Cluster Munition Ban Policy

Last updated: 11 August 2015

Five-Year Review: Non-signatory Yemen has expressed support for the ban on cluster munitions, but has not taken any steps towards accession. It attended three of the convention’s Meetings of States Parties, most recently in 2014.

Yemen is not known to have produced or exported cluster munitions, but has likely stockpiled cluster munitions at some point. In April and May 2015, a Saudi Arabia-led coalition used United States (US)-made CBU-105 and CBU-87 cluster munitions in air attacks against Ansar Allah (Houthi rebels) in Yemen. Ground-launched ZP-39 submunitions have also been used, but it is unclear who used them. Saudi Arabia and the US also used cluster munitions in attacks inside Yemen in 2009.


The Republic of Yemen has not acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Yemen has expressed support for the ban on cluster munitions, but it has not commented on its position on accession to the convention.

Yemen participated in two meetings of the Oslo Process that produced the convention (Lima in May 2007 and Belgrade in October 2007) and expressed its support for work to prohibit cluster munitions.[1] It did not attend the negotiations of the convention in Dublin in May 2008 or the Convention on Cluster Munitions Signing Conference in Oslo in December 2008.[2]

Yemen has participated as an observer in three Meetings of States Parties of the convention, most recently the Fifth Meeting of States Parties in San José, Costa Rica in September 2014.[3] It attended the convention’s intersessional meetings in Geneva once, in April 2013.

Yemen has voted in favor of 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]

Yemen is a State Party to the Mine Ban Treaty. It is not party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons.

Production, transfer, and stockpiling

Yemen is not known to have produced or exported cluster munitions.

Evidence that came to light in 2013 and 2014 (detailed below) indicates that Yemen likely used RBK cluster bombs in 2009, indicating that it may have stockpiled cluster munitions in the past and possibly continues to do so.

Jane’s Information Group reported in 2004 that KMG-U dispensers that deploy submunitions are in service with the country’s air force.[5] Moldova exported 13 220mm Uragan multiple launch rocket systems to Yemen in 1994, and Yemen possesses Grad 122mm surface-to-surface rocket launchers, but it is not known if the ammunition for these weapons includes versions with submunition payloads.[6]


In May 2015, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported evidence that a Saudi Arabia-led coalition used US-made and -supplied cluster munitions in April and May 2015 in airstrikes against Ansar Allah (Houthi forces) in Yemen’s northern Saada governorate bordering Saudi Arabia.[7] Three types of cluster munitions have been used in the conflict in Yemen, which started on 25 March 2015 and was continuing as of 1 August 2015.

In May 2015, HRW reported the use of air-dropped cluster munitions at al-Shaaf in Saqeen in the western part of Saada governorate seen in a video uploaded on April 17 by a pro-Houthi YouTube channel.[8] It also identified cluster munition remnants in photographs taken by locals on 17 April at the site of an airstrike near al-Amar in al-Safraa, 30 kilometers south of Saada City. A subsequent research visit by HRW to al-Amar confirmed the use of cluster munitions, including the presence of remnants.[9]

Both attacks used US-made and -supplied CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons that deploy 10 BLU-108 canisters, which each release four submunitions called “skeets” by the manufacturer. HRW found these cluster munitions were used within 600 meters of villages in one attack, in possible violation of US law. It also found that some of the cluster munitions malfunctioned as their submunitions did not disperse from the canister or dispersed but did not explode.[10]

HRW reported the Saudi coalition’s use of US-made CBU-87 Combined Effects Munitions, each containing 202 BLU-97 submunitions, in the al-Maqash and al-Nushoor districts of Saada City on 23 May 2015.

HRW also reported the use of ground-launched cluster munitions containing “ZP-39” submunitions near Baqim in Saada province on 29 April 2015, but could not determine who was responsible for this use.[11] The “ZP-39” is a dual-purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM) but its manufacturer and delivery system are not publicly known or reported by standard international reference materials. Neither Saudi nor Houthi forces are known to possess “ZP-39” submunitions, but both have rocket launchers and tube artillery capable of delivering them.[12]

Evidence has also emerged on social media indicating that a fourth type of cluster munition may have been used in the Yemen conflict. On 2 July 2015, Abdulrahman Alrazhi tweeted a photograph showing a child holding two M77 submunitions from a ground-launched M26 rocket and stated that the munitions had been used in his district of Razeh in Saada.[13] On 8 June, a Saudi reporter tweeted a photograph showing a M26 rocket containing M77 submunitions in Saudi Arabia’s southern Jizan province, which borders Yemen’s Saada governorate.[14] That photograph shows the rocket’s motor section is missing indicating that the rocket misfired upon launch and failed to reach its destination and function as designed to disperse the submunitions.[15]

Saudi Arabia and other members of the coalition possess attack aircraft of US and Western/NATO origin capable of dropping US-made cluster bombs, while Yemen’s Soviet supplied aircraft are not capable of delivering US-made cluster bombs. Houthi forces may operate artillery and rocket systems capable of delivering DPICM submunitions.[16]

