Allegations on Friday that Russian forces have used cluster munitions in its ongoing assault on Ukraine elicited sharp condemnation Friday from critics of the indiscriminate weapons.
The International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munition Coalition (ICBL-CMC) expressed alarm in a statement about “the threat of further harm to civilians including humanitarian mine action partners.”
“We call for an immediate halt to use of the internationally banned weapon, and urge all parties to guarantee protection of civilians, respect for international humanitarian law, and the international norm banning use of cluster munitions and landmines,” the group said.
One hundred twenty-three nations have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions, committing states to ban the use, production, stockpiling, or transfer of the weapons, which disperse bomblets over a widespread area and pose lasting threats as unexploded fragments become de facto landmines.
The international treaty also obligates signatories to destroy their stockpiles of the weapons. Neither Ukraine, Russia, nor the United States are signatories to the international treaty.
ICBL-CMC’s statement came after the New York Times reported Thursday that remnants left by a likely Russian strike near a hospital in the eastern Ukrainian city of Vuhledar “suggest the possible use of cluster munitions.”
The Times referenced a tweet by Mark Hiznay, associate arms director at Human Rights Watch, in which he shared photos from the Ukraine Weapons Tracker account purportedly showing the aftermath of the attack:
An attack using a cluster munition, specifically a 9M79-series ballistic missile with 9N123K warhead containing 50 9N24 HE-FRAG submunitions. Same type used in Syria. @banclusterbombs @MineMonitor https://t.co/5rp6amCVKa— Mark Hiznay (@MarkHiznay) February 24, 2022
The Washington Post also reported Thursday that “as it encircled Ukraine in recent weeks, the Russian military brought forward an array of aircraft capable of firing guided air-to-ground missiles or dropping ‘dumb’ munitions such as cluster or fragmentation bombs.”
Further evidence suggesting Russia has used the pernicious weapons came Friday from independent and open source investigative outlet Bellingcat, which shared in Twitter posts photos of a cluster munition canister in the eastern Ukraine city of Okhtyrka and said the canister’s location just a short distance from a school means it “may be connected” to an alleged attack on a local kindergarten.
The below video showing a cluster munition canister from a BM-30 rocket has been geolocated to 50.3086824, 34.8723472, in the town of Okhtyrka, Sumy. Notably we have also geolocated it just 200m to the east of the kindergarten that was reportedly attackedhttps://t.co/14dCjxsFO4 pic.twitter.com/sbT5YGq2nX— Bellingcat (@bellingcat) February 25, 2022
Russia’s alleged attack on a kindgergarten as well as an orphanage in Okhtyrka prompted Ukraine to call for a war crimes investigation.
In a Friday tweet, Ukraine’s Foreign Affairs Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote: “Today’s Russian attacks on a kindergarten and an orphanage are war crimes and violations of the Rome Statute. Together with the general prosecutor’s office we are collecting this and other facts, which we will immediately send to the Hague. Responsibility is inevitable.”
Human rights groups have expressed concern about harm to civilians, including through the potential use of cluster munition, since Russia began its invasion of Ukraine on Thursday.
Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, accused the Russian military of having displayed “a blatant disregard for civilian lives by using ballistic missiles and other explosive weapons with wide area effects in densely populated areas.”
“Some of these attacks may be war crimes,” she said in a Friday statement. “The Russian government, which falsely claims to use only precision-guided weapons, should take responsibility for these acts.”
Advocacy group CIVIC also lamented Friday that “the number of civilian casualties in Ukraine is rising” and called on “warring actors” to “avoid using weapons that result in indiscriminate attacks on civilians and civilian objects.”
“Some of these weapons,” the group said, “include unguided munitions, multiple launch rocket systems, banned cluster munitions, and other explosive weapons with wide-area effect.”
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