Rep. Ilhan Omar leaves the House chamber

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) leaves the House chamber following a vote on February 2, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Omar and Jacobs Introduce Amendment to Prohibit US Transfer of Cluster Munitions

"If the U.S. is going to be a leader on international human rights, we must not participate in human rights abuses," said Rep. Ilhan Omar.

Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Sara Jacobs on Thursday introduced an amendment to prohibit the transfer or sale of U.S. cluster munitions as President Joe Biden granted final approval to deliver the widely banned weapons to Ukraine, drawing outrage from human rights organizations and anti-war groups.

Omar (D-Minn.) and Jacobs' (D-Calif.) amendment to the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed out of the House Armed Services Committee last month, states that "no military assistance shall be furnished for cluster munitions, no defense export license for cluster munitions may be issued, and no cluster munitions or cluster munitions technology shall be sold or transferred."

In a statement Thursday, Jacobs said she opposes and is "alarmed by" the Biden administration's decision to send U.S. cluster bombs to Ukraine, which has been using the cluster munitions already in its arsenal to fight off Russia's invasion.

"Cluster munitions keep killing long after their initial use with the potential to injure and kill civilians, especially young children, for generations," Jacobs said, referring to the fact that cluster bombs often fail to explode on impact, leaving behind what are effectively landmines.

"We've already seen these weapons hurt civilians in other post-war contexts like Cambodia and Vietnam," Jacobs added, "and we should do everything in our power to prevent that suffering, dismemberment, and death."

Omar echoed that sentiment in comments to Politico, saying that "if the U.S. is going to be a leader on international human rights, we must not participate in human rights abuses."

"We can support the people of Ukraine in their freedom struggle, while also opposing violations of international law," said Omar, deputy chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Both Russian and Ukrainian forces have used cluster munitions in the ongoing war. According to Human Rights Watch, Ukraine "inherited a large stockpile of cluster munitions after the breakup of the Soviet Union" and "reported in 2011 that cluster munitions constituted 35% of its stocks of conventional weapons."

The Washington Postreported Friday that the main weapon the Biden administration is set to send Ukraine is "an M864 artillery shell first produced in 1987" that "is fired from the 155mm howitzers the United States and other Western countries have provided Ukraine."

"In its last publicly available estimate, more than 20 years ago, the Pentagon assessed that artillery shell to have a 'dud' rate of 6%, meaning that at least four of each of the 72 submunitions each shell carries would remain unexploded across an area of approximately 22,500 square meters—roughly the size of 4½ football fields," the Post noted.

U.S. law prohibits the transfer of cluster munitions with a dud rate higher than 1%. A Pentagon spokesperson claimed Thursday that the Defense Department "would be carefully selecting rounds with lower dud rates."

"If we are now OK with sending banned munitions into an active warzone, is anything off the table?"

Late last year, nearly a dozen House Democrats including Jacobs and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter to Biden that the U.S. "should be leading the global effort to rid the world of these weapons, not continuing to stockpile them."

Urging the White House to join NATO allies in backing the United Nations Convention on Cluster Munitions, the lawmakers noted that the U.S. last used cluster munitions in Iraq in 2003 and has not exported any of the weapons since 2015.

But the Biden administration appears committed to changing that, a decision that will have the backing of top congressional Republicans who decried Biden's "reluctance" to send Ukraine cluster munitions earlier this year.

Human rights groups, meanwhile, expressed dismay over the administration's move, which the Pentagon is expected to formally announce on Friday.

"Today's decision is beyond disappointing and heartbreaking," said Bridget Moix, general secretary of the Friends Committee on National Legislation. "If we are now OK with sending banned munitions into an active warzone, is anything off the table? Can we at some point stop the killing and start talking? That is the only way this war will end."

"We urge President Joe Biden to reconsider today's decision," Moix added.

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