Saudi Arabia

Cluster Munition Ban Policy

Last updated: 03 July 2018

Summary: Non-signatory Saudi Arabia states that the matter of its accession to the convention is “under consideration” but has not taken any steps to accede. It has participated as an observer in several meetings of the convention, but not since 2015. Saudi Arabia abstained from voting on a key United Nations (UN) resolution promoting the convention in December 2017.

Saudi Arabia is not known to have produced or exported cluster munitions, but has imported them and possesses a stockpile. Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions, most recently in Yemen as part of its operation since March 2015 against Ansar Allah (Houthi) forces.

Policy

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Saudi Arabia has shown interest in the convention, but never taken any steps to accede ormade a public statement regarding its position on accession. In September 2017, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva said that Saudi Arabia acknowledges the humanitarian rationale for convention and said the matter of its accession to the convention is “under consideration.”[1] Previously, in 2012, the diplomatic mission in Geneva informed the Monitor that the Convention on Cluster Munitions was “still under examination by the competent authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”[2]

In December 2017, Saudi Arabia abstained from voting on a UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution urging states outside the Convention on Cluster Munitions to “join as soon as possible.”[3] It did not explain why it abstained from the non-binding resolution or from the vote on the first two UNGA resolutions on the convention in December 2015 and 2016.[4]

Saudi Arabia participated in several meetings of the Oslo Process, including the Dublin negotiations in May 2008, as an observer.[5] Yet Saudi Arabia did not attend the Convention on Cluster Munitions Signing Conference in Oslo in December 2008.

Saudi Arabia participated as an observer in previous annual Meetings of States Parties of the convention from 2010–2014 and the convention’s First Review Conference in 2015, however, it did not make any statements at these meetings. It did not attend the convention’s annual meetings in 2016 and 2017.

Saudi Arabia has voted in favor of UNGA resolutions condemning the use of cluster munitions in Syria, most recently in December 2017.[6] It has also voted in favor of Human Rights Council (HRC) resolutions condemning the use of cluster munitions in Syria, most recently in March 2018.[7]

Saudi Arabia is not party to the Mine Ban Treaty. Saudi Arabia is party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons.

Production and transfer

Saudi Arabia is not known to have produced or exported cluster munitions. It has imported and possesses cluster munitions.

In late May 2016, the Obama administration suspended all sales and deliveries of United States (US) cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia after reports that Saudi Arabia used them in civilian areas in Yemen.[8] (See Use section below.)

Stockpiling

Saudi Arabia has never provided information on the quantities or types of cluster munitions that it possesses, which are of Brazilian, US, and United Kingdom (UK) origin.

In 2013, Saudi Arabia purchased 1,300 CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons manufactured by US company Textron Defense Systems, after concluding another deal in 2011 for 404 CBU-105s.[9]

Cluster munitions previously transferred to Saudi Arabia from the US include 1,000 CBU-58 and 350 CBU-71 cluster bombs in 1970–1995.[10] The US concluded agreements with Saudi Arabia in 1991 to provide 1,200 CBU-87 Combined Effects Munitions cluster bombs and in 1992 for another 600 CBU-87 cluster bombs.[11]

Jane’s Information Group has reported that British-produced BL-755 cluster bombs are in service with the Saudi Air Force.[12] Saudi Arabia also possesses Hydra-70 and CRV-7 air-to-surface rockets, but it is not known if the stocks include the M261 submunition variant.[13]

Use

Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions, most recently in Yemen as part of its operation since March 2015 against Ansar Allah (Houthi) forces.

As a recipient of US cluster munitions, Saudi Arabia has agreed to use cluster munitions “only against clearly defined military targets and…not be used where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians.”[14]

On 26 March 2015, a Saudi Arabia-led coalition began a military operation in Yemen against Ansar Allah (Houthi) and their allied forces that was continuing as of 1 July 2018.[15] None of the states participating in the Saudi Arabia-led coalition—Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Pakistan, Qatar (until June 2017), Sudan, and United Arab Emirates (UAE)—are party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. There has been no evidence or allegations of cluster munition attacks by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen since February 2017. However, a lack of access and information means additional cluster munition attacks could have gone unrecorded since then.

Saudi Arabia has not commented on evidence that cluster munitions have been used by the coalition of states it is leading. A December 2016 statement by the coalition forces did not deny the use of cluster munitions and argued that international law does not ban their use.[16]

Use in Yemen: 2015–2017

There is evidence of at least 23 cluster munition attacks by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen involving the use of seven types of air-delivered and ground-launched cluster munitions manufactured and exported by three countries.

