “The problem is the choice of target. We’ve seen multiple instances in which the target that was selected by the Coalition is potentially a violation of the laws of war and really calls into question what process the coalition has for selecting its targets.”

As this is not the first report of the use of cluster munitions, it is past due for the US government to take a stand, and demand the Coalition it supports comply with the international humanitarian law which it claims to espouse.

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