Cluster Munition Ban Policy

Last updated: 08 August 2016

Summary: Non-signatory Yemen said in May 2016 that it is considering acceding to the convention after becoming contaminated by cluster munition remnants during the previous year. Yemen has participated in the convention’s annual meetings, most recently in 2014. It abstained from voting on a UN resolution on the convention in December 2015. Yemen is not known to have produced or exported cluster munitions, but apparently used cluster munitions in 2009 and may still have a stockpile.

Since 26 March 2015, a Saudi Arabia-led coalition has conducted a military operation in Yemen against Ansar Allah (Houthi forces) that has seen at least 19 cluster munition attacks involving the use of seven types of air-delivered and ground-launched cluster munitions from three countries.


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

Yemen has expressed support for the ban on cluster munitions, but did not comment on its position on joining the convention until May 2016, when a government representative told a diplomatic conference that Yemen is considering accession due to new contamination from recent use of cluster munitions by a Saudi Arabia-led coalition of states.[1]

Yemen abstained from the vote on a UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution on the Convention on Cluster Munitions on 7 December 2015, which urges states outside the convention to “join as soon as possible.”[2] Yemen did not explain why it abstained on the non-binding resolution that 139 states voted to adopt, including many non-signatories.

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.[3] 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.[4]

Yemen participated as an observer in the convention’s annual Meetings of States Parties in 2011 and 2013–2014, as well as intersessional meetings in Geneva in 2013. It was invited to, but did not attend the First Review Conference of the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Dubrovnik, Croatia in September 2015.

Yemen has voted in favor of UNGA resolutions condemning the use of cluster munitions in Syria, most recently in December 2015.[5]

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-series cluster bombs in 2009. It may still have a stockpile of the weapons.

Jane’s Information Group reported in 2004 that KMG-U dispensers that deploy submunitions are in service with the country’s air force.[6] Moldova exported 13 220mm Uragan multi-barrel rocket launch 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.[7]


On 26 March 2015, a Saudi Arabia-led coalition began a military operation in Yemen against Ansar Allah (Houthi forces) that was continuing as of 31 July 2016, despite a 10 April 2016 ceasefire agreement.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International have documented evidence of at least 19 cluster munition attacks in the conflict involving the use of seven types of air-delivered and ground-launched cluster munitions from three countries, as the following table shows.

Cluster munitions used in Yemen since April 2015[8]

Type of cluster munition

Country of origin

Stocks possessed by

Governorate and date of attack


CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon, each deploying 10 BLU-108 canisters that disperse four submunitions called “skeet” by the manufacturer Textron


Saudi Arabia,


Al-Shaaf in Saada, 17 April 2015

Al-Amar in Saada. 27 April 2015

Harf Sofian in Amran, 29 June 2015

Sanhan in Sanaa, 1 November 2015

Al-Hayma in Hodaida, 12 December 2015

Amran, 15 February 2016

CBU-87 bomb, each containing 202 BLU-97 submunitions


Saudi Arabia

Al-Nushoor in Saada, 23 May 2015

Al-Maqash in Saada, 23 May 2015

CBU-58 bomb, each containing 650 BLU-63 submunitions


Saudi Arabia,


Sanaa City in Sanaa, 6 January 2016

BL-755 cluster bomb, each containing 147 No 2 Mk 1 submunitions


Saudi Arabia

Al-Khadhra in Hajja, 6 January 2016


ASTROS II rocket, each containing up to 65 submunitions



Saudi Arabia

Ahma in Saada, 25 October 2015

M26 rocket, each containing 644 M77 Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munition (DPICM) submunitions





Bani Kaladah in Hajja, April/May 2015

Al-Hazan in Hajja, May/June 2015

Malus in Hajja, 7 June 2015

Dughayj in Hajja, Jue/July 2015

Al-Qufl in Hajja, 14/15 July 2015

Haradh in Hajja, 25 July 2015

Al-Fajj in Hajja, 25 July 2015

“ZP 39” DPICM submunition (unknown delivery system)



Baqim in Saada, 29 April 2015


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.

HRW could not determine who used ground-launched cluster munitions containing “ZP-39” submunitions in Saada in April 2015, but Saudi Arabia and Houthi forces both possess rocket launchers and tube artillery capable of delivering them.[9]

The first recorded cluster munition attack occurred at al-Shaaf in the western part of Saada governorate according to a video uploaded to YouTube on 17 April 2015.[10] A subsequent visit by HRW researchers to al-Amar village, 30 kilometers south of Saada City, confirmed a cluster munition attack on 27 April, including the presence of explosive remnants.[11] The most recently-recorded cluster munition attack was on 15 February 2016 at a cement factory in Amran governornate. These three attacks all involved the use of CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons, the only cluster munition that the US now exports, and only on the condition that they are not used in civilian areas.[12] Both Saudi Arabia and UAE have received CBU-105s from the US.

