Russia Accused of Dropping Cluster Bombs on Georgian Civilians
Human Rights Watch, which is based in New York, said today that it has obtained evidence proving that the weapons, which were banned by more than 100 countries in May, have killed at least 11 people so far during the conflict in the Caucasus.
Cluster bomb systems scatter small "bomblets" across a wide area and can prove deadly to civilians - particularly children - who pick up munitions which have failed to detonate on impact. The bombs effectively leave behind a trail of landmines.
Human Rights Watch said Russian aircraft dropped RBK-250 cluster bombs, each containing 30 PTAB 2.5M submunitions or bomblets, on the town of Ruisi in the Kareli district of Georgia on August 12, 2008 killing three civilians and wounding five others.
The organisation claims that on the same day a cluster strike in the centre of Gori killed at least eight civilians and injured dozens. The Dutch journalist Stan Storimans was among the dead.
It would be the first known use of cluster bombs since Israeli planes used the weapons against Hezbollah in Lebanon two years ago.
At a summit in Ireland earlier this year an agreement was reached to ban the use of the weapon by 107 countries. Russia, along with the US, China, Israel, India and Pakistan, refused to attend the convention, which expanded the limits imposed by the Arms Trade Treaty and landmine ban.
Colonel-General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of Russia's General Staff, denied today that the weapons had been used in Georgia: "We never use cluster bombs. There is no need to do so."
Human Rights Watch researchers said they had carried out numerous interviews and examined photos of craters and video footage of the August 12 attack on Gori.
They claim to have seen a photograph of nose cone of an RBK-250 bomb in Gori and video of more than two dozen simultaneous explosions at the time of the attack. Craters in Gori were also consistent with a cluster strike.
Doctors at the two main hospitals in Tbilisi have described injuries to civilians hurt in the attack on Gori that they believed were consistent with cluster bombs.
Keti Javakhishvili, 25, suffered massive trauma to her liver, stomach, and intestines, as well as hemorrhagic shock. Two other victims sustained fragment wounds to their legs and abdominal regions. All the wounds were consistent with those caused by submunitions from cluster bombs.
Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch said: "Cluster bombs are indiscriminate killers that most nations have agreed to outlaw.
"Russia's use of this weapon is not only deadly to civilians, but also an insult to international efforts to avoid a global humanitarian disaster of the kind caused by landmines."
© Copyright 2008 Times Newspapers Ltd.