Cluster Munition Ban Policy

Last updated: 10 August 2015

Five-Year Review: Non-signatory Libya has expressed its support for the convention and interest in joining, but has not taken any steps towards accession. Libya has participated as an observer in three of the convention’s Meetings of States Parties, most recently in 2013. In 2011, government forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi used cluster munitions at various locations, including Misrata. Subsequent to the collapse of the Gaddafi regime, in late 2014 and early 2015 further use of cluster munitions occurred during inter-militia fighting.

In February and March 2015, remnants of an air-dropped cluster bombs were recorded at Bin Jawad and Sirte respectively. The Libyan Air Force bombed both locations in early 2015, but it was not possible to conclusively determine responsibility on the basis of available evidence.


Libya has not acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Libya has expressed its support for the convention and interest in joining, but has not taken any steps towards accession. In October 2014, Libya informed a UN meeting that it is considering joining international treaties on conventional weapons but did not specifically mention the Convention on Cluster Munitions.[1] Previously, in September 2012, Libya informed States Parties that it was “committed” to promoting the Convention on Cluster Munitions.[2]

Hostilities that began in May 2014 have left the country with rival governments: an internationally recognized government based in the east and under the command of Gen. Khalifa Hiftar and a self-proclaimed government in Tripoli backed by an alliance of militias known as Libya Dawn that controls much of western Libya. Hiftar’s operation, known as Libya Dignity, involves former members of the military, tribal factions, and militias from Zintan. As of July 2015, both claim legitimacy as the sole political authority, but neither has been able to exert full control nationally.

Under the former government of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya participated in three regional conferences held during the 2007–2008 Oslo Process that developed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, but attended the formal negotiations in Dublin in May 2008 only as an observer and did not join in the consensus adoption of the convention.[3] Libya did not attend the Oslo Signing Conference in December 2008.

Libya participated as an observer in the convention’s Meeting of States Parties in 2010, 2012, and 2013, but did not attend the Fifth Meeting of States Parties in San José, Costa Rica in September 2014. It attended the convention’s intersessional meetings in Geneva once, in 2013. Libya has participated in regional workshops on cluster munitions, most recently in Lomé, Togo in May 2013.

Libya has voted in favor of recent UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions condemning the use of cluster munitions in Syria, including Resolution 69/189 on 18 December 2014, which expressed “outrage” at the continued use.[4]

Libya is not party to the Mine Ban Treaty. It is not a party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons

Production, transfer, and stockpiling

Libya is not known to have produced or exported cluster munitions, but it imported them and likely possesses a stockpile.

The current status and composition of Libya’s stockpiled cluster munitions is not known, including information on the types, quantities, and storage locations.Portions of the stockpile of cluster munitions may have been seized by anti-government forces and civilians in 2011, after storage facilities at arms depots were abandoned by government forces and in some cases were subject to NATO airstrikes. There has been no systematic or coordinated stockpile destruction effort by successive interim governments or international actors.

From the use of cluster munitions in the past five years, it is now also clear that Libya has stockpiled air-dropped bombs (RBK-series bombs containing AO-1SCh and PTAB-2.5M bomblets), ground-fired munitions (MAT-120 mortar bombs containing submunitions), and an unidentified type of submunition contained in 122mm rockets.[5] Additionally, in the past, Jane’s Information Group listed Libya as possessing KMGU dispensers (which deploy submunitions) and RBK-500 aerial cluster bombs, presumably of Soviet/Russian origin.[6] It also possesses Grad 122mm surface-to-surface rocket launchers, but it is not known if the ammunition for these weapons includes versions with submunition payloads.[7]

In June 2011, Spain confirmed that it had transferred a total of 1,055 MAT-120 cluster munitions containing 22,155 submunitions to Libya in 2006 and 2008.[8]

In March 2015, the commander of the Libyan Air Force of the internationally recognized government, Brig. Gen. Saqr al-Jerroushi, said “We have no cluster munitions” and have “only traditional, heavy munitions such as what was used during the Second World War.”[9]


