Ukraine has eclipsed Syria as the country with the highest cluster munition casualties, according to a report released by the Cluster Munition Coalition. A network of non-governmental organizations advocating for a ban on these controversial weapons.
In 2022, more than 300 people lost their lives, and over 600 others were wounded in Ukraine due to cluster munitions, marking the highest toll in a decade. This surge in casualties is attributed to Russia’s extensive use of these munitions during its invasion of Ukraine. Along with sporadic use by Ukrainian forces.
The deadliest single incident in Ukraine occurred at the Kramatorsk railway station, where a bombing claimed the lives of 53 people. It left 135 others injured, as reported by Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office.
Long-term Threat to Civilians
Cluster munitions pose an ongoing threat to civilians, as these explosive remnants can linger for years or even decades after conflicts cease. The dangers they present have garnered renewed attention since the United States announced in July its decision to supply these munitions to Ukraine for use against Russia.
In war-ravaged regions such as Syria, Iraq, and Yemen, cluster munition remnants continue to inflict harm on civilians.15 individuals were killed and 75 wounded by these remnants in 2022 in Syria. While Iraq, with no new cluster bomb attacks reported, saw 15 fatalities and 25 injuries. In Yemen, also without new reported attacks, five people lost their lives, and 90 were wounded by these unexploded ordnances.
Tragically, children constitute the majority of victims worldwide, as some submunitions resemble harmless objects, prompting children to unknowingly handle them.
Impact on Innocent Lives
The devastating consequences of cluster munitions are evident in the story of Rawaa and Doaa al-Hassan. Two young sisters from Syria picked up an unexploded bomblet, resulting in Rawaa losing an eye and Doaa losing a hand. Their father had previously fallen victim to a cluster munition remnant while gathering firewood.
These incidents take a severe toll on the psychological well-being of survivors. However, this makes it challenging for them to concentrate and cope with daily life.
Scattered submunitions have been particularly hazardous to shepherds, scrap metal collectors, and truffle hunters, who often encounter them. Unfortunately, efforts to clear these explosives have been hampered by a lack of funding and the complexities of dealing. With the various actors controlling different regions of Syria.
Approximately 124 countries have joined a United Nations convention that bans cluster munitions. Regrettably, the United States, Russia, Ukraine, and Syria have yet to become signatories.
Casualties from cluster munition remnants had been decreasing globally until 2011, when the Syrian civil war erupted, reversing this trend. Meanwhile, recent conflicts, notably the situation in Ukraine, have seen a resurgence in casualties.
Debate Over US Involvement
The decision by the United States to provide cluster munitions to Ukraine has sparked controversy. U.S. officials argue that it’s necessary to maintain a balance of power against a formidable adversary and ensure measures will be taken to minimize harm to civilians. Including employing munitions with a reduced “dud rate” to limit unexploded rounds.
Critics like Alex Hiniker, an independent expert with the Forum on the Arms Trade, express bewilderment at the decision. Highlighting the disproportionate civilian harm these weapons can cause. Cleaning up the aftermath, she notes, is the most challenging and costly aspect of dealing with cluster munitions.
As the world grapples with the devastating impact of these weapons, the urgency for global cooperation is important. Moreover, the adherence to bans on cluster munitions remains paramount to protect innocent lives and prevent further tragedies.