This year alone, Russian forces are believed to have launched hundreds of cluster munition attacks in contravention of various principles of international humanitarian law, according to a scathing report released Aug. 25 by the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), an international advocacy group. Cluster munitions are weapons that contain dozens to hundreds of explosive submunitions. They open mid-air, flooding massive areas with explosions, making it effectively impossible to limit destruction to an intended target.
“Russia’s extensive use of internationally banned cluster munitions in Ukraine demonstrates a blatant disregard for human life, humanitarian principles, and legal norms… Unequivocally condemning ongoing use of cluster munitions in Ukraine is crucial to strengthen the stigma against these weapons and bring an end to the threat they pose,” Human Rights Watch arms advocacy director Mary Wareham said in a statement accompanying the release of the report, Cluster Munition Monitor 2022.
The CMC advocates for the eradication of cluster munitions in line with the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, to which neither Russia nor Ukraine is a party. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, while international humanitarian law lacks rules specific to cluster munitions, these weapons fall under the purview of the broader rules of armed conflict, which require combatants to distinguish between civilian and military targets, prohibit indiscriminate strikes, and require proportionality in attacks.
Hundreds of Russian cluster munition attacks have been documented, reported, or alleged in recent months in Ukraine, which at present is the only country in the world where cluster munitions are being used. Preliminary data indicates at least 689 casualties reported during cluster munition attacks in Ukraine for the first half of 2022. Many casualties may have gone unrecorded.
Ukrainian forces are also accused of having engaged in cluster munition attacks, albeit at a far lower frequency than Russia. “Russia has used cluster munitions extensively since invading Ukraine on 24 February 2022, while Ukrainian forces appear to have used them at least three times in the war,” the report states.
Since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, international organizations, foreign government officials, and human rights advocacy groups have sounded the alarm over the ensuing violations of international law.
From Jurist, Aug. 26. Used with permission.
Note: Rights groups first reported Russian use of cluster munitions in Ukraine in early March. Both the International Criminal Court and UN Human Rights Council have opened investigations into possible war crimes in Ukraine.
Photo: Ole Solvang/HRW