Cluster Munition Ban Policy

Last updated: 27 August 2019

Summary: Non-signatory Syria has shown little interest in the convention and government forces have used cluster munitions since mid-2012. Syria abstained from voting on a key United Nations (UN) resolution on the convention in December 2018.

Syria is not known to have produced or exported cluster munitions and it has denied possessing or using cluster munitions. More than a dozen types of air-dropped and ground-launched cluster munitions have been used in Syria. The use of cluster munitions in Syria has caused widespread harm that has been met with strong condemnation.


The Syrian Arab Republic has not acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Syria has shown little interest in the convention and has taken no steps to join it. The Syrian government commented publicly once, in 2011, on the convention. It expressed appreciation for the international effort to ban cluster munitions, which it described as “criminalized by humanity” but said that Syria “cannot sign due to Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights.”[1]

Syria did not engage in the Oslo Process that created the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Syria participated as an observer in the convention’s Second Meeting of States Parties in Beirut, Lebanon in September 2011. This marked its first and to date only attendance at a meeting of the convention.

In December 2018, Syria abstained from the vote on a key UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution that urges states outside the Convention on Cluster Munitions to “join as soon as possible.”[2] Syria has not explained the reasons why it has abstained from voting on this annual UNGA resolution promoting the convention since it was first introduced in 2015.

Syria is not party to the Mine Ban Treaty. It is also not party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons.

Production and transfer

Syria is not known to have produced or exported cluster munitions, but it imported and stockpiles them.


Based on widespread evidence of cluster munition use since 2012, Syria has imported or otherwise received at least 13 types of cluster munitions, as listed in the following table. When and how the Syrian government obtained these cluster munitions, and in what quantities, remains unknown.[3]

Types of cluster munitions used in Syria since 2012[4]


Cluster munition name

Number of submunitions

Country produced


RBK-250 PTAB-2.5M



RBK 250-275 AO-1SCh



RBK-500 AO-2.5RT/RTM






RBK-500 ShOAB-0.5







Uragan (9M27K-series)



Smerch (9M55K)




56 or 72



9M79 Tochka ballistic missile with 9N123K warhead containing

9N24 submunitions















Research continues to show that Syrian government forces are primarily responsible for using cluster munitions in the country. There were at least 38 separate cluster munition attacks between July 2018 and June 2019. The Monitor reviewed, but could not confirm, additional evidence of more than two dozen possible cluster munition attacks.

Previously, Cluster Munition Monitor 2018 reported at least 636 cluster munition attacks in Syria between July 2012 and July 2018, including 36 attacks between August 2017 and July 2018.

The extent of cluster munition use was certainly much higher, as many attacks likely went unrecorded. Local residents, journalists, activists, and first responders continue to record and share evidence of cluster munition use in Syria, but such first-hand information has become increasingly scarce. Additionally, videos and photographs of cluster munition remnants often do not provide information on the date or circumstances of use.

During 2018 and the first half of 2019, most cluster munition attacks were recorded in the governorate of Idlib. All of the country’s 14 governorates except Tartus have experienced the use of cluster munitions since 2012.

Human Rights Watch investigated two cluster munition attacks on 19 and 23 May 2019 using 9N235 submunitions in Idlib that killed at least 13 civilians, including three children.[5] The Syria Network for Human Rights identified at least 43 cluster munition attacks in the first half of 2019, nearly all in Idlib governorate.[6]

There is strong evidence that Russia stockpiles cluster munitions in Syria at its airbase at Hmeymim, southeast of Latakia city, and that it uses cluster munitions in Syria or, at a minimum, directly participates together with Syrian government forces in attacks using cluster munitions on opposition-held areas.[7] There was a significant increase in the use of cluster munitions in Syria after Russia initiated a joint operation with Syrian government forces on 30 September 2015.[8] Russia has not explicitly denied its involvement in using cluster munitions in Syria, but claims that cluster munitions have been used in accordance with international humanitarian law and not indiscriminately.[9]

There has been no evidence to indicate that the United States (US) or its partners have used cluster munitions in the coalition Operation Inherent Resolve against the non-state armed group Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq that began in 2014.[10]

IS used cluster munition rockets in Syria in 2014 and may have continued to use them since then.[11] As the Syrian conflict continues, it is not possible to determine with confidence if other armed groups have used cluster munitions. There is evidence that opposition forces have repurposed unexploded submunitions for use in air-delivered and ground-emplaced improvised explosive devices (IEDs). When activated by their victim, such devices are considered antipersonnel landmines prohibited by the Mine Ban Treaty.[12]

All except two types of the cluster munitions used in Syria since 2012 were manufactured by the Soviet Union/Russia.[13] When the Syrian government began its air campaign on rebel-held areas it used RBK-series air-dropped cluster bombs containing AO-1SCh and PTAB-2.5M bomblets beginning in mid-2012.[14] It has used air-dropped cluster bombs since then, including RBK-500 cluster bombs containing ShOAB-0.5 submunitions and AO-2.5RT and PTAB-2.5KO submunitions.[15]