In Yemen, HRW has found at least three instances in which CBU-105s malfunctioned as their “skeet” or submunitions did not disperse from the BLU-108 canister and did not explode.[13] Under existing US policy, the CBU-105 is required to have a failure rate of less than 1%. HRW also documented evidence showing CBU-105s were used in or near civilian areas, also in apparent violation of US export law.[14]

In August 2015, HRW published the results of a research investigation in northwestern Hajja governorate, which borders Saudi Arabia, showing at least seven cluster munition rocket attacks by coalition forces from late April to mid-July 2015 that claimed dozens of civilian casualties.[15]

On 6 January 2016, coalition forces dropped a US-made CBU-58 cluster bomb containing BLU-63 submunitions on Yemen’s capital Sanaa in an attack documented by HRW, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and others.[16] Markings on the bomb remnants indicate that it was manufactured in 1978. In Saada, HRW and VICE News also documented coalition use of notoriously harmful BLU-97 submunitions delivered by CBU-87 cluster bombs.[17]

Amnesty International researchers documented the use of two types of cluster munitions in Yemen since April 2015, apparently by coalition forces. It found the remnants of a Brazil-made ASTROS II cluster munition rocket in Saada from a 27 October 2015 attack, and in May 2016 confirmed the presence of United Kingdom (UK)-made BL-755 cluster munitions remnants in al-Khadra village in Hajja governorate.[18]

Responses to the cluster munition use

In May 2016, Yemen informed a meeting of Mine Ban Treaty States Parties that its mine clearance program has been set back by the conflict since March 2015, which has generated new contamination, including from cluster munition remnants.[19]

The government of Saudi Arabia still has not issued a formal statement to confirm or deny the reports that the Saudi-led coalition used cluster munitions multiple times in Yemen.[20] Its principle military spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri has admitted in media interviews to one instance of use of CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons in April 2015 in Hajja governorate, but argued it was not in a populated area and they are not prohibited weapons.[21] In February 2016, The New York Times reported that Saudi officials continue to deny ordering the use of cluster munitions in Yemen.[22]

The UAE has denied using CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons in Yemen.[23] No other coalition member has commented on the coalition’s use of cluster munition in Yemen or responded to a CMC letter calling for an end to the use.

US officials have indicated the US is aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions in Yemen, including CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons, which are banned by the Convention on Cluster Munitions as they fall under the convention’s definition of a cluster munition.[24] In late May 2016, the Obama administration suspended US cluster munition transfers to Saudi Arabia after reports of their use in civilian areas in Yemen.[25]

The use of BL-755 cluster munitions in Yemen marks the first documented use of UK-made cluster munitions since the Convention on Cluster Munitions, to which the UK is party, entered into force in 2010. The UK has denied Saudi use of cluster munitions in Yemen. On 24 May 2016, the UK’s then-Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told parliament that “there is no evidence yet that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions” in Yemen.[26] The UK’s last transfer of BL-755 cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia was in 1989.[27] At the First Review Conference, the UK led an unsuccessful attempt with the support of Australia and Canada to weaken language in the draft Dubrovnik Declaration condemning any use of cluster munitions by any actor.[28]

Brazil has not commented on the evidence that its ASTROS cluster munition rockets have been used by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. In May 2016, HRW provided Brazilian government officials with the research findings, including photographs received from local activists in Hajja governorate that show unexploded submunitions from the rocket attacks.[29]

Since the convention’s intersessional meetings in June 2015, states have continued to express concern at or condemn new use of cluster munitions in Yemen.[30]

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.”[31]

On 12 January 2016, the Netherlands in its capacity as president of the convention’s Sixth Meeting of States Parties expressed its deep concern at reported cluster munition use in Yemen.[32] At the Conference on Disarmament on 29 February 2016, the Netherlands Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders said he was “deeply concerned about reports of the use of cluster munitions in the Yemen conflict” and called on all countries to “refrain from using cluster munitions.”[33]

Previously, Costa Rica as president of the convention’s Fifth Meeting of States Parties and Croatia as president of the First Review Conference both condemned the use of cluster munitions in Yemen.[34]

The UN, the ICRC, and the CMC have condemned the use of cluster munitions in Yemen. On 25 February 2016, the European Parliament (EP) adopted another resolution condemning the Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen, including the use of cluster bombs. It adopted a similar resolution on 9 July 2015.[35]

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.[36] Remnants of CBU-52 cluster bombs were filmed near Saada City.[37] 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.[38] Yemen’s Soviet-supplied aircraft are capable of delivering Soviet-made RBK cluster bombs.

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.[39] Neither the US nor the Yemeni government has publicly responded to confirm or deny the use.[40] 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.”[41] 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 property damaged. An October 2013 report by HRW found the cluster munition remnants from the 2009 attack at al-Ma‘jalah were never cleared and killed four civilians and wounded 13 more since the strike occurred.[42]

[1] Statement of Yemen, Mine Ban Treaty Intersessional Meetings, Geneva, 19 May 2016. Notes by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

[2]Implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” UNGA Resolution 70/54, 7 December 2015. It also abstained during the first round of voting on the draft resolution in the UNGA First Committee on Disarmament and International Security on 4 November 2015. “Implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” UNGA Resolution AC.1/70/L.49/Rev.1, 4 November 2015.

