Human Rights activists accuse Syria and Yemen of illegally using cluster munitions in violation of an international treaty. Documented evidence appears in the latest edition of the Cluster Munition Monitor 2016, which tracks the global use, production, stockpiling and trade of these banned weapons.
The Cluster Munition Monitor has recorded the use of such ordnance by Syrian government forces since mid-2012. It also has documented the use of ground-launched cluster munitions by Islamic State militants during its advance on the city of Qurbani a couple of years ago.
Human Rights Watch advocacy director and editor of the Monitor, Mary Wareham, says attacks in Syria involving these weapons have increased since Russia began its joint military operation with that country at the end of last September.
“We have seen an increase in the number of cluster munition attacks on opposition held areas in Aleppo, Idlib and elsewhere ," said Wareham . "And, at the moment, we see evidence of cluster munition attacks every week, if not almost every day, which is highly disturbing.”
In this still image made from video taken Sept. 7, 2015 provided by the Syrian Center for Demining and Rehabilitation, a volunteer deminer takes a landmine from the ground in Daraa, Syria.
The Monitor reports about 13 different types of air-dropped and ground-launched cluster munitions are being used in Syria. It says all but one have been manufactured by the former Soviet Union or by Russia, but none since 1992.
It reports there also is clear and compelling evidence that such weaponry continues to be used in Yemen. The Monitor records at least 19 attacks involving at least seven different types of air-dropped and ground-launched cluster munitions.
Wareham says many civilians have been harmed by these weapons since the Saudi Arabian-led coalition began its air operation against the Houthi rebels at the end of March 2015, breaching an agreement with the United States.
“The Saudis specifically agreed as part of the transfer deal with the United States not to use them in civilian areas, only to use them against military targets," said Wareham . "And, we found evidence that the Saudi Arabia coalition was using cluster munitions in civilian areas. Probably one of the best examples of that was the attack on the capital Sa’ana in January of this year.”
Wareham says the Obama administration in May announced it was halting the sale of such ordnance to Saudi Arabia, apparently in response to the large number of civilians reportedly being killed and maimed by their use.
Most casualties reported last year from cluster munitions were in Syria and Yemen. The Monitor, which recorded 245 casualties in Syria and 104 in Yemen, says these figures are underestimated.