In February 2015, Amnesty International reported the Libyan Air Force used cluster bombs in attacks against Libya Dawn forces in Bin Jawad on 18 December 2014.[10] In February 2015, a researcher for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace photographed several PTAB-2.5M submunitions in the rubble of a bank in Bin Jawad that a Libya Dawn commander told him was hit by an airstrike by the Libyan Air Force on or about 9 January 2015. In March 2015, Human Rights Watch reported credible evidence that air-dropped RBK-250 PTAB 2.5M cluster bombs had been used in Bin Jawad and Sirte since December 2014, citing interviews with witnesses and photographs.[11]

The Libyan Air Force admitted to attacking Libya Dawn forces at both locations in early 2015, but Brig. Gen. al-Jerroushi denied that forces under his command used cluster bombs.[12]

In addition, on 27 February 2015, a Facebook site run by a Libyan group calling itself the border guards unit posted photographs showing the remnants of an RBK-250-275 AO-1SCh cluster bomb, but no bomblets.[13] The photographs were purportedly taken on the same date or shortly before at the Watiya Front 120 kilometers southwest of Tripoli, where Libya Dawn had been fighting forces aligned with Libya Dignity.

On 12 February 2015, a photograph posted on the Facebook page of a Libyan satellite TV station showed two men wearing fatigues, one of which had Libyan military insignia, standing in front of an RBK-250 PTAB-2.5M cluster bomb affixed to a military aircraft.[14]

At the convention’s intersessional meetings in June 2015, more than two dozen states expressed concern at or condemned new use of cluster munitions, including seven that specifically expressed concern at the evidence of new cluster munition use in Libya.[15] The UN, the ICRC, and the CMC also condemned the use of cluster munitions. In March 2015, Sweden’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs described evidence of new use of cluster munitions in Libya as a “worrisome development” and said, “Libya must join the CCM [Convention on Cluster Munitions].”[16]

Previous use

During the 2011 conflict, government forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi used three different types of cluster munitions at various locations.[17] Human Rights Watch witnessed government forces fire ground-launched MAT-120 mortar cluster munitions in Misrata in April 2011. In early 2012, clearance teams from Mines Advisory Group (MAG) and the UN found remnants of an RBK-250 cluster bomb and about 30 PTAB-2.5M submunitions near the city of Ajdabiya, where Libyan government aircraft carried out airstrikes in March 2011. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Libya reported in 2012 that submunitions and 122mm cargo rockets used by the Libyan government were also found in the Nafusa Mountains near Jadu and Zintan.

At least 10 states and the European Union expressed concern at or condemned the use of cluster munitions in Libya in 2011.[18]

There is no evidence of cluster munition use in Libya by countries that were involved in the NATO military action in 2011, including by the United States (US) and other states that have not yet joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions. In its formal response to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Libya, NATO confirmed that it did not use cluster munitions in the Libya operation.[19] However, NATO airstrikes on ammunition storage facilities created hazards when munitions stored by Libya, including cluster munitions, were ejected into the surrounding environment.[20]

Previously, Libyan forces used air-delivered cluster munitions, likely RBK-series cluster bombs of Soviet/Russian origin containing AO-1SCh and PTAB-2.5 submunitions, at various locations during its intervention in Chad during the 1986–1987 conflict.[21]

On 25 March 1986, US Navy aircraft attacked Libyan ships using Mk20 Rockeye cluster bombs; on the night of 14–15 April 1986, US Navy aircraft dropped 60 Rockeye bombs on the airfield at Benina.[22] On 27 November 2009, a commercial oil company survey crew in Libya found remnants of a German World War II-era “butterfly bomb” (an early version of a cluster bomb) and an explosive ordnance disposal expert subsequently identified six more such cluster munition remnants.[23]

[1] Statement of Libya, UN General Assembly First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, New York, 8 October 2014.

[2] Statement of Libya, Convention on Cluster Munitions Third Meeting of States Parties, Oslo, 12 September 2012. Notes by the CMC.

[3] At the Livingstone Conference on Cluster Munitions in April 2008, Libya endorsed the Livingstone Declaration, which called on African states to support the negotiation of a “total and immediate” prohibition on cluster munitions. At the Kampala Conference on the Convention on Cluster Munitions in September 2008, Libya endorsed the Kampala Action Plan, which called on all African states to sign and ratify the convention as soon as possible. For more details on Libya’s cluster munition policy and practice up to early 2009, see Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Landmine Action, Banning Cluster Munitions: Government Policy and Practice (Ottawa: Mines Action Canada, May 2009), pp. 220–221.

