Cluster Munition Ban Policy

Last updated: 03 August 2016

Summary: Non-signatory Libya has expressed its support for the convention and interest in joining, but has not taken any steps towards accession. Libya participated as an observer in the convention’s First Review Conference in September 2015 and voted in favor of a UN resolution on the convention in December 2015.

Libya is not known to have produced or exported cluster munitions, but it imported them and is believed to possess a stockpile. Government forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi used cluster munitions at various locations in 2011 and cluster munitions were used during inter-militia fighting in late 2014 and early 2015.


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 toward accession.[1] Previously, in September 2012, Libya informed States Parties that it was “committed” to promoting the convention.[2]

On 7 December 2015, Libya voted in favor of a UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution on the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which calls on states outside the convention to “join as soon as possible.”[3] Libya did not explain why it supported the non-binding resolution, which 139 states voted to adopt, including many non-signatories.

Since mid-2014, hostilities have left Libya divided by rival governments: an internationally recognized government based in the east 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 “Libya Dignity” operation involves former members of the military, tribal factions, and militias from Zintan. As of June 2016, 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.[4] Libya did not attend the Oslo Signing Conference in December 2008.

Libya participated as an observer in the convention’s First Review Conference in Dubrovnik, Croatia in September 2015. It attended the convention’s annual Meeting of States Parties in 2010 and 2012–2013, as well as intersessional meetings in Geneva in 2013. Libya has also participated in regional workshops on cluster munitions, most recently in Lomé, Togo in May 2013. Libya has voted in favor of UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolutions condemning the use of cluster munitions in Syria, most recently in December 2015.[5]

Libya is not party to the Mine Ban Treaty. It is also 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 Grad-type 122mm surface-to-surface rockets.[6] 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.[7]

In June 2011, Spain confirmed that it 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]


While the last confirmed use of cluster munitions in Libya was in January 2015, there are indicators that additional attacks may have occurred since that time, including in 2016. For example, in March 2016, a defense blog published photographs that it credited to the Libyan National Army that indicate its forces may have used cluster munitions at least twice that month:

  • Photographs reportedly taken late on the evening of 28 March 2016 show RBK-250 cluster bombs being mounted on Mi-8T and Mi-35 helicopters at Labraq airbase in the eastern city of Beida.[10]
  • A photograph reportedly taken late in the evening of 8 March 2016 at Benina airbase in Benghazi shows an RBK-250-275 AO-1SCh cluster bomb mounted on a Mi-8T helicopter.[11]

Further evidence of cluster munition use may have gone unrecorded due to a lack of media and independent reporting from the ground.

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 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.[12] 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.[13]

The Libyan Air Force admitted attacking Libya Dawn forces at both locations in early 2015, but Brig. Gen. al-Jerroushi denied that forces under his command used cluster bombs.[14]

In addition, in 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.[15] Another February 2015 photograph posted on the Facebook page of a Libyan satellite TV station showed two men wearing fatigues, one with a Libyan military insignia, standing in front of an RBK-250 PTAB-2.5M cluster bomb affixed to a military attack aircraft.[16]

More than two-dozen states have expressed concern at or condemned new use of cluster munitions, including eight that specifically expressed concern at the evidence of new cluster munition use in Libya.[17] 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].”[18]

At the First Review Conference in September 2015, States Parties adopted the Dubrovnik Declaration, which affirms: “We are deeply concerned by any and all allegations, reports or documented evidence of the use of cluster munitions, including in Cambodia, Libya, South Sudan, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Ukraine and Yemen. We condemn any use of cluster munitions by any actor.”[19]

Previous use

During the 2011 conflict, government forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi used three different types of cluster munitions at various locations.[20] Human Rights Watch researchers witnessed government forces fire ground-launched MAT-120 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 from 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.[21]

There is no evidence of cluster munition use by the countries involved in the NATO military action in in Libya 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.[22] However, NATO airstrikes on ammunition storage facilities created hazards when munitions stored by Libya, including cluster munitions, were ejected into the surrounding environment.[23]

Previously, Libyan forces used air-delivered cluster munitions, likely RBK-series cluster bombs containing AO-1SCh and PTAB-2.5 submunitions, at various locations during its intervention in Chad during the 1986–1987 conflict.[24]

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.[25] 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.[26]

[1] 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. 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]Implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” UNGA Resolution 70/54, 7 December 2015.

[4] 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.

[5] Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic,” UNGA Resolution 70/234, 23 December 2015. Libya voted in favor of similar resolutions on 15 May and 18 December 2013, and on 18 December 2014.

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

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

[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] Delalande Arnaud, “‘Libyan airstrikes’ situation update 26–28 March 2016,” AeroHistory blog, 29 March 2016.

[13] 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.

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

[15] Photographs available here. The photographs were purportedly taken on the same date or shortly before at the Watiya Front, 120 kilometers southwest of Tripoli, where Libya Dawn were fighting forces aligned with Libya Dignity.

[16] 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.

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

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

[19]The Dubrovnik declaration 2015: Spectemur agendo (judged by our actions),” annexed to the Final Report of the First Review Conference of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, CCM/CONF/2015/7, 13 October 2015.

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

[21] The Monitor has recorded national statements by Australia, Austria, Burundi, Costa Rica, Croatia, France, Iceland, Italy, Lao PDR, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, and the UK.

[22] 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.

[23] 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, HRW visited the depot and found approximately 15 PTAB-2.5M bomblets and about three-dozen submunitions of an unidentified DPICM type. Statement by HRW, Convention on Conventional Weapons Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War, Geneva, 25 April 2012.

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

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

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