The Purported Use of Cluster Munitions in Misrata

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2011 at 12:46 am

Art. 51 of API prohibits indiscriminate attacks–which are defined, inter alia, as a “method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective or the effects of which cannot be limited.” Even though the prohibition is  not explicitly mentioned in APII “it has been argued that it is included by inference within” Article 13(1) of APII (ICRC Customary Rule 11). According to the Art. 13(1) “The civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against the dangers arising from military operations.”  Article 13(2) also stipulates that “The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the object of attack.” Moreover, individual criminal responsibility can arise out of the deliberate targeting of civilians or civilian objects.

The use of cluster munitions can have a severe impact on civilian populated areas–especially if used in concentrated urban settings. According to the ICRC, “Civilian casualties during conflict often occur because cluster munitions scatter huge numbers of explosive submunitions over very large areas.” Moreover,  “large numbers of submunitions often fail to detonate as intended, contaminating large areas with deadly explosive ordnance. Many thousands of civilians have been killed or injured by these devices.”   Deliberate or indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population are considered as serious violations of IHL and  can amount to war crimes.   In August 2010 a Convention on Cluster Munitions prohibiting the use, transfer and stockpiling of these weapons came into effect to which Libya is not a party.

Here are the latest statements made by UN officials and NGOs on the alleged use of cluster munitions by Libyan forces during the current ‘siege’ of Misrata.

Navi Pillay,  the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: AFP:”condemned the reported repeated use of cluster munitions and heavy weaponry by Libyan government forces in their attempt to regain control of the besieged city of Misrata.”  She adds that “Using imprecise weaponry such as cluster munitions, multiple rocket launchers and mortars, and other forms of heavy weaponry, in crowded urban areas will inevitably lead to civilian casualties”

UNNewsCentre: “Under international law, the deliberate targeting of medical facilities is a war crime, and the deliberate targeting or reckless endangerment of civilians may also amount to serious violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law.”

OCHA Situation Report: “From 15 to 16 April, three cluster bombs were seen exploding over the city, one 300 metres from the Misrata Hospital in an area populated by civilians. The use of cluster munitions is banned by over 108 countries as part of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Despite the heavy shelling, humanitarian organizations have been evertheless able to deliver aid and evacuate people from Misrata to safety.”

HRW: “Human Rights Watch observed at least three cluster munitions explode over the el-Shawahda neighborhood in Misrata on the night of April 14, 2011. Researchers inspected the remnants of a cluster submunition and interviewed witnesses to two other apparent cluster munition strikes.”

“Based on the submunition inspected by Human Rights Watch, first discovered by a reporter fromThe New York Times, the cluster munition is a Spanish-produced MAT-120 120mm mortar projectile, which opens in mid-air and releases 21 submunitions over a wide area. Upon exploding on contact with an object, each submunition disintegrates into high-velocity fragments to attack people and releases a slug of molten metal to penetrate armored vehicles.”

“It’s appalling that Libya is using this weapon, especially in a residential area,” said Steve Goose, arms division director at Human Rights Watch. “They pose a huge risk to civilians, both during attacks because of their indiscriminate nature and afterward because of the still-dangerous unexploded duds scattered about.”

UN Dispatch is also providing coverage  on possible war crimes committed by members of the opposition rebels.

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