Responses to the cluster munition use

As of 1 August 2015, the government of Saudi Arabia had not issued a formal statement to confirm or deny the reports that the Saudi-led coalition used cluster munitions in Yemen in April and May 2015.[17] However, in numerous media interviews, Saudi Arabia’s principle military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri acknowledged use of CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons in Yemen, but argued they were not used in populated areas against civilians and are not prohibited weapons for Saudi Arabia.[18]

CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons are banned by the Convention on Cluster Munitions, as they fall under the convention’s definition of a cluster munition specified in Article 2. The US acknowledges that CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons are the only cluster munitions “that meet that our stringent requirements for unexploded ordnance rates, which may not exceed 1 percent.”[19]

The cluster munition use in Yemen has received worldwide media coverage, public outcry, and has been condemned by more than a dozen states, including Costa Rica as president of the convention’s Fifth Meeting of States Parties.[20]

At the convention’s intersessional meetings in June 2015, more than two-dozen states expressed concern at or condemned new use of cluster munitions, and half specifically referenced the evidence of new use in Yemen.[21] The UN, the ICRC, and the CMC also condemned the use of cluster munitions.

On 9 July 2015, the European Parliament (EP) adopted a resolution condemning the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen, including the use of cluster bombs.[22] In a European Parliament debate on 13 July 2015, EP member Marietje Schaake spoke on behalf of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe to request that reports of cluster munition use by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen “be investigated thoroughly by the United Nations” as they “have serious consequences, if confirmed.”[23]

Previous use

Saudi Arabia and the US, and likely the Yemeni government, used cluster munitions in separate attacks in Yemen in 2009.

In late 2009, in Yemen’s Saada governorate, the Saudi Air Force conducted airstrikes and Saudi armed forces intervened on the ground after fighting between the government of Yemen and Ansar Allah intensified and spilled over the border with Saudi Arabia. In July 2013, the Monitor reviewed photographs taken by clearance operators in Saada governorate showing the remnants of unexploded BLU-97 and BLU-61 submunitions as well as DPICM submunitions of an unknown origin.[24] Remnants of CBU-52 cluster bombs were filmed near Saada City and broadcast by VICE News in May 2014.[25] In addition, the Houthi administration in Saada provided VICE News with photographs showing remnants of Soviet-made RBK-250-275 AO-1SCh cluster bombs and associated antipersonnel fragmentation submunitions.[26] Yemen’s Soviet-supplied aircraft are capable of delivering Soviet-made RBK cluster bombs.

US use in 2009

On 17 December 2009, the US used at least five ship- or submarine-launched TLAM-D cruise missiles, each containing 166 BLU-97 submunitions, to attack a “terrorist group” training camp in al-Ma‘jalah in the al-Mahfad district of Abyan governorate in southern Yemen. The attack killed 55 people, including 41 civilians living in a Bedouin camp.[27] Neither the US nor the Yemeni government has publicly responded to confirm or deny the use.[28] The US has never exported the TLAM-D cruise missile.

A 2010 report of the Yemeni parliament’s investigation into the attack called on the Yemeni government to investigate and “hold accountable those found guilty” of “mistakes that were made causing the deaths of…innocent victims” and called on the Yemeni authorities to compensate victims and remove cluster munition remnants from the site.[29]

The government of Yemen accepted the report’s findings in 2010, but does not appear to have implemented the recommendation to clear the contaminated area and provide compensation for the casualties caused and damaged property. An October 2013 report by HRW found the cluster munition remnants from the 2009 attack at al-Ma‘jalah were never cleared and have killed four more civilians and wounded 13 more in the period since the strike. The most recent casualty was on 24 January 2012, when a young boy brought home a bomblet that exploded, killing his father and wounding him and his two brothers.[30]

[1] Statement of Yemen, Lima Conference on Cluster Munitions, Session on Victim Assistance, 23 May 2008. Notes by Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

[2] For details on Yemen’s cluster munition policy and practice up to early 2009, see Human Rights Watch and Landmine Action, Banning Cluster Munitions: Government Policy and Practice (Ottawa: Mines Action Canada, May 2009), p. 262.

[3] Yemen also attended the convention’s Second and Fourth Meetings of States Parties, in 2011 and 2013 respectively.

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

[5] Robert Hewson, ed., Jane’s Air Launched Weapons, Issue 44 (Surrey, United Kingdom: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2004), p. 848.

[6] Submission of the Republic of Moldova, UN Register of Conventional Arms, Report for Calendar Year 1994, 28 April 1995; International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2011 (London: Routledge, 2011), p. 335; and Colin King, ed., Jane’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal 2008, CD-edition (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2008).

[7] None of the states participating in the Saudi Arabia-led coalition—Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar, Sudan, UAE—are party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. The operation was initially called “Operation Decisive Storm” and then amended to “Operation Restoring Hope.”

[9] Fatik Al-Rodaini (@Fatikr), “Types of bombs being parchuted by Saudi warplanes in Saada N #Yemen,” 27 April 2015, 12:50pm, Tweet.