More advanced RBK-500 SPBE bombs containing SPBE sensor fuzed submunitions and a ground-fired 240mm 3-O-8 rocket-assisted mortar projectile have only been used in Syria since Russia entered into its joint operation with Syrian government forces in September 2015.[16]

Government forces first started to use ground-launched cluster munitions at the end of 2012, deploying multi-barrel rocket launchers to fire 122mm SAKR cluster munition rockets containing DPICM submunitions.[17] In early 2014, Syrian government forces began to use Smerch 9M55K and Uragan 9M27K-series surface-to-surface rockets containing 9N235 submunitions fitted with self-destruct mechanisms.[18] Syrian government forces have also used Tochka 9M79-series ballistic missiles.

Responses to the use of cluster munitions

The Syrian military has denied possessing or using cluster munitions, but rarely responds to or comments on new use of cluster munitions.[19] IS has not responded to its reported use of cluster munitions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has not explicitly denied Russia’s involvement in using cluster munitions in Syria, but rather claims that cluster munitions have been used in accordance with international humanitarian law and not indiscriminately.[20] In 2015, the Russian Defense Ministry denied Russian aviation use of cluster munitions and claimed “there are no such munitions at the Russian air base in Syria.”[21]

The civilian harm caused by the use of cluster munitions in Syria has attracted widespread media coverage, public outcry, and condemnations from more than 145 states.[22] In September 2018, States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions adopted a report that “expressed their strong concern regarding recent incidents and evidence of use of cluster munitions in different parts of the world and condemned any use by any actor, in conformity with article 21.” [23] During the course of the meeting, approximately 20 countries and the European Union (EU) publicly condemned or expressed grave concern over new use of cluster munitions, with most citing Syria as the key country of concern.[24]

States have adopted seven UNGA resolutions since May 2013 condemning the use of cluster munitions in Syria, including Resolution 73/182 on 17 December 2018 by a vote of 111 states in favor with 15 against and 55 abstentions, which expresses outrage at the continued use of cluster munitions.[25] Since 2014, states have adopted more than 14 Human Rights Council (HRC) resolutions condemning the use of cluster munitions in Syria. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, which reports to the HRC, has reported frequently on cluster munition use.[26]

[1] Statement of Syria, Convention on Cluster Munitions Second Meeting of States Parties, Beirut, 15 September 2011.

[2]Implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” UNGA Resolution 73/54, 5 December 2018.

[3] In 2004, Jane’s Information Group listed Syria as possessing some of the RBK-series air-dropped bombs as well as the KMGU dispensers, indicating that the stocks used after 2012 were not newly-acquired. Robert Hewson, ed., Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, Issue 44 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2004), p. 846.

[4] At the outset in 2012, markings on cluster munitions used indicated they were produced in the 1970s and 1980s; while since September 2015, most of the cluster munitions used in Syria bear production dates from 1989 into the early 1990s. Most RBK-500 SPBE cluster bombs were manufactured in 1990 and 1991.

[5] Human Rights Watch (HRW), “Russia/Syria: Flurry of Prohibited Weapons Attacks,” 3 June 2019.

[7] Russian and Syrian government forces use many of the same aircraft and weapons and frequently carry out attacks jointly. However, Russia is the only force in Syria to operate Sukhoi SU-25 and SU-34 fighter-ground attack jets that deliver RBK-series cluster bombs. HRW, Amnesty International, and others have compiled credible evidence, including videos and photographs, documenting SU-25 and SU-34 near or involved in attacks near sites when cluster munitions were used. Amnesty International, “Syria: Russia’s shameful failure to acknowledge civilian killings,” 23 December 2015; and HRW, “Russia/Syria: Daily Cluster Munition Attacks,” 8 February 2016.

[8] From the outset of the by the Russian-Syrian joint operation, there were at least 76 cluster munition attacks on opposition-controlled territory between 30 September 2015 and 20 July 2016.

[9] In 2016, Russia provided HRW with a three-page position paper on the use of cluster munitions in Syria that claimed “no cases of indiscriminate use of air weapons have been registered so far in the course of the counter-terrorist operation in Syria,” and concluded that “the question of the involvement of the Russian military personnel in the cases of indiscriminate CMs [cluster munition] use in Syria [is] totally inappropriate.” “Russia’s Position on the Use of Cluster Munitions in Syria,” Position Paper annexed to letter to HRW from Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, 9 December 2016. In the cover letter Lavrov states, “I expect our paper to be taken into account during the preparation of future Human Rights Watch reports on the activities of the Russian military personnel in the fight against terrorism in Syria.”

