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Cluster Bombs: A Threat to Civilians in Ukraine



Concerns about the legality of such operations have been raised in light of recent reports that the US plans to provide cluster bombs to Ukraine as part of a new arms package. Instances where Ukraine's use of cluster bombs resulted in civilian casualties have been documented by Human Rights Watch (HRW), underlining the indiscriminate and damaging character of these weapons.


Due to their indiscriminate nature and long-lasting effects on civilian populations, cluster bombs are quite contentious. These weapons are dangerous even after the initial attack because they disperse smaller submunitions across a wide region. Unexploded submunitions can be a danger for many years and have the potential to kill innocent populations, particularly children. Cluster munitions are prohibited in more than 100 countries due to the serious risk they pose to civilian populations.


Cluster bombs are used in Ukraine in violation of numerous international legal norms and the UN Charter, particularly those relating to the protection of people in armed conflicts. The concept of distinction mandates that participants to a conflict distinguish between fighters and civilians and focus their attacks primarily on military targets. According to HRW, the deployment of cluster bombs in inhabited areas violates this core principle by harming civilians.


The principle of proportionality states that parties to a conflict must make sure that any harm done to civilians or civilian property does not outweigh any potential military advantage. Cluster bombs are inherently disproportionate and pose a serious risk to civilian life and infrastructure due to their vast area of action and indiscriminate impact.


The UN Charter defends the values of preserving world peace and security, fostering respect for human rights, and prohibiting the use of force unless it is necessary for self-defense or with permission from the UN Security Council. These values are violated by the use of cluster bombs in Ukraine, which further increases instability and harms civilian populations.


All sides to the war in Ukraine, including the US, Russia and Ukraine itself, must uphold international law and give the safety of civilians top priority. Despite prior reservations, the Biden administration's decision to give cluster bombs to Ukraine raises severe issues about its adherence to international humanitarian law.


International efforts must be stepped up in order to guarantee adherence to existing treaties like the Convention on Cluster Munitions and to make those guilty for the use of these illegal weapons accountable. The international community should apply diplomatic pressure to prevent the use of cluster bombs in Ukraine and promote adherence to international law, including appropriate UN authorities.


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