US Caught Providing Illegal Cluster Bombs Saudis Use to Kill Civilians in Yemen
May 4, 2015 Ahmed Al-Kolebi / Dar Al-Salam Organization & Human Rights Watch
Credible evidence indicates that the Saudi-led coalition used banned cluster munitions supplied by the United States in airstrikes against Houthi forces in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said today. Cluster munitions pose long-term dangers to civilians and are prohibited by a 2008 treaty adopted by 116 countries, though not Saudi Arabia, Yemen, or the United States.
US Provides Illegal Cluster Bombs to Saudis to Kill Civilians in Yemen Ahmed Al-Kolebi / Dar Al-Salam Organization & Human Rights Watch
SANA'A, Yemen (May 3, 2015) -- Dear colleagues and friends:
The devastation of the war in Yemen increasing day-by day. There is a huge humanitarian crisis. Yemeni People need your help and emergency aids to those who are still alive -- and lobbying governments to contribute for stopping this ridiculous war.
As you see in this link, the report released by Human Right Watch [Reprinted below – EAW], while Saudi-led airstrikes used Cluster Munitions, the Yemenis bury and treat their loved ones, Saudi Arabia right now is launching an airstrike on Sana'a City! Worth mentioning that their aggression has continued 24x7 for the past 37 days, targeting most of the Governorates. The Saudis calls this part of the "military operation."
Ahmed Al-Kolebi is the coordinator of DASO, the Dar Al-Salam Organization based in Yemen. www.dasoyemen.org.
Yemen: Saudi-Led Airstrikes Used Cluster Munitions
A US-Supplied Weapon Banned by 2008 Treaty Human Rights Watch
An expended BLU-108 canister from a CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon found in the al-Amar area of al-Safraa, Saada governorate, in northern Yemen on April 17, 2015. (c) 2015 Private.
BEIRUT (May 3, 2015) -- Credible evidence indicates that the Saudi-led coalition used banned cluster munitions supplied by the United States in airstrikes against Houthi forces in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said today. Cluster munitions pose long-term dangers to civilians and are prohibited by a 2008 treaty adopted by 116 countries, though not Saudi Arabia, Yemen, or the United States.
Photographs, video, and other evidence have emerged since mid-April 2015 indicating that cluster munitions have been used during recent weeks in coalition airstrikes in Yemen's northern Saada governorate, the traditional Houthi stronghold bordering Saudi Arabia. Human Rights Watch has established through analysis of satellite imagery that the weapons appeared to land on a cultivated plateau, within 600 meters of several dozen buildings in four to six village clusters.
"Saudi-led cluster munition airstrikes have been hitting areas near villages, putting local people in danger," said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch. "These weapons should never be used under any circumstances. Saudi Arabia and other coalition members – and the supplier, the US – are flouting the global standard that rejects cluster munitions because of their long-term threat to civilians."
Cluster munitions contain dozens or hundreds of sub-munitions. The sub-munitions are designed to explode after spreading out over a wide area, often the size of a football field, putting anyone in the area at the time of the attack at risk of death or injury. In addition, many sub-munitions often do not explode, becoming de facto landmines.
A video with no audio uploaded to YouTube on April 17 by the pro-Houthi September 21 YouTube channel shows numerous objects with parachutes slowly descending from the sky. The video zooms out to show a mid-air detonation and several black smoke clouds from other detonations. Human Rights Watch established the location, using satellite imagery analysis, as al-Shaaf in Saqeen, in the western part of Saada governorate.
An activist based in the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, provided Human Rights Watch with photographs he received from a resident of Saada governorate, who said he took them on April 17 at the site of an airstrike in the al-Amar area of al-Safraa, 30 kilometers south of the city of Saada.
From the photographs, Human Rights Watch identified the remnants of two CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons manufactured by the Textron Systems Corporation and supplied to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates by the US in recent years.
One photograph shows an empty BLU-108 delivery canister, while the other shows a BLU-108 canister with four sub-munitions still attached to it. The location of the remnants in the photographs is 36 kilometers from where the video was filmed, indicating the possibility of multiple attacks.
Two local residents of al-Safraa told Human Rights Watch that about 5,000 people normally live in the village. They said they witnessed airstrikes in the area on April 27 in which bombs were delivered by parachute. Human Rights Watch was unable to determine whether they saw another attack using CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons or one using other types of bombs.
Human Rights Watch has not been able to obtain information on possible casualties from the attacks.
Since March 26, a Saudi-led coalition including Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan, and the UAE has conducted numerous airstrikes throughout Yemen against Houthi forces, also known as Ansar Allah, who effectively ousted the government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi in January. None of these countries have signed the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions.
Soon after the airstrikes began, Saudi Arabia denied using cluster munitions in Yemen. At a news conference in Riyadh on March 29, Brig. Gen. al-Assiri told the media, "We are not using cluster bombs at all."
According to a data sheet issued by the Textron Systems Corporation, the CBU-105 disperses 10 BLU-108 canisters that each subsequently release four sub-munitions that sense, classify, and engage a target such as an armored vehicle, and are equipped with self-destruct and self-deactivation features. [See the bottom of these postings for a contact list for Textron Systems Corp. - EAW]
The sub-munitions of the Sensor Fuzed Weapon explode above the ground and project an explosively formed jet of metal and fragmentation downward.
While the CBU-105 is banned under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, its use is permitted under existing US policy and its export is permitted under existing US export restrictions on cluster munitions.
In August 2013, the US Department of Defense concluded a contract for the manufacture of 1,300 CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons for Saudi Arabia by Textron. The contract stipulated that delivery of the weapons should be completed by December 2015. Human Rights Watch does not know when deliveries began, or if they have finished.
Additionally, the UAE received an unknown number of CBU-105 from Textron Defense Systems in June 2010, fulfilling a contract announced in November 2007.