[10] In September 2015, the US Department of Defense listed eight Operation Inherent Resolve coalition members conducting US-led airstrikes in Iraq: Convention on Cluster Munitions non-signatory Jordan and States Parties Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. It listed nine coalition nations participating in US-led airstrikes in Syria: Convention on Cluster Munitions non-signatories Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as States Parties Australia, Canada, and France. Department of Defense, “Airstrikes Hit ISIL Terrorists in Syria, Iraq,” 30 September 2015. In 2016, a spokesperson for the US Air Force’s Central Command told the Washington Post, “We have not employed cluster munitions in Operation Inherent Resolve. This includes both U.S. and coalition aircraft.” Email from Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Writer, Washington Post, 27 July 2016. See also, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, “Despite denial, ‘growing evidence’ Russia is using cluster bombs in Syria, report says,” Washington Post, 28 July 2016.

[11] In 2014, IS forces used an unknown type of rocket-fired cluster munition that dispersed DPICM-like submunition with a distinctive red nylon ribbon called “ZP-39.” HRW, “Syria: Evidence of Islamic State Cluster Munition Use,” 1 September 2014. Markings on some of the submunitions indicate they were manufactured in 1993. Brown Moses Blog, “The markings on what’s assumed to be a Sakr submunition suggests the designation is ZP39, made in 1993,” 4 April 2014.

[12] A video uploaded to YouTube on 26 March 2014 reportedly of arms captured by government forces from rebel groups shows submunitions prepared for use as IEDs.

[13] Cluster munition rockets manufactured in Egypt have also been used in Syria, while IS has used cluster munitions rockets of unknown origin containing a DPICM-type submunition called “ZP-39” in Syria.

[14] The 250-kilogram class RBK-series cluster bombs can be delivered by jet aircraft as well as rotary wing aircraft, such as Mi-24 and Mi-8 series helicopters. Brown Moses Blog, “Evidence of cluster bombs being deployed in Syria,” 10 July 2012; and HRW press release, “Syria: Evidence of Cluster Munitions Use by Syrian Forces,” 12 July 2012.

[15] AO-2.5RT and PTAB-2.5KO submunitions are capable of being loaded into BKF cartridges and dispersed by KMG-U dispensers. The AO-2.5RT submunition can also be delivered by the RBK-500 cluster bomb.

[17] It is unclear if the 122mm rockets are SAKR-18 or SAKR-36 variants, which contain 72 and 98 submunitions respectively. The design of the fuze system in this type of submunition makes it very sensitive and submunitions that fail to explode on initial impact are liable to detonate if disturbed. HRW press release, “Syria: Army Using New Type of Cluster Munition,” 14 January 2013.

[18] Armament Research Services, “9M27K Series Cargo Rockets in Syria,” 22 February 2014; and HRW press release, “Syria: New Deadly Cluster Munition Attacks,” 19 February 2014.

[19] According to the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), “the General Command of the Army and the Armed Forces stressed on [15 October 2012] that the misleading media outlets have recently published untrue news claiming the Syrian Arab Army has been using cluster bombs against terrorists.” According to SANA, “the General [in] Command said the Syrian Army does not possess such bombs.” “Syria denies using cluster bombs,” CNN, 16 October 2012. In March 2013, Syrian diplomatic representatives denied the evidence of Syrian cluster bomb use. Letter from Firas al Rashidi, Charge d’affairs ad interim, Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic to Japan, to the Japanese Campaign to Ban Landmines, 7 March 2013.

[20]Russia’s Position on the Use of Cluster Munitions in Syria,” Position Paper annexed to letter to HRW from Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, 9 December 2016.

[21] Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, “Russian Defence Ministry commented on briefing of Amnesty International,” 23 December 2015.

[22] More than 145 countries have condemned the use of cluster munitions in Syria via national statements and/or by endorsing resolutions or joint statements. They include 95 States Parties and signatories (Afghanistan, Albania, Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Belize, Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Botswana, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Costa Rica, Cote d’Ivoire, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Denmark, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, France, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Holy See, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Lao PDR, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia FYR, Madagascar, Malawi, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Mozambique, Nauru, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Palau, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Somalia, South Africa, Spain, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, the UK, and Uruguay) and 51 non-signatories (Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Brazil, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Dominica, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, Gabon, Georgia, Greece, Israel, Jordan, Kiribati, South Korea, Kuwait, Latvia, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Micronesia, Mongolia, Morocco, Myanmar, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Turkey, Tuvalu, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, the US, Vanuatu, and Yemen).

[23] See, Final report, Convention on Cluster Munitions Eighth Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, 19 September 2018, para. 29.

[24] Belgium, China, Cuba, Croatia, France, Germany, Ghana, Holy See, Iraq, Ireland, Madagascar, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, and Turkey.

[25]Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic,” UNGA Resolution 73/182, 17 December 2018.

[26]The siege and recapture of eastern Ghouta,” HRC Report 38/CRP.3, 20 June 2018.