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A Ukrainian woman stands amid the ruins of homes

Local resident stands in front of the rubble as a result of Russian shelling on March 5, 2022 in Markhalivka, Ukraine. (Photo: Anastasia Vlasova/Getty Images)

Coalition Calls on US to Swiftly Ratify Global Treaty Banning Cluster Bombs

The ongoing refusal to join the international agreement, says the Cluster Munitions Coalition, "weakens the impact of United States' criticism about Russia's use of these weapons."

Jake Johnson

A coalition of humanitarian groups on Wednesday urged President Joe Biden to immediately take steps to make the U.S. a party to the international treaty banning cluster munitions as Russian forces face condemnation for using the devastating and indiscriminate explosives in their assault on Ukraine.

"The U.S., like both Russia and Ukraine, refuses to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions."

While the Biden administration has criticized Russia's use of cluster bombs in Ukraine, the U.S. has joined Russia and a handful of other powerful countries in refusing to sign the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits the use or stockpiling of the weapons. Long deplored by human rights advocates, cluster bombs can release hundreds of submunitions that maim and kill civilians.

In a new statement, the U.S. Campaign to Ban Landmines and the U.S. Cluster Munition Coalition forcefully denounced Russia for dropping the deadly weapons on Ukraine—as documented last week by Human Rights Watch—but argued that "the failure of the United States to join the international agreement banning cluster munitions weakens the impact of United States' criticism about Russia's use of these weapons."

"Therefore," the groups said, "[we] call upon the Biden administration to rapidly submit the Convention on Cluster Munitions to the United States Senate for advice and consent to accede to the treaty. The time for the United States government to act is now."

The Intercept's Jeremy Scahill argued in a column earlier this week that while the U.S. claim that Russia's use of cluster munitions constitutes a violation of international law is "indisputably true," a fact that "goes virtually unmentioned in much of the reporting on this topic is that the U.S., like both Russia and Ukraine, refuses to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions."

Scahill continued:

The U.S. has repeatedly used cluster bombs, going back to the war in Vietnam and the "secret" bombings of Cambodia. In the modern era, both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush used them. President Barack Obama used cluster bombs in a 2009 attack in Yemen that killed some 55 people, the majority of them women and children. Despite the ban, which was finalized in 2008 and went into effect in 2010, the U.S. continued to sell cluster bombs to nations like Saudi Arabia, which regularly used them in its attacks in Yemen.

In 2017, President Donald Trump reversed an internal U.S. policy aimed at limiting the use of certain types of cluster munitions, a move which a Human Rights Watch expert warned "could embolden others to use cluster munitions that have caused so much human suffering."

"None of this exonerates Russia for its unconscionable use of cluster bombs against civilians," Scahill stressed, "but these facts are clearly relevant when assessing the credibility of the U.S."

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