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On sending and using cluster munitions: Never under any circumstances

As a humanitarian organisation and mine action operator, Danish Refugee Council (DRC) is deeply concerned by the United States’ decision to transfer cluster munitions to Ukraine.

Posted on 11 Jul 2023

Present in 41 countries affected by war and conflict across the globe, we see all too often how devastating the impact of cluster munitions and unexploded ordnance are for civilians. Munitions present a persistent threat to lives and livelihoods for as long as they remain to be cleared which often extends to decades. 

Cluster munitions are abhorrent. They contain multiple - often hundreds - of smaller bomblets that are dropped from the air or fired from the ground. During an attack, cluster munitions cover areas up to the size of several football fields with explosives and shrapnel. Many of them do not explode on impact, and they are dangerous and difficult to find and remove. Cluster munitions are indiscriminate weapons that disproportionately harm civilians, both at the time of use and for years after a conflict. They endanger physical safety, humanitarian access, and economic recovery for decades.

The right of parties to an armed conflict to choose methods or means of warfare is not unlimited

/  Preamble, Convention on Cluster Munitions

Cluster munitions have already been used in the Ukraine conflict, and further use will cause even more widespread and lethal contamination that will persist for many years until it is cleared. Cluster munition use, by any party, must cease.  

Clearing lands from explosive ordnance – including cluster munitions remnants – is a long, expensive and meticulous job that requires time, resources and extreme caution. As seen across the globe – and among the countries most recently affected: Iraq, Syria, South Sudan, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and many more -   clearance in Ukraine will take years and even decades. Transferring and using more cluster munitions will increase the time, complexity and scale of clearance, and pose a lethal threat for generations to come.  

So far, 123 states agree that cluster munitions cause unacceptable harm. They have committed never to use cluster munitions under any circumstances - the wording in the Convention on Cluster Munitions, to which they are signatories. These many states will also encourage states not party to the Convention to uphold its norms.  

Danish Refugee Council calls for:  

  1. An immediate stop to the transfer and use of cluster munitions, which are indiscriminate weapons that cause unacceptable harm. 
  2. Action by States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, including Denmark, to condemn use of cluster munitions by any actor, to oppose their transfer for use by any actor, and to work to uphold all the norms of the Convention. 
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