As the Treaty Banning Cluster Bombs Marks Its Fourth Anniversary, the World Should Speak Out on Use in Syria

The rising toll of civilian casualties in Syria is an ongoing reminder that use of cluster munitions, like chemical weapons and others that affect civilians, is not acceptable by anyone, anywhere or at any time.
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Just before noon on April 3 2013, a jet dropped six cluster bombs on the Sheik Sa`eed neighborhood in Aleppo city, Syria, killing 11 civilians, including at least seven children, and injuring many more. "Mahmoud," a local resident who was sitting on the roof with several members of his family at the time of the attack, told Human Rights Watch on April 9, 2013:

"Suddenly the jet came and dropped its bombs. The bombs fell from above, one after another, small bombs spread out in the sky. They were exploding everywhere, like a volcano erupting, on and on. Shrapnel hit me in my behind and back. I was taken to the hospital which was full of wounded people, many in critical condition."

On the morning of March 7, 2013 a double cluster bomb strike on a southern district of Sarmin, a small town in the Idlib governorate, killed a 10-year-old girl, Amani al-Sheikh Ahmad, and a 25-year-old mother of two, Rania Kashtu, and injured more than 10 civilians, including several children.

A resident told Amnesty International:

"There were so many injured, they had horrible cuts and pieces of flesh missing. Little children were screaming in so much pain; it was heart breaking, and the medics in the field hospital didn't know who to attend to first."

Following a multiple cluster bomb attack on a densely populated housing estate in the Masaken Hanano district of Aleppo on 1 March 2013, 18-year-old Mahmoud, lay on the floor with shrapnel lacerations to his face, legs and arms. Blood was seeping through the bandages. Shaking and visibly in shock, he told Amnesty International:

"I was sitting outside my home with my friends; the little ones were playing around us. There were explosions; the children were screaming and then I don't remember anything."

These testimonies documented by Cluster Munition Coalition members provide just a snapshot of the human cost of the widespread and ongoing use of cluster munitions by Syrian government forces with mounting civilian casualties. The first recorded incident of use took place in July 2012 and in these two years Human Rights Watch has identified at least 224 locations in 10 of Syria's 14 governorates where cluster munitions have been used. This data is incomplete as not all remnants have been recorded by video or other means, so the actual number of cluster munitions used in Syria is likely much higher. Updated figures on cluster munition use in Syria from The Cluster Munition Coalition's research initiative, Cluster Munition Monitor will be released on September 2.

Cluster bombs have caused death and devastation in every conflict in which they have been used and deadly unexploded sub-munitions continue to kill and maim civilians long after conflict has ended. Use of this horrific weapon is comprehensively banned weapon under the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. The civilian suffering caused by use of cluster munitions and other banned weapons in Syria, including antipersonnel landmines and air-delivered incendiary weapons in populated areas is wholly unacceptable.

Today as campaigners around the world mark the fourth anniversary of the Convention on Cluster Munitions first becoming binding international law, more than half the world's nations have joined the treaty, stockpiles of the weapon are being destroyed in record numbers, hundreds of square kilometers of land has been cleared and States Party to the convention are legally obliged to provide victims of cluster munitions with adequate assistance.

There is now a powerful global stigma against the use of the weapon. More than 150 governments worldwide have spoken out since use of cluster munitions first began in Syria, a firestorm of international criticism -- but two years on we need the world to continue to speak out against use of these deadly and banned weapons and for all states to prioritize the protection of civilians by joining the global ban. The rising toll of civilian casualties in Syria is an ongoing reminder that use of cluster munitions, like chemical weapons and others that affect civilians, is not acceptable by anyone, anywhere or at any time.

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