[10] During a visit in May 2015, residents showed HRW two BLU-108 canisters and an unexploded submunition from the attack near the main road between Sanaa and Saada, about 100 meters south of al-Amar. At that location, HRW found a third empty canister in bushes nearby. HRW, “Yemen: Cluster Munitions Harm Civilians,” 31 May 2015.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Abdulrahman Alrazhi (@AAlrazhi), “My district ‪#Razeh in ‪#Saada north ‪#Yemen was shed by this kind of cluster bombs, many of them weren't exploded ‪#HRW,” 2 July 2015, 11:52am. Tweet.

[14] @fahadkamly, 8 June 2015, 5:56am, Tweet.

[15] The M26 rocket has a range of 32–38 kilometers. Each rocket scatters 644 M77 DPICMs submunitions over a 200 by 100 meter area. Each MLRS launcher carries 12 M26 rockets meaning a typical volley of six rockets would release 3,864 submunitions over an area with a 0.6 mile (1 kilometer) radius.

[16] Landmine and Cluster Munition Blog post by Mark Hiznay, “Who used cluster munitions in northern Yemen,” 15 November 2013.

[17] It also has not responded to a 27 March 2015 letter sent by the CMC to Saudi Arabia and other coalition members urging that they refrain from using cluster munitions in the military operation in Yemen. CMC, “Saudi Arabia and others must not use cluster munitions in Yemen,” Press Release, 27 March 2015.

[18] Asiri informed CNN on 4 May 2015 that Saudi Arabia had used CBU-105 in Yemen against armored vehicles only, describing it as an “anti-vehicle weapon” and stating, “We do not use it against persons. We don’t have any operation in the cities.” Ben Brumfield and Slma Shelbayah, “Report: Saudi Arabia used U.S.-supplied cluster bombs in Yemen,” CNN, 4 May 2015. Asiri acknowledged to The Financial Times that Saudi forces have used a US weapon that engages targets such as armoured vehicles and is “equipped with self-destruct and self-deactivation features” but did not call it a cluster munition and argued it was being used to target vehicles and not people. “Saudi Arabia accused of using cluster bombs in Yemen airstrikes,” The Financial Times, 3 May 2015. Asiri told Bloomberg News that the categorization of the cluster munitions as banned “isn’t correct.” Alaa Shahine, “Saudis deny sending troops to Yemen, reject cluster-bomb report,” Bloomberg News, 3 May 2015.

[19] Jeff Rathke, Acting Deputy Spokesperson, US State Department Press Conference, 4 May 2015.

[20] Costa Rica, “Costa Rica condena el uso de municiones en racimo en Yemen,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 5 May 2015.

[21] Austria, Belgium, Burundi, Costa Rica, Croatia, Ecuador, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, and Norway.

[22] The resolution was adopted without a vote. European Parliament, “Joint Motion for a Resolution on the situation in Yemen,” 8 July 2015.

[23] European Parliament debate on the situation in Yemen, 13 July 2015. Notes by HRW.

[24] Interview with Abdul Raqeeb Fare, Deputy Director, Yemen Executive Mine Action Center (YEMAC), Sanaa, 7 March 2013; interview with Ali al-Kadri, Director, YEMAC, in Geneva, 28 May 2013; and email from John Dingley, UNDP Yemen, 9 July 2013.

[25]VICE on HBO Debriefs: Crude Awakening & Enemy of My Enemy,” aired on the Home Box Office Television Network, 19 May 2014; and Ben Anderson and Peter Salisbury, “US Cluster Bombs Keep Killing Civilians in Yemen,” VICE News, 16 May 2014. See also, “Saudi Arabia used cluster bombs against Houthi Shiites,” AhlulBayt News Agency, 19 May 2014.

[26] Multiple emails from Ben Anderson, Correspondent and Producer, VICE News, May 2014.

[27] Amnesty International published a series of photographs showing the remnants of the cruise missile, including the propulsion system, a BLU-97 submunition, and the payload ejection system, the latter of which is unique to the TLAM-D cruise missile. See also, “U.S. missiles killed civilians in Yemen, rights group says,” CNN, 7 June 2010.

[28] In December 2010, Wikileaks released a US Department of State cable dated 21 December 2009 that acknowledged the US had a role in the 17 December strike. The cable said that Yemeni government officials “continue to publicly maintain that the operation was conducted entirely by its forces, acknowledging U.S. support strictly in terms of intelligence sharing. Deputy Prime Minister Rashad al-Alimi told the Ambassador on December 20 that any evidence of greater U.S. involvement such as fragments of U.S. munitions found at the sites - could be explained away as equipment purchased from the U.S.” See “ROYG [Republic of Yemen Government] looks ahead following CT operations, but perhaps not far enough,” US Department of State cable SANAA 02230 dated 21 December 2009, released by Wikileaks on 4 December 2010.

[29] Republic of Yemen, Special Parliamentarian Investigating Committee Report On Security Events In the Province of Abyan, pp. 21–22 (En.), p. 16 (Ar.). Cited in HRW, “Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda,” 22 October 2013.

[30] HRW, “Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda,” 22 October 2013.