USA: Government must cancel plans to send cluster munitions to Ukraine

US government is reportedly set to announce plans to send the controversial weapons to Kyiv

The munitions, which can misfire and leave deadly ordnance scattered over a wide area, have been banned by 111 countries 

‘Cluster munitions are inherently indiscriminate weapons which have caused untold harm to civilians across the world’ - Patrick Wilcken

Responding to reports that the US government is set to announce plans to transfer highly controversial cluster munitions to Ukraine, Patrick Wilcken, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Military, Security and Policing issues, said: 

“The USA’s plan to transfer cluster munitions to Ukraine is a retrograde step, which undermines the considerable advances made by the international community in its attempts to protect civilians.

“Cluster munitions are inherently indiscriminate weapons which have caused untold harm to civilians across the world - in some cases decades after conflicts have ended. 

“Russia’s war of aggression has brought profound suffering to the people of Ukraine. It is the humanitarian considerations - and concern for civilians in countries torn by war and its aftermath - which has driven 111 states, including many of Ukraine’s allies, to ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions and ban the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of such weapons.

“Amnesty International urges the USA to reconsider, accede to the convention, destroy its stockpiles, and cease all use, production and transfer of cluster munitions.”

Weapon with a high ‘dud’ rate

Cluster munitions are small submunitions which are launched and dispersed by rockets, artillery and air-dropped containers, scattering ordnance over a wide area, sometimes as large as a football pitch. Many systems have high “dud” rates, leaving large areas contaminated with unexploded ordnance which can remain lethal long after a conflict has ended. The USA is reportedly planning to send Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munition cluster munitions to Ukraine, weapons which have dud rates of 6% or more. US law prohibits the transfer of weapons with dud rates of more than 1%.

Post-conflict, civilians - particularly children - are most at risk of injury or death from unexploded cluster munitions, while land can remain contaminated for years, preventing use for farming or other activities.

The Convention on Cluster Munitions - which entered into force in August 2010 and has been ratified by 111 countries - bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions. Russia, Ukraine and the USA, among others, are not parties to the convention. Customary international humanitarian law prohibits the use of inherently indiscriminate weapons. Launching indiscriminate attacks that kill or injure civilians constitutes a war crime.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Immediately following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Amnesty condemned Russia’s actions as an act of aggression, which is a crime under international law. Amnesty has also documented war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law committed in the course of Russia’s war on Ukraine, including extrajudicial killings of civilians by Russian forces, the use of torture and other ill-treatment, the abuse of prisoners of war, the deliberate bombing of the theatre in Mariupol while used as a civilian shelter, and other war crimes. In particular, Amnesty has documented the unlawful use of cluster munitions by Russian forces in multiple cities in eastern Ukraine, with some of these attacks constituting war crimes. Amnesty is calling on both sides in the war to respect the laws of war, and to bring those responsible for violating them to account.

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