In their campaign in Ukraine, the Russian armed forces are attacking with a cruel weapon: cluster munitions, which are largely banned internationally. “Civilians are mainly the victims of cluster munitions,” emphasized the director of the UN Institute for Disarmament Studies, Robin Geiss, on Thursday in Geneva at the presentation of a report by aid and human rights organizations.
According to the Cluster Bomb Monitor, at least 689 civilians fell victim to insidious explosive devices in Ukraine in the first half of 2022. Of them, 215 died while 474 suffered injuries and mutilations.
However, the number of unreported cases is likely to be much higher, as the turmoil of war makes precise recording impossible. The munitions also damaged a number of homes, schools, hospitals and other civilian buildings in the country invaded by Russian troops on February 24.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s troops are responsible for almost all of the attacks with the killer instruments in Ukraine. According to the aid organization Handicap International, “Russian forces carried out hundreds of attacks”.
According to Mary Wareham, disarmament expert at Human Rights Watch, Ukrainian units have also used these weapons in at least two cases. “All cluster munitions were manufactured in Russia — some as late as 2021 — or in its predecessor, the Soviet Union,” HRW said in a May release.
According to the research that has now been published, in 2022 Ukraine was the only theater of war in the world where parties fought with cluster bombs. And for the first time in a decade, the authors of the study recorded no reports of new victims as a result of cluster munition attacks in 2021.
“The continued and repeated use of cluster munitions in Ukraine demonstrates a lack of consideration for, and in some cases deliberate intent to target, civilians,” said Eva Maria Fischer, of Handicap International. All states should join the prohibition treaty and “this barbaric weapon” should finally disappear from the theaters of war.
But neither Russia nor Ukraine have signed the so-called Oslo Convention banning cluster munitions. The USA, China and other military powers also do not want to bow to the pact. The agreement entered into force in August 2010.
So far, according to Handicap, 123 states have signed the treaty. The convention prescribes a far-reaching ban on weapons. Countries outlaw the use, development, production, stockpiling and transfer of munitions fired from guns or dropped from airplanes.
The ammunition is in containers. The canisters open and hundreds of small bombs scatter over large areas that can be dozens of football fields in size. According to the Federal Foreign Office, cluster munitions are particularly dangerous because “a significant percentage of the submunitions do not detonate, but remain on site as duds and endanger the population”.
The submunitions are sensitive, very numerous and difficult to find because of their small size. Small touches trigger detonations. The killing devices thus threaten civilians not only during the deployment, but also “long after the end of a military conflict”.