the conflict tainted by the scourge of cluster munitions

A deminer carries fragments of a cluster munition after a rocket attack on a residential area in northern Kharkiv. SERGEY BOBOK / AFP

In the six-month war, these bombs, which were mainly used by the Russians, could cause about 689 victims according to a report by the Observatory of cluster munitions.

In its annual report, published on Thursday, August 25, the Observatory of cluster munitions (CMC) confirms that Russia makes extensive use of cluster munitions. The group of NGOs co-founded by Handicap International indicated that Ukraine also used this type of weapon, which is prohibited by international humanitarian law.

Due to their highly detailed design, these weapons can kill or severely disrupt and pollute a large area for decades. It consists of a central pump with “clustersof explosive devices sometimes calledbombs“. These cluster weapons can be launched from trucks or dropped from an airplane. Before the impact, the main bomb releases the explosive devices contained in its frame. A zone device, which can be will cover an area equivalent to several football fields, causing a lot of damage in a short time.

weapon” no discrimination»

Cluster munitions do not distinguish a civilian from a soldier or an enemy base from a school, giving it the name “no discrimination“. The bomblets fell in an average radius of 70 km around the target objective. They are the killers of the civilian population. According to the annual report of the CMC, in 2021, of the 149 victims recorded, 144 the civilians, including 90 children.

Cluster munitions do not kill instantly. Often many planned warheads do not detonate directly. Then they throw away the fall sites, which are usually stuck in hard-to-reach places and become the equivalent of landmines. So the number of victims continues to increase over time. Removing cluster munition remnants is a long and tedious process. They are often located in trees and roofs or underground, making the work of deminers difficult. In Laos, more than 1000 km2 in the territory is still contaminated. All explosive devices to date are from the bombing of America from 1965 to 1975.

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Ukraine, a new contaminated area

Since February 24, the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, cluster munitions have been especially deadly. In comparison, in the entire year 2021 there will be 149 victims worldwide. There were 689 in Ukraine in just 6 months, according to CMC. The organization accused Russia of carrying out most of the strikes. Ukraine allegedly used cluster munitions three times.

On July 1, 24 Ukrainian provinces became victims of hundreds of strikes, especially in the Donetsk region and, more worryingly, also in the area of ​​the Zaporijjia nuclear power plant. The Kremlin admits the use of cluster munitions in Ukraine (except Zaporizhia) which it calls “ harmless if used properly“. The CMC report mentions Russia’s use of six types of cluster munitions. Among them, RBK-500 PTAB-1M cluster bombs, with 268 explosive submunitions.

An influx of submunitions reminiscent of another more bloody conflict: the war in Syria. The country is at the top of the ranking of states with the most victims due to cluster munitions. “The human toll of the Ukrainian conflict recalls the worst times of the war in Syria in terms of the use of these weapons“, explained to Figaro Marion Loddo, editorial manager of CMC’s annual report.

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Russia and Ukraine have not signed the Oslo Convention

The use and production of cluster munitions is prohibited by the Oslo Convention signed in 2008. Today, it has 110 States parties and 13 signatories. A non-binding resolution of the UN General Assembly to promote the Convention was adopted in December 2021 by 146 states, including 36 that did not sign. Russia was the only country that voted against. The Oslo Convention enabled the destruction of approximately 1.5 million cluster munitions.

Despite its expansion, the Oslo Convention did not prevent hundreds of cluster munitions strikes on Ukrainian soil. Since Ukraine and Russia are not States parties to the Oslo Convention, nothing obliges them to reject it. However, they remain subject to international law governing times of war. However, indiscriminate weapons are contrary to the principle of target differentiation imposed by the Geneva Convention.

Condemnations (to use the editor’s note on cluster munitions) are necessary to strengthen the standard set by the Oslo ConventionMarion Loddo remembers. A method based on the stigmatization of the use of this type of weapon will bear fruit: “ Of the NATO countries (not all signatories to the Oslo Convention, editor’s note) that aided the Ukrainian military, none sent cluster munitions.said Marion Guillaumont, disarmament and civilian protection advocacy officer for Handicap International.

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