[4]Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic,” UNGA Resolution A/RES/69/189, 18 December 2014. Libya voted in favor of similar resolutions on 15 May and 18 December 2013.

[5] See also, HRW, “Libya: Evidence of New Cluster Bomb Use,” 15 March 2015.

[6] Robert Hewson, ed., Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, Issue 44 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2004), p. 842.

[7] International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2011 (London: Routledge, 2011), p. 320. Libya has demonstrated that it possesses at least one type of 122mm rocket. HRW and The New York Times also documented the use by government forces of Type-84A scatterable antivehicle mines (made in China) delivered by 122mm rockets into the port area of Misrata on the night of 14–15 April 2011.

[8] The transfer took place before Spain instituted a moratorium on export of cluster munitions and prior to its adoption of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Statement of Spain, Convention on Cluster Munitions Intersessional Meetings, Geneva, 29 June 2011. In the statement, Spain confirmed information provided to The New York Times by the Deputy Director General for Foreign Trade of Defense Materials and Dual Use Goods, Ramon Muro Martinez, that: “One license to Lybia [sic] consisting of 5 cluster munitions for demonstration was issued in August 2006. The export took place in October 2006. There were two more licenses issued in December 2007 with a total amount of 1,050 cluster munitions. They were sent in March 2008.” C.J. Chivers, “Following Up, Part 2. Down the Rabbit Hole: Arms Exports and Qaddafi’s Cluster Bombs,” The New York Times – At War Blog, 22 June 2011.

[9] See also, HRW, “Libya: Evidence of New Cluster Bomb Use,” 15 March 2015.

[10] Amnesty International, “Libya: Mounting evidence of war crimes in the wake of Egypt's airstrikes”, 23 February 2015.

[11] HRW found that the good condition of the paint on the bomb casings and lack of extensive weathering indicated that the remnants had not been exposed to the environment for long and were from a recent attack. See also, HRW, “Libya: Evidence of New Cluster Bomb Use,” 15 March 2015.

[12] HRW, “Libya: Evidence of New Cluster Bomb Use,” 15 March 2015.

[13] Photographs available here.

[14] The provenance of the photograph is unclear but writing on the bomb refers to the Jordanian Pilot Moadh al-Kasasbeh, who was killed by the extremist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, in February, suggesting it is a recent image. HRW, “Libya: Evidence of New Cluster Bomb Use,” 15 March 2015.

[15] Including Austria, Burundi, Costa Rica, Croatia, Ecuador, Ireland, Luxembourg, and New Zealand.

[16] @SwedenArmsControl “Recent evidence of Cluster Munitions use in Libya HRW report shows. Worrisome development, Libya must join the CCM.,”16 March 2015, 04.39am, Tweet.

[17] See ICBL-CMC, “Country Profile: Libya: Cluster Munition Ban Policy,” 17 December 2012.

[18] Australia, Austria, Lao PDR, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, and the UK.

[19] NATO letter to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Libya, 15 February 2011. Cited in UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights, “Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya,” A /HRC/19/68, 2 March 2012, p. 168, Para 638.

[20] Submunitions were also ejected from ammunition storage bunkers at a military depot near the town of Mizdah, 160 kilometers south of Tripoli, which was attacked by NATO aircraft more than 50 times between April and July 2011. In March 2012, Human Rights Watch visited the depot and found approximately 15 PTAB-2.5M bomblets and about three dozen submunitions of an unidentified type. Statement of HRW, Convention on Conventional Weapons Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War, Geneva, 25 April 2012.

[21] Handicap International, Circle of Impact: The Fatal Footprint of Cluster Munitions on People and Communities (Brussels: HI, May 2007), p. 48.

[22] Daniel P. Bolger, Americans at War: 1975–1986, An Era of Violent Peace (Novato, CA.: Presidio Press, 1988), p. 423.

[23] Daily report by Jan-Ole Robertz, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technical Advisor, Countermine Libya, 27 November 2009.