Human rights groups denounce sending cluster bombs to Ukraine

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Joe Biden has been condemned by human rights groups after approving the shipment of widely banned cluster munitions to Ukraine, with a fellow Democrat calling the decision ‘unnecessary and a terrible mistake’ .

Cluster munitions are banned by more than 100 countries. They usually scatter many small bombs over a wide area, sometimes as large as a football field, and can kill indiscriminately. Those that do not explode threaten civilians, especially children, for decades after a conflict has ended.

But Washington and other Western capitals are worried about Ukraine’s slow summer counteroffensive as the war nears its 500th day on Saturday. Ukrainian commanders claim that their entrenched Russian adversaries have superiority in artillery and heavy tanks, which limits their troops’ ability to advance.

On Friday, the Pentagon announced a new $800 million military aid package to Ukraine that includes cluster munitions. Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, told reporters at the White House, “We recognize that cluster munitions create a risk of civilian harm from unexploded ordnance.

“That’s why we postponed the decision for as long as we could. But there is also a huge risk of civilian damage if Russian troops and tanks go over Ukrainian positions and take more Ukrainian territory and subjugate more Ukrainian civilians because Ukraine does not have enough artillery.

He added: “This is intolerable to us. Ukraine would not use this ammunition in a foreign country. It is their country they are defending. It is their citizens they are protecting and they are motivated to use any weapon system they have in a way that minimizes risk to those citizens.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy described the aid package as “timely, broad and indispensable defense”, in a tweet thanking Biden for “decisive steps that bring Ukraine closer to victory over the enemy”.

“The expansion of Ukraine’s defense capabilities will provide new tools for the deoccupation of our land and the rapprochement of peace,” he wrote.

The timing is complicated for Biden, who is traveling to Europe for a NATO meeting in Vilnius, Lithuania next week. Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, stressed on Friday that the military alliance does not take a position on cluster munitions. “So it’s up to those individual allies to make those decisions,” he told reporters in Brussels.

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But human rights organizations have strongly criticized the president’s decision, noting that at least 149 civilians were killed or injured worldwide by the weapon in 2021, according to the Cluster Munition Monitor.

Most of America’s allies – including Britain, Germany and France – signed the UN Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2008. America, Russia and Ukraine have never signed the treaty, insisting that there are circumstances in which the use of weapons is necessary.

Paul Hannon, Vice President of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and the Cluster Munition Coalition Governing Council, said, “The Biden administration’s decision to transfer cluster munitions -ammunition will contribute to the terrible losses suffered by Ukrainian civilians, immediately and for years to come. Russia’s and Ukraine’s use of cluster munitions adds to Ukraine’s already massive contamination by explosive remnants and landmines.

Biden also faced a backlash within his own Democratic party. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, who will co-lead an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act banning the sale of cluster munitions, said: “We must be clear: if the United States wants to be a leader in international human rights, we must not participate in human rights abuses.

“We can support the Ukrainian people in their struggle for freedom, while opposing violations of international law. In fact, the innocent victims of cluster munitions will almost exclusively be Ukrainian civilians. Instead of selling cluster munitions, we should do everything in our power to end their use. »

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Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum described the move as “unnecessary and a terrible mistake,” adding, “These weapons should be eliminated from our stockpiles, not dumped in Ukraine.”

The last concerted US use of cluster bombs dates back to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, according to the Pentagon. But US forces considered them a key weapon during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, Human Rights Watch said. During the first three years of this conflict, it is estimated that the US-led coalition dropped more than 1,500 cluster bombs in Afghanistan.

On Friday, Germany confirmed that it opposes sending cluster munitions to Ukraine. Government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit told reporters in Berlin: “We are certain that our American friends did not take the decision to supply such ammunition lightly. We must remember once again that Russia has already used large-scale cluster munitions in its unlawful war of aggression against Ukraine.

A 2009 law bans exports of US cluster munitions with a bomb failure rate of more than 1%, which applies to nearly all US military stockpile. But Biden can lift ammunition bans, as his predecessor Donald Trump did in January 2021 to allow the export of cluster munitions technology to South Korea.

Sullivan said on Friday: “Russia uses cluster munitions with high misfire or miss rates between 30 and 40%. In this context, Ukraine has requested cluster munitions in order to defend its own sovereign territory.The cluster munitions we would supply have much lower misfire rates than those supplied by Russia, no more than 2.5%.

He added: “Ukraine is engaged in post-conflict clearance efforts to mitigate any potential harm to civilians and this will be necessary whether or not the United States provides these munitions due to the widespread use cluster munitions by Russia.

Ukraine has provided written assurances that it will use cluster munitions in a very careful manner aimed at minimizing risk to civilians, Sullivan added.

The security assistance package will be the 42nd approved by the United States for Ukraine since the invasion, totaling more than $40 billion.

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