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Armenia/Azerbaijan: Civilians must be protected from use of banned cluster bombs

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Protection of civilians caught in the escalating conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh region must be prioritised, Amnesty International said today, after corroborating the use of banned cluster bombs in the region.

Over the weekend, footage consistent with the use of cluster munitions in the city of Stepanakert, the capital of Nagorno-Karabakh, was published by the region’s de facto authorities. They also reported an unidentified number of civilian casualties after further shelling in Stepanakert and the town of Shushi.

Amnesty International’s Crisis Response experts were able to trace the location of the footage to residential areas of Stepanakert, and identified Israeli-made M095 DPICM cluster munitions that appear to have been fired by Azerbaijani forces.

“The use of cluster bombs in any circumstances is banned under international humanitarian law, so their use to attack civilian areas is particularly dangerous and will only lead to further deaths and injuries,” said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s acting Head of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

“Cluster bombs are inherently indiscriminate weapons, and their deployment in residential areas is absolutely appalling and unacceptable. As fighting continues to escalate, civilians must be protected, not deliberately targeted or recklessly endangered.”

Amnesty International has called on all sides to the conflict to fully respect international humanitarian law, and to protect civilians from the effects of hostilities.

Background

On 27 September, heavy fighting erupted between Azerbaijan and Armenia and Armenian-supported forces in Azerbaijan’s break-away region of Nagorno-Karabakh. In recent days, both sides involved in the conflict have exchanged artillery and rocket fire.

Azerbaijan reported that the Armenian forces attacked civilian areas in the country’s second largest city of Ganja, as well as other towns. While Amnesty International experts have verified that 300mm Smerch rocket artillery systems do appear to have been used by Armenian forces, the photographic and video evidence available from the Azerbaijani side does not yet allow for conclusive analysis of its specific targets, nor whether the rocket warheads contained cluster munitions.

Cluster bombs

Cluster bombs are inherently indiscriminate weapons that inflict suffering for civilian populations years after their use, and are internationally banned by a treaty backed by more than 100 states. Amnesty International is calling on both Armenia and Azerbaijan to become parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Cluster munitions scatter hundreds of bomblets, or submunitions, over a wide area. It is estimated that between 5 and 20 per cent of cluster bomblets fail to explode. They are then left behind, posing a threat to civilians similar to that of anti-personnel landmines.

The use of these bombs violates the prohibition of indiscriminate attack because of the wide area covered by the numerous bomblets released, and the danger posed to all who come into contact with the unexploded munitions.