Cluster munition attacks in Yemen (April 2015 to February 2017)[17]

Type of cluster munition

Country of origin

Stocks possessed by

Governorate and date of attack

Air-delivered

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

US

Saudi Arabia,

UAE

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 in Sanaa, 15 February 2016

Al-Hayma in Hodaida, 5 October 2016

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

US

Saudi Arabia, Egypt

Al-Nushoor in Saada, 23 May 2015

Al-Maqash in Saada, 23 May 2015

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

US

Saudi Arabia,

Morocco

Sanaa City in Sanaa, 6 January 2016

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

UK

Saudi Arabia

Al-Khadhra in Hajja, 6 January 2016

Ground-launched

ASTROS II rocket, each containing up to 65 submunitions

Brazil

Bahrain, Qatar,

Saudi Arabia

Central Saada, 15 February 2017

al-Dhubat in Saada, 6 December 2016

Ahma in Saada, 25 October 2015

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

US

Bahrain,

Egypt,

UAE

Bani Kaladah in Hajja, April/May 2015

Al-Hazan in Hajja, May/June 2015

Malus in Hajja, 7 June 2015

Dughayj in Hajja, June/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)

Unknown

Unknown

Baqim in Saada, 29 April 2015

 

The most recent use was in February 2017 when the Saudi-led coalition fired Brazilian-made ASTROS II cluster munition rockets on at least three locations in Saada governorate, according to investigations by Amnesty International and HRW.[18]

Between April 2015 and October 2016, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition used CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons in seven attacks.[19] Saudi Arabia’s spokesperson said the coalition used a CBU-105 once, in April 2015, but claimed they are not prohibited weapons.[20] The UAE also stockpiles CBU-105s, but has denied using them in Yemen.[21]

In May 2016, the Obama administration suspended US cluster munition transfers to Saudi Arabia following reports of civilian harm in Yemen.[22] On 30 August 2016, CBU-105 manufacturer Textron Systems announced that it is stopping its production of the weapons, effectively ending US production of cluster munitions, as it was the last producer.[23]

In 2015 and the first half of 2016, the Saudi-led coalition also used BL755 cluster munitions made by the UK.[24] This marked the first time that UK-made cluster munitions had been used since the Convention on Cluster Munitions, to which the UK is party, took effect in 2010. In December 2016, Saudi Arabia committed to stop using these UK-produced cluster munitions in Yemen.[25] According to the UK, it last transferred BL755 cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia in 1989.[26]

In September 2016, States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions issued a joint declaration stating that they “condemn any use by any actor” and expressing deep concern at “any and all allegations, reports or documented evidence of the use of cluster munitions, most notably in Syria and Yemen in the past year.”[27]

Use in Yemen: 2009

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

  • The Saudi Air Force conducted airstrikes and its armed forces intervened on the ground in late 2009 in Saada governorate after fighting between the government of Yemen and Ansar Allah intensified and spilled over the border with Saudi Arabia.[28] Remnants of CBU-52 cluster bombs were filmed near Saada City.[29]
  • In 2013, 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.[30] Yemen’s Soviet-supplied aircrafts 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, in an attack on al-Ma‘jalah in Yemen’s southern Abyan governorate that killed 55 people, including 41 civilians.[31] Neither the US nor the Yemeni government has publicly denied the cluster munition use.[32] The government of Yemen accepted a 2010 Yemeni parliament report on the attack, but never implemented the recommendations to clear the contaminated area or provide compensation.[33]

Other Use

In 1991, both Saudi and US forces used cluster munitions on the territory of Saudi Arabia in response to an incursion by Iraqi armored units in the prelude to Operation Desert Storm. During the battle of Khafji in January 1991, Saudi Arabia attacked Iraqi forces with cluster munitions fired from ASTROS multi-barrel rocket launchers, which Saudi Arabia had acquired from Brazil.[34] The weapons reportedly left behind a significant number of unexploded submunitions.[35]



[1] Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) interview with Amb. Abdulaziz Alwasil, Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to UN in Geneva, Geneva, 5 September 2017.

[2] Statement of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia to the UN in Geneva, to Human Rights Watch (HRW) Arms Division, 26 April 2012.

[3]Implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions,”UNGA Resolution 72/54, 4 December 2017.

[4]Implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” UNGA Resolution 71/45, 5 December 2016; and “Implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” UNGA Resolution 70/54, 7 December 2015.

[5] For more details on Saudi Arabia’s cluster munition policy and practice up to early 2009, see HRW and Landmine Action, Banning Cluster Munitions: Government Policy and Practice (Ottawa: Mines Action Canada, May 2009), p. 235.

