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2022: An upsurge of cluster munition use results in an unprecedented toll of deaths and injuries


Armed violence reduction | International | PUBLISHED ON September 5th 2023
Risk education session led by HI for local people in West Yemen. Contamination by explosive ordnances, remnants and mine left by combats and bombing is a major problem as the population is coming back home since violence has decreased.

Risk education session led by HI for local people in West Yemen. Contamination by explosive ordnances, remnants and mine left by combats and bombing is a major problem as the population is coming back home since violence has decreased. | © B. Van Maele / HI

Released on 5 September, the 2023 Cluster Munition Monitor report reveals that 1,172 people were killed or injured by cluster munitions in 2022. This is the highest annual toll of casualties reported by the Cluster Munition Monitor since its first publication in 2010.

This unprecedented figure is mainly due to repeated use of cluster munitions across Ukraine. The conference of State Parties to the Oslo Convention, which bans cluster munitions, is due to take place from the 11th to the 14th of September in Geneva. HI is calling on states to systematically condemn the use of these barbaric weapons and to hold accountable those responsible for their use.

The 2023 Cluster Munition Monitor report assesses the implementation of the Oslo Convention which bans the use, production, transfer, and stockpile of cluster munitions, for the period from January to December 2022. The report also covers the first half of 2023, when information is available.

An unprecedented toll of deaths and injuries

1,172 new cluster munition casualties were recorded across eight countries in 2022: Azerbaijan, Iraq, Lao PDR, Lebanon, Myanmar, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen. This is the highest annual number of people killed and injured from cluster munitions that the Monitor has recorded since it first began reporting in 2010.

This alarming finding is primarily due to Russia’s extensive use of cluster munitions across Ukraine. Ukrainian forces have also used cluster munitions. 916 cluster munition casualties were recorded in Ukraine in 2022, including 890 casualties directly due to cluster munition attacks. Many casualties from other attacks could have gone unrecorded.

The high figures are also due to cluster munition attacks in Syria in 2022 resulting in 84 casualties, and a considerable increase in the number of casualties from cluster munition remnants in Yemen with 95 casualties in 2022.

Portrait of Anne Héry from HI"The extensive attacks by Russian forces using banned cluster munitions killed and wounded hundreds of civilians in 2022 in Ukraine. They also damaged healthcare facilities, plants and homes. Ukrainian forces also reportedly used these devastating weapons. Cluster munitions are indiscriminate weapons by nature. 95% of causalities are civilians. HI calls on warring parties to immediately stop all use of cluster munitions. It also calls on states to put pressure on countries that use cluster munitions to stop such practices. States parties to the Convention should fulfil their obligations to firmly and systematically condemn any new use and hold users accountable,” says Anne Héry, HI Advocacy and Institutional Relations Director

An indiscriminate weapon by nature

In 2022, 95% of all cluster munition casualties recorded by the Monitor were civilians.

Of the total number of new casualties recorded in 2022, 987 were caused by cluster munition attacks and 185 casualties resulted from cluster munition remnants.

Casualties from cluster munition attacks were recorded in three countries in 2022: Myanmar (for the first time), Syria and Ukraine. Casualties resulted from cluster munition remnants in 7 countries: Yemen (95), Iraq (41), Ukraine (26), Lao PDR (9), Syria (6), Lebanon (5), Azerbaijan (3).

As up to 40% of these weapons do not explode on impact, heavy contamination by cluster munition remnants poses a serious threat for local population in affected countries.

The US decision to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine

In July 2023, the US decided to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine. The US and Ukraine are not parties to the Oslo convention, signed by 123 States, that forbids the use, production, stockpile and transfer of clusters.

HI considers that the decision will set a dangerous precedent. It is unacceptable and should be clearly condemned by any states parties to the convention: Any use of cluster munitions in any situation should be condemned.

“HI condemns the US transfer of cluster munitions to Ukraine. Cluster munitions are among the most harmful weapons for civilians. They are inherently indiscriminate and pose a grave risk to civilians as they can cause casualties long after the conflict has ended. States parties must defend and apply the Oslo Convention and all other texts relating to international humanitarian law. The US decision also strongly undermines efforts to eradicate this barbaric weapon, creating a precedent of ‘force majeure’: no situation or context justifies the use of cluster munitions," adds Anne Héry.

To provide aid to survivors and their families

817 people were injured by cluster munitions out of the total of 1,172 casualties in 2022: That is to say that injured people represent 70% of the total of cluster munitions casualties in 2022. Those who survive submunition explosions often experience severe, and sometimes multiple, injuries, including damage to vital organs as well as the loss of hands and feet. Eye injuries are also prevalent. Such accidents are frequently accompanied by psychological trauma. Survivors also often endure a loss of dignity and self-esteem and are frequently subjected to discrimination. Victim assistance is an obligation of the Oslo Convention. HI supports survivors and their families through victim assistance programs across more than 30 countries.

Stockpile destruction and contamination globally

Since the Convention came into force on 1st August 2010, 41 countries - 38 States Parties, two signatories, and one non-signatory - have destroyed 1.5 million cluster munition stockpiles, i.e. a total of 179 million sub-munitions. This represents 99% of all cluster munitions declared by State Parties. In total, 26 states and three regions remain contaminated by sub-munition remnants worldwide.

Cluster munitions or cluster bombs

Cluster bombs are weapons containing several hundred mini bombs called submunitions. Designed to be scattered over large areas, they inevitably fall in civilian neighbourhoods. Up to 40% do not explode on impact. Like anti-personnel mines, they can be triggered by the slightest contact, killing and maiming people during and after conflicts. As they make no distinction between civilians, civilian property and military targets, the use of cluster bombs violates the rules of international humanitarian law.
The Oslo Convention, which bans the use, storage, transfer, production and sale of cluster munitions, was opened for signature in December 2008. Currently, 123 countries are signatories to this convention. HI cofounded the Cluster Munition Coalition that played a major role in bringing about the Oslo convention. The Coalition continues campaigning for the convention’s universalisation and implementation.

Computer graphics explaining how cluster bombs work: opening the container, then dispersing the cluster munitions.

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