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Man walks by cluster munition

A man walks past an unexploded tail section of a 300mm rocket which appears to contain cluster bombs, following shelling in Lysychansk in the Lugansk region of Ukraine on April 11, 2022. (Photo: Anatolii Stepanov/AFP via Getty Images)

Nearly 700 Civilians Killed or Wounded by Cluster Munitions So Far in Ukraine War

"The immediate and long-term suffering that cluster munitions cause civilians makes their use today in Ukraine unconscionable as well as invariably unlawful," said one human rights campaigner.

Julia Conley

Six months into Russia's invasion of Ukraine, nearly 700 civilians in the former Soviet state have been killed or injured by the Russian military's cluster munitions, and the bombs have heavily damaged residential areas—posing an ongoing threat to those who live there long after the munitions are dropped.

"We know two things for sure about cluster munitions: They are indiscriminate weapons, and 98% of causalities are civilians."

The Cluster Munition Monitor 2022, released Thursday by the Cluster Munition Coaltion, reveals that Ukraine is the only country where new cluster munition attacks were reported in the first half of 2022, but Russia's use of the weapons has so far left an estimated 215 people dead and 474 injured.

The report covers the use of cluster munitions during all of 2021 and through the first half of this year. In 2021, children accounted for two-thirds of cluster munition casualties in which the age of the victim was recorded.

"The immediate and long-term suffering that cluster munitions cause civilians make their use today in Ukraine unconscionable as well as invariably unlawful," said Mary Wareham, arms advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, a member of the Cluster Munition Coalition.

Hundreds of attacks have been documented or alleged in at least 10 of Ukraine's 24 oblasts, or provinces, since Russian forces invaded the country on February 24.

"We know two things for sure about cluster munitions: They are indiscriminate weapons, and 98% of causalities are civilians," said Jeff Meer, U.S. executive director of Humanity & Inclusion, a member of the coalition. "Yet we've seen Russian forces repeatedly launch unlawful attacks using this banned weapon."

More than 120 countries are signatories to the 2010 Oslo Convention, which bans the production, use, transfer, and stockpiling of cluster munitions—bombs which contain hundreds of submunitions that scatter across large areas and, nearly half the time, do not detonate on impact. The bombs create de facto landmines, often across residential neighborhoods.

Ukraine, Russia, and the United States are among the countries which have not signed the Oslo Convention.

Russia has admitted to using cluster munitions in Ukraine, with officials stating that the bombs are lawful and "are only harmful when misused."

According to the Cluster Munition Monitor, Ukraine has used cluster munitions in at least three locations this year.

Ukrainian officials say they have "strictly [adhered] to the norms of international humanitarian law" when using the bombs and have used them in areas under control of armed forces—but as Humanity & Inclusion noted, the submunitions can pose "a serious threat for the local population for years to come," potentially long after the war ends.

"The continued and repeated use of cluster munitions in Ukraine shows a lack of regard for civilian lives, and in some cases a deliberate intent to target them," said Meer. "War, too, has rules. The Oslo Convention is one of them. Everything must be done to ensure that the law is respected and that this barbaric weapon is eventually eradicated from theaters of conflict."

The preliminary casualty total counted by the Coalition—which may be far smaller than the actual number—represents a 302% increase in casualties from 2020.

Russia's use of cluster munitions in Ukraine has mostly targeted civilian areas and has damaged playgrounds, hospitals, schools, workplaces, and homes. In one attack, a cemetery was targeted and mourners were among the casualties.

The report notes that the Oslo Convention has drastically cut down on the number of cluster bombs used. Since 2010, 35 countries have destroyed 1.5 million munitions including 178 million submunitions.

"Russia's widespread use of cluster munitions in Ukraine is a sobering reminder of what the convention needs to overcome if it is to succeed in ending the human suffering these indiscriminate weapons cause," Wareham said. "Governments that have yet to join the convention should review their position and join with others helping to rid the world of cluster munitions."

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