For more information, please contact:
Joost Hiltermann (316) 2293-6742 (in the Netherlands)
Bill Arkin (802) 457-3426 (home) or (201) 583-5151 (at MSNBC in New Jersey)
Carroll Bogert (212) 216-1244 (in New York)
"The duds that are left inside cluster bombs effectively turn into landmines," said Joost Hiltermann, director of the Arms Division of Human Rights Watch. "And like antipersonnel landmines, they kill civilians even years after the conflict has ended. NATO should stop using them immediately."
Because of the submunitions' appearance-the CBU-87 and RBL755 bomblets are bright orange/yellow soda-can sized objects, while the ATACMS bomblets are bright baseball-sized spheres- children are particularly drawn to the volatile live remnants. A recent NATO airstrike on the airfield in Nis went off target, hitting a hospital complex and adjoining civilian areas. On April 24, five children playing with colorful unexploded submunitions were reported killed, and two injured, near Doganovic in southern Kosovo.
In the short term, live submunitions pose a danger to civilians and refugees, and impede their movement. In the long term, they inhibit agriculture and economic recovery. The widespread use of cluster bombs can also pose a severe hazard to friendly ground force operations, including peacekeeping forces, as happened to international forces in the 1991 Gulf War.
Cluster bombs have an estimated 5 percent mechanical and fuse failure rate. For Operation Allied Force in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the historical record and testing experience would tend to indicate that for every single CBU-87 used, there will be an average of some ten unexploded bomblets, and for every RBL755, there will be an average of five unexploded bomblets.
It is possible that, if the bombing campaign continues, the U.S. Air Force may start using the CBU-89 Gator "scatterable" mine system, which holds a mix of antitank and antipersonnel landmines. The use of antipersonnel landmines, an inherently indiscriminate weapon, is banned under the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which came into force in March 1999. The United States has not signed the treaty, but all other NATO members, except Turkey, have.
Human Rights Watch called on NATO to stop using cluster bombs and refrain from using the CBU-89 Gator mine system. "The U.S. may not have signed the landmines treaty, but it's still obliged to carry out warfare according to international humanitarian law," said Hiltermann.
A briefing paper on cluster bombs, written by Human Rights Watch consultant William Arkin, is attached. For the full text of the paper, with footnotes, please see the Human Rights Watch website at http://www.hrw.org.
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