[3] 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.

[4] 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.

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

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

[7] 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).

[8] HRW conducted four research missions to Yemen since May 2015, documenting 16 cluster munition attacks that killed 19 civilians and wounded 66. Email from Belkis Wille, Senior Researcher, HRW, 22 May 2016. Between July 2015 and April 2016, Amnesty International documented 10 cases in which 16 civilians were injured or killed by cluster munition attacks and from their remnants. Nine were children, two of whom were killed. Amnesty International, “Children among civilians killed and maimed in cluster bomb minefields in Yemen,” 22 May 2016.

[9] The “ZP-39” is a dual-purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM) type submunition but its manufacturer and delivery system are not publicly known or reported by standard international reference materials. HRW, “Yemen: Cluster Munitions Harm Civilians,” 31 May 2015.

[10]اليمن : إسقاط طيران العدوان السعودي الامريكي قنابل مظلية محرمة دوليا,” 17 April 2015, HRW found these cluster munitions were used within 600 meters of villages, in possible violation of US law. HRW, “Yemen: Saudi-led Airstrikes Used Cluster Munitions,” 3 May 2015.

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

[12] The US states 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.” Jeff Rathke, Acting Deputy Spokesperson, US State Department Press Conference, 4 May 2015.

[13] 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 field researchers also identified BLU-108 with their “skeet” still attached following the 21 May 2015 attack in Sanaa and the 15 February 2016 attack in Amran. HRW, “Yemen: Cluster Munitions Harm Civilians,” 31 May 2015; and HRW, “Yemen: Saudis Using US Cluster Munitions,” 6 May 2016.

[14] A woman and two children were injured in their homes by CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons used on 12 December 2015, on the port town of Hodaida, while at least two civilians were wounded in an attack near al-Amar village in Saada governorate on 27 April 2015.

[16] Sudarsan Raghavan, “A cluster bomb made in America shatters lives in Yemen’s capital,” The Washington Post, 10 July 2016.

[17] Ben Anderson, Samuel Oakford, and Peter Salisbury, “Dead Civilians, Uneasy Alliances, and the Fog of Yemen's War,” VICE News, 11 March 2016.

[19] Statement of Yemen, Mine Ban Treaty Intersessional Meetings, Geneva, 19 May 2016. Notes by HRW.

[20] 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.

[21] 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 armored 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. Asiri informed CNN on 11 January 2016 that it has used cluster munitions against concentrated rebel camps and armored vehicles, but never against civilian populations. “Rights group: Saudi Arabia used US cluster bombs on civilians,” CNN, 29 February 2016.

[22]New Report of US-Made Cluster Bomb Use by Saudis in Yemen,” The New York Times, 14 February 2016.

[23] A diplomatic representative of the UAE told the Cluster Munition Coalition that the UAE is not using CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons because they are banned by the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. Interview with UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative, Geneva, 12 April 2016.

[24] A US Defense Department official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told U.S. News and World Report in August 2015 that “the U.S. is aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions in Yemen.”

[25] According to the Foreign Policy article, a senior US official said the administration acknowledges reports that the weapons had been used “in areas in which civilians are alleged to have been present or in the vicinity” and added: “We take such concerns seriously and are seeking additional information.” John Hudson, “White House blocks transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia,” Foreign Policy, 27 May 2016; and HRW, “US: Stop Providing Cluster Munitions,” 2 June 2016.

[26] Jeremy Binney, “UK rejects claim BL 755 cluster munition used in Yemen,” IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, 26 May 2016.

[28] HRW, “Nations Condemn Cluster Munition Attacks,” 11 September 2015.

[29] Email from Priyanka Motaparthy, Emergencies Researcher, HRW, 14 February 2016.

[30] Countries that have expressed concern at or condemned the use of cluster munitions in Yemen through national statements include: Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi, Costa Rica, Croatia, Ecuador, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Portugal.

[31]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.

[32] Permanent Representation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Geneva, “CCM President expresses concern over the use of cluster munitions in Yemen,” 12 January 2016.

[33] Statement by Bert Koenders, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, Conference on Disarmament, Geneva, 29 February 2016.

[34] Costa Rica, “Costa Rica condena el uso de municiones en racimo en Yemen,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 5 May 2015; and statement of Croatia, Convention on Cluster Munitions Intersessional Meetings. Geneva, 23 June 2015. Notes by HRW.

[35] European Parliament. “Resolution on the humanitarian situation in Yemen,” 25 February 2016; and European Parliament, “Joint Motion for a Resolution on the situation in Yemen,” 8 July 2015. The earlier resolution was adopted without a vote.

[36] 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, UN Development Programme (UNDP) Yemen, 9 July 2013.

[37]VICE on HBO Debriefs: Crude Awakening & Enemy of My Enemy,” aired on HBO 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.

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

[39] 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.

[40] 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.

[41] It also called on the Yemeni authorities to compensate victims and clear cluster munition remnants from the attack site. 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.

[42] The most recent recorded 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. HRW, “Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda,” 22 October 2013.