Handicap International condemns renewed use of cluster munitions

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The Syrian army made renewed use of cluster munitions on Friday 1 March in an attack on Aleppo that killed at least 19 people and injured 60 more, including numerous children.Over the last few months, the Syrian armed forces have made increasingly regular and widespread use of cluster munitions, which are banned from the arsenals of 111 countries. This use has been widely condemned by European countries, including Belgium.

Since July 2012, Handicap International, which is particularly active in the clearance of explosive remnants of war, has denounced the use of these indiscriminate weapons in Syria and voiced its concerned about the long-term consequences of contamination by large numbers of unexploded cluster munitions.

The attack took place in a residential neighbourhood of Masaken Hanano district, to the east of Allepo centre, at 11.30am on Friday 1 March. The Syrian army appears to have used Russia-made cluster munitions. The attack was particularly lethal, killing at least 19 people and wounding at least 60 others, including numerous children. Donatella Rovera, who works for Amnesty International, visited the area shortly after the attack. She travelled to surrounding hospitals where the wounded had been transferred, and saw a large number of injured children. The children had been playing in alleyways and gardens when the attack took place. According to Donatella Rovera, the gardens, courtyards, steets and alleyways are littered with cluster munitions.

Marion Libertucci, Handicap International’s weapons advocacy manager, stated that: “This attack reminds us of the damage cluster munitions can cause if used in a densely populated area. But one of the other characteristics of these weapons is their 5% to 40% failure rate. In practical terms, for the affected populations, the threat doesn’t end with the bombing. Even after an attack, they will be faced with an all-pervasive danger that is very hard to spot. Attracted by these unusual devices, which are in reality bombs that are ready to explode, children are particularly at risk. In fact, more than 40% of cluster munition victims are children. Our teams have observed the scale of the threat in countries like Lebanon, Iraq and even Laos, where clearance operations are continuing nearly 40 years after the end of the conflict. When it is possible to intervene, the task of removing and destroying these unexploded remnants of war is going to be huge.”

Handicap International has denounced the use of cluster bombs since July 2012, and has expressed its alarm at the increasingly regular and intensive use of these weapons since the end of 2012. In fact, the attack on 1 March was not the first time Bashad El Assad’s army has used cluster munitions. According to Handicap International and the member organisations of the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC), the Syrian armed forces used these weapons as recently as October in the areas of Lattakia, Al-Tah, Tel Rifaat, Taftanaz and Ghouta. They were also reportedly used close to the city of Iblid in December. In January 2013, Latamneh, a village in the north west of Hama, was also bombed. They are also suspected to have been used in November 2012 close to the town of Deir al-Assafir. Other uses have been reported since 1 March and investigations are currently underway.

More than 15 governments have already condemned the use of cluster munitions by the Syrian armed forces, including Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Qatar, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.

A total of 111 countries have banned the deployment and storage of cluster munitions by signing the Oslo Convention, which bans the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of these weapons.