This year alone, Russian forces are believed to have launched hundreds of cluster munition attacks in contravention of various principles of international humanitarian law, according to a scathing report released Thursday by the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), an international advocacy group.
Cluster munitions are weapons that contain dozens to hundreds of explosive submunitions. They are particularly controversial due to the fact that once fired, they open up mid-air, flooding massive areas with explosions, rendering it practically impossible to limit harm and destruction to an intended target.
“Russia’s extensive use of internationally banned cluster munitions in Ukraine demonstrates a blatant disregard for human life, humanitarian principles, and legal norms. … Unequivocally condemning ongoing use of cluster munitions in Ukraine is crucial to strengthen the stigma against these weapons and bring an end to the threat they pose,” Human Rights Watch Arms Advocacy Director Mary Wareham said in a statement accompanying the release of the report, Cluster Munition Monitor 2022, for which she served as ban policy editor.
Notably, the CMC advocates for the eradication of cluster munitions in line with the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, to which neither Russia nor Ukraine is a party. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, while international humanitarian law lacks rules specific to cluster munitions, these weapons fall under the purview of the broader rules of armed conflict, which require combatants to distinguish between civilian and military targets, prohibit indiscriminate strikes, and require proportionality in attacks.
Hundreds of Russian cluster munition attacks have been documented, reported, or alleged in recent months in Ukraine, which at present is the only country in the world where cluster munitions are being used, according to the report. Ukrainian forces are also accused of having engaged in cluster munition attacks, albeit at a far lower frequency than Russia. “Russia has used cluster munitions extensively since invading Ukraine on 24 February 2022, while Ukrainian forces appear to have used them at least three times in the war,” the report read.
Since Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, international organizations, foreign government officials, and human rights advocacy groups have sounded the alarm over the ensuing violations of international law.