US policy on cluster munitions is detailed in a June 2008 memorandum issued by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Under the Gates policy, the US can only use or export cluster munitions that "after arming do not result in more than 1 percent unexploded ordnance across the range of intended operational environments," and the receiving country must agree that cluster munitions "will only be used against clearly defined military targets and will not be used where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians." [Emphasis added – EAW]
This policy is most recently codified in section 7054(b) of the Consolidated and Continuing Appropriations Act (HR 83) of 2015. According to guidance issued by the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency in May 2011, "the only cluster munition with a compliant sub-munition [compliant with the reliability standard established by the Gates policy] is the CBU-97B/CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon."
In March 2015, Human Rights Watch called on all parties to the conflict not to use cluster munitions in the Yemen fighting. Credible evidence showed that Saudi Arabia had dropped cluster bombs in Saada governorate in November 2009 during Yemeni government fighting against the Houthis.
Cluster munition remnants from the 2009 airstrikes, including unexploded US-made BLU-97 and BLU-61 sub-munitions, were reported by a number of sources.
In addition to the recent transfer of CBU-105, the US provided Saudi Arabia with significant exports of cluster bombs between 1970 and 1999. Saudi Arabia possesses attack aircraft of US and Western/NATO origin capable of dropping US-made cluster bombs. Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and other countries involved in the conflict in Yemen should ratify the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
Human Rights Watch chairs the Cluster Munition Coalition US, which in a March 30 letter to President Barack Obama said that the administration should review the Gates policy, including the exception allowing for cluster munitions resulting in less than 1 percent unexploded ordnance rate. [Letter reproduced below – EAW]
"The Gates policy is providing the US a handy loophole to send cluster munitions to countries like Saudi Arabia, which shouldn't be using them at all," Goose said. The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States of America
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
RE: US cluster munition policy (March 30, 2015)
Dear President Obama,
The Cluster Munition Coalition US urges your administration to re-examine US policy on cluster munitions as laid out in the June 19, 2008 Department of Defense (DoD) directive issued by then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
Our coalition of non-governmental organizations works to end the suffering caused by cluster munitions, which pose unacceptable harm to civilians both at their time of use and afterwards as remnants, including unexploded sub-munitions that have failed to detonate, remaining a deadly threat for years.
As far as we know, the Gates policy on cluster munitions has not been reviewed since it was adopted. We believe now would be an appropriate time to begin a review as so much has happened with respect to efforts to address the humanitarian harm caused by these weapons.
Most notable is the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which comprehensively bans these weapons and requires their clearance and victim assistance. The treaty entered into force on August 1, 2010 and will convene its First Review Conference later this year.
With Canada’s ratification on March 16, 2015, the Convention on Cluster Munitions now has 91 states parties and 25 signatories. These nations are implementing the convention with great vigor and determination. Stockpile destruction efforts have resulted in the destruction of more than 1.16 million cluster munitions and more than 140 million submunitions.
The Convention on Cluster Munitions remains the sole multilateral instrument to specifically address these weapons following the November 2011 failure of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW) to adopt a new protocol, effectively ending CCW deliberations on cluster munitions.
It is clear that the Convention on Cluster Munitions has created a new international standard rejecting cluster munitions that is helping to thoroughly stigmatize these weapons as seen by the swift condemnations in response to new use of cluster munitions.
Since 2008, the US has often acknowledged the negative humanitarian impact of cluster munitions. Recently, administration officials have criticized civilian harm caused
by the use of cluster munitions in Libya, South Sudan, Syria, and Ukraine. Such well-founded criticism shows the administration recognizes the civilian harm caused by cluster munitions, but would be stronger were the US to renounce its own use of cluster munitions.
On August 28, 2013, we wrote to you to urge the US to refrain from using any cluster munitions in any possible military action in Syria. We renew that call today as the US-led “Operation Inherent Resolve” military action against forces of the Islamic State or ISIL continues in Syria and Iraq. Several states parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions are participating in this operation, including the government of Iraq.
These states are legally obliged by Article 21 to promote the convention’s norms by discouraging any use of cluster munitions by states outside the convention.
In light of these and other developments, we believe that it is time for the US to undertake a review of its cluster munition policy with the objective of identifying and overcoming any remaining obstacles to accession to the Convention on Cluster Munitions so that the US can join as soon as possible.
A legislatively-mandated US export moratorium on cluster munitions has been in place since 2007, while the DoD policy commits the US to prohibit the use of clustermunitions in 2018, except for the small portion of its stockpiles that have a failure rate of less than one percent.
We urge that the Gates policy date of 2018 for instituting a ban on nearly all cluster munitions in the existing US stockpile be accelerated. We call for the policy’s exception allowing continued use of cluster munitions resulting in less than one percent unexploded ordnance rate during military operations to be reexamined.
In addition to undertaking a review of US policy, we encourage your administration to consider these measures on cluster munition policy that could be taken immediately or in the near term:
Issue a declarative statement of intent to accede to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in the future;
Participate in regular meetings of the Convention on Cluster Munitions starting with the First Review Conference in Dubrovnik, Croatia in September 2015, as the US has does for the Mine Ban Treaty since 2009;
Accelerate destruction of stockpiled cluster munitions, starting with concrete plans and a timeline; and
Commit not to use cluster munitions, especially during joint military operations with states parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.
We would be pleased to discuss these measures and the call to review US cluster munitions policy with your representatives at any time.
Steve Goose, Chair
Cluster Munition Coalition US (formerly known as the “US
Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Bombs”)
c/o Human Rights Watch Arms Division
1630 Connecticut Avenue, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20009
Tel. (202) 612-4355
CC: Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter
National Security Advisor Susan Rice
US Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power
Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller Textron Systems Corp.
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