[6]Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic,” UNGA Resolution 72/191, 19 December 2017. Saudi Arabia voted in favor of similar resolutions in 2013–2016.

[7]The human rights situation in the Syrian Arab Republic,” HRC Resolution 37/29, 23 March 2018.

[8] According to a Foreign Policyarticle, a senior US official said the administration acknowledged reports that the weapons had been used “in areas in which civilians are alleged to have been present or in the vicinity.” 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.

[9] The contract called for the construction of 1,300 cluster bomb units by December 2015. US Department of Defense, “Contracts,” No: 593-13, 20 August 2013. See also, US Defense Security and Cooperation Agency (DSCA) news release, “Saudi Arabia – CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons,” Transmittal No. 10-03, Washington, DC, 13 June 2011.

[10] US DSCA, Department of Defense, “Cluster Bomb Exports under FMS, FY1970–FY1995,” 15 November 1995, obtained by HRW in a Freedom of Information Act request, 28 November 1995.

[11] US DSCA, Department of Defense “Notifications to Congress of Pending US Arms Transfers,” 25 July 1991.

[12] Robert Hewson, ed., Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons,Issue 44 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2004), p. 845.

[13] Colin King, ed., Jane’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal, CD-edition, 14 December 2007 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2008).

[14] This language is required by a US law restricting the export of cluster munitions. The Department of Defense alsosaid “Saudi Arabia intends to use Sensor Fused [sic]Weapons to modernize its armed forces and enhance its capability to defeat a wide range of defensive threats, to include: strong points, bunkers, and dug-in facilities; armored and semi-armored vehicles; personnel; and certain maritime threats…The Royal Saudi Air Force will be able to develop and enhance its standardization and operational capability and its interoperability with the USAF, Gulf Cooperation Council member states, and other coalition air forces.” US DSCA, Department of Defense, “Saudi Arabia – CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons,” News Release #10-03, 13 June 2011.

[15] UN-brokered ceasefires went into effect on 10 April 2016, 19 October 2016, and 19 November 2016.

[16] “International law does not ban the use of cluster munitions. Some States have undertaken a commitment to refrain from using cluster munitions by becoming party to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. Neither the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia nor its Coalition partners are State Parties to the 2008 Convention, and accordingly, the Coalition’s use of cluster munitions does not violate the obligations of these States under international law.” See, “Coalition Forces supporting legitimacy in Yemen confirm that all Coalition countries aren't members to the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” Saudi Press Agency, 19 December 2016.

[19]اليمن : إسقاط طيران العدوان السعودي الامريكي قنابل مظلية محرمة دوليا,” YouTube.com, 17 April 2015; Fatik Al-Rodaini (@Fatikr), “Types of bombs being parchuted [sic] by Saudi warplanes in Saada N #Yemen,” 12:50pm, 27 April 2015, Tweet. Another attack was recorded 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. HRW, “Yemen: Saudi-led Airstrikes Used Cluster Munitions,” 3 May 2015.

[20] Asiri informed CNN on 4 May 2015 that Saudi Arabia had used CBU-105 in Yemen against armored vehicles only, describing it as an “antivehicle 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.

[21] A diplomatic representative of the UAE told the CMC 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.

[22] 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. HRW collected evidence showing CBU-105s were used in or near civilian areas in apparent violation of US export law. A woman and two children were injured in their homes by CBU-105 attack 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. HRW also found at least three instances where CBU-105s malfunctioned as their “skeet” or submunitions did not separate from the BLU-108 canister and did not explode. HRW, “Yemen: Cluster Munitions Harm Civilians,” 31 May 2015; and HRW, “Yemen: Saudis Using US Cluster Munitions,” 6 May 2016.

[25]Saudi Arabia admits it used UK-made cluster bombs in Yemen,” The Guardian, 19 December 2016.

[27] See the political declaration annexed to the “Final report of the Convention on Cluster Munitions Sixth Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, 5–7 September 2016,” CCM/MSP/2016/9, 30 September 2016.

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

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

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

[31] 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.

[32] 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.

[33] 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.

[34] Terry Gander and Charles Cutshaw, eds., Jane’s Ammunition Handbook 2001–2002 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2001), p. 630.

[35] HRW interviews with former explosive ordnance disposal personnel from a western commercial clearance firm and a Saudi military officer with first-hand experience in clearing the unexploded submunitions from ASTROS rockets and Rockeye cluster bombs, names withheld, in Geneva, 2001–2003.