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Cluster bombs, banned in more than 100 countries, killed hundreds of Ukrainians

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

We have new data on the toll of cluster munitions. That's a kind of bomb that scatters dozens of smaller bombs. They're banned in more than 100 countries. But Russia and Ukraine have used them. The U.S. is actually supplying them to Ukraine. And a report out today from the Cluster Munition Coalition documents 987 deaths and injuries from attacks in 2022. That's compared to zero the year before. Mary Wareham is the arms advocacy director at Human Rights Watch and worked on that report. And she joins me now to discuss the findings. Good morning, Mary.

MARY WAREHAM: Good morning, Leila.

FADEL: Mary, if you could just start by breaking down that number - 987 people killed or hurt in attacks last year compared to zero the year before. What's the - where is this happening and to who?

WAREHAM: Correct. Eight hundred ninety of those victims that you just described were in Ukraine and caused, we believe, vast majority by Russian cluster munition attacks, although there's also been the use by Ukrainian forces. We also document for the first time use of cluster munitions by Myanmar, by the junta, as well as by Syria, which used cluster munitions in copious amounts in the 2010s. That kind of died down, but there were more attacks in 2022. It's unconscionable that civilians are still dying in cluster munition attacks 15 years after these weapons were outlawed.

FADEL: And the vast majority of those killed and hurt are civilians in your findings?

WAREHAM: About 95%, we believe, to be civilians. And there may be more that go unrecorded. We also documented about 185 victims from the remnants of cluster munitions, the sub munitions that fail to detonate when they're used and lie in wait, in effect becoming like landmines. Those victims of those remnants were in countries like Yemen, Ukraine, Syria but also in Laos, where the last cluster munition use was nearly 50 years ago now.

FADEL: Yeah, I mean...

WAREHAM: That shows the long-term problem caused by cluster munitions. And we believe that the Convention on Cluster Munitions provides the long-term solution to dealing with them.

FADEL: Yeah, I mean, one of the most terrifying things about cluster munitions is that they sit dormant once they've been dropped. I remember being in the south of Lebanon in 2006 during the war between Israel and Hezbollah. And a lot of villages just blanketed in these bombs, including yards, schools. You mention the convention. There is a global ban on these cluster munitions. But Israel, Russia and the U.S. are major users and producers. So how much progress can there actually be toward banning and disposing of cluster bombs when these three powerful countries use them?

WAREHAM: Lebanon and the use there in 2006 was a catalyst for the creation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. And we're glad to see that 124 countries have signed and ratified the convention since 2008. We need that convention to stand strong and for more countries to join. Therefore, it was good to see Nigeria and South Sudan join the convention this year. Bulgaria destroyed its stockpiles. Bosnia and Herzegovina is about to announce that it has completed the clearance of cluster munition remnants on its territory. So one way in which we respond to the bad news of new use is to demonstrate that the norm against cluster munitions that's enshrined in the convention is strong and that the countries that are part of it are abiding by its provisions, despite these these devastating developments outside of it.

FADEL: But the two big global superpowers here, Russia and the U.S., aren't signed on.

WAREHAM: It was deeply disappointing to see the U.S. decision to transfer cluster munitions to Ukraine. We don't know how many were transferred. We don't know when the transfers will end. And the report doesn't cover the use of the U.S. cluster munitions in Ukraine. That will be for next year. But it was very devastating because it's so well-known the civilian harm that is caused by cluster munitions, both at the time of use in attacks and afterwards from their remnants. The United States knows full well the impact of cluster munitions. It used them back in Laos, in Vietnam and Cambodia, in Afghanistan and Iraq. And now it's provided them to Ukraine. It was a shocking development. And we hope that no countries follow that lead and also transfer cluster munitions to Ukraine.

FADEL: Mary Wareham, arms advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, joining us from Geneva. Thank you so much, Mary.

WAREHAM: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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