US Providing Cover for Cluster Bombs in Yemen

US Providing Cover for Cluster Bombs in YemenUS Providing Cover for Cluster Bombs in Yemen

The United States is providing a thinly-veiled cover virtually legitimizing the use of cluster bombs, banned by an international convention, by Saudi Arabia and its allies in their heavy fighting in Yemen.

Asked if cluster bombs are legitimate weapons of war and “if used appropriately,” US State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters: “If used appropriately, there are end-use regulations regarding the use of them. But yes, when used appropriately and according (to) those end-use rules, it’s permissible,” Thalif Deen wrote for IPS News.

But Steve Goose of Human Rights Watch said the State Department official makes reference to “end use regulations.”

“Any recipient of US cluster munitions has to agree not to use them in populated areas.  Saudi Arabia may be violating that requirement. State and Defense Department officials are looking into that.”

The Saudi-led coalition of Arab states, which has been uninterruptedly bombing Yemen, includes Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.

The 80 non-signatories to the convention include all 10 countries, plus Yemen. The US, which is providing intelligence to the Saudi-led coalition, is also a non-signatory.

 Cluster Talks

Asked whether it would be alarming or disconcerting if the coalition, is in fact, using American-supplied cluster bombs, Kirby told reporters early this week: “I would just tell you that we remain in close contact, regular contact with the Saudi government on a wide range of issues in Yemen.

“We’ve urged all sides in the conflict repeatedly … including the Saudis, to take proactive measures to minimize harm to civilians. We have discussed reports of the alleged use of cluster munitions with the Saudis.”

Goose said a US Defense Department official has already said the US is aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions, so there is no real need for the State Department to confirm or deny.

“Cluster munitions should not be used by anyone, anywhere, at any time due to the foreseeable harm to civilians,” Goose added.

He also said the States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions are meeting for the first Five-Year Review Conference of the convention next month and are expected to condemn Saudi use and call for a halt.

Cluster bombs have also been reportedly used in South Sudan, Ukraine and by a non-state actor, the Islamic State militant group which has captured large swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq to establish a so-called “caliphate.”

 Anti-Bomb Convention

The Convention on Cluster Munitions, adopted in 2008, entered into force in 2010. A total of 117 states have joined the convention, with 93 state parties who have signed and ratified the treaty.

The convention, which bans cluster munitions, requires destruction of stockpiles, clearance of areas contaminated by cluster munition remnants and assistance to victims.

Human Rights Watch, a founding member of the international Cluster Munition Coalition, the civil society campaign behind the convention and publisher of Cluster Munition Monitor 2014 report, said last May that banned cluster munitions have wounded civilians, including a child, in attacks in northern Yemen.

HRW is preparing another report on new use of cluster munitions, scheduled to be released in the near future.

On September 3, the Cluster Munition Monitor 2015, which provides a global overview of states’ adherence to the ban convention, will be released in Geneva.

An HRW team, in a report released after a visit to the Saada Governorate in northern Yemen, said the Saudi-led coalition “needs to recognize that using banned cluster munitions is very likely to harm civilians.”

  No Distinction

Ole Solvang, senior emergencies researcher at HRW, said, “These weapons can’t distinguish military targets from civilians and their unexploded sub-munitions threaten civilians, especially children, even long after the fighting.”

In one attack, which wounded three people, at least two of them most likely civilians, the cluster munitions were air-dropped, pointing to the Saudi-led coalition as responsible because it is the only party using aircraft.

In a second attack, which wounded four civilians, including a child, HRW said it was not able to conclusively determine responsibility because the cluster munitions were ground-fired, but the attack was on an area that has been under attack by the Saudi-led coalition.

In these and other documented cluster munition attacks, HRW has identified the use of three types of cluster munitions in Yemen and called upon the US to denounce their use.

HRW also said the discovery of cluster munitions in areas attacked by coalition aircraft on previous occasions and the location within range of Saudi artillery suggest that Saudi forces fired the cluster munitions, but further investigation is needed to conclusively determine responsibility.

  Child Killers

Of the 402 children killed in Yemen since the escalation of hostilities in March, 73% were victims of Saudi coalition-led airstrikes, a UN official said earlier this week.

In a statement released on August 24, Leila Zerrougui, the special representative of the secretary-general for children and armed conflict, warned that children are paying a heavy price for continued fighting in Yemen, led by Saudi Arabia and bent on reinstating fugitive Yemeni president Abd-Rabbuh Mansour Hadi.

Incidents documented by UN’s Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting suggest that 606 children have been severely wounded. Between April 1 and Junuary 30, the number of children killed and injured more than tripled, compared to the first quarter of 2015.

Zerrougui said she was “appalled” by heavy civilian casualties in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taiz, where 34 children have died and 12 have been injured in the last three days alone.

According to UNICEF, 114 schools have been destroyed and 315 damaged since March, while 360 have been converted into shelters for the displaced who are estimated to be around 1.5 million.

With 4,000 people dead and 21 million in need of food, medicines or shelter, children also face a critical shortage of health services and supplies.

Ironically, despite the fact that Saudi-led airstrikes have been responsible for the vast majority of child deaths and casualties, the oil-rich Arab state has pledged $274 million to humanitarian relief operations in Yemen back in April, though it has yet to make good on this commitment.