Cluster Munition Ban Policy

Last updated: 21 November 2020

Ten-Year Review: Non-signatory Libya has expressed interest in the convention, but has not taken any steps to join it. Libya has participated in meetings of the convention, but not since September 2016. Libya voted in favor of a key United Nations (UN) resolution promoting the convention in December 2019.

Libya is not known to have produced or exported cluster munitions, but it has imported them and possesses a stockpile. There were allegations of new use of cluster munitions by forces affiliated with the Libyan National Army (LNA) during 2019.


Libya has not acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

While Libya has expressed interest in the convention, it has not taken any steps to accede to it.[1]

The UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) has continued to function in Libya since 2015 despite continued hostilities between two major factions to the agreement, namely the LNA in the east commanded by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, and the Libyan Dawn alliance of militias that controls parts of western Libya. Smaller militias control or contest other parts of Libyan territory.

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.[2] Libya did not attend the Oslo Signing Conference in December 2008.

Libya has participated as an observer in several meetings of the convention, but not since September 2016.[3]

In December 2019, Libya voted in favor of a key UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution urging states outside the Convention on Cluster Munitions to “join as soon as possible.”[4] Libya has voted in favor of the annual UNGA resolution promoting the convention since it was first introduced in 2015.

In June 2020, Libya voted in favor of a Human Rights Council resolution condemning the use of cluster munitions in Syria.[5]

Libya is not party to the Mine Ban Treaty nor the Convention on Conventional Weapons.

Production, transfer, and stockpiling

Libya is not known to have produced or exported cluster munitions. It imported cluster munitions and possesses them, but has not shared information on the types or quantities stockpiled.

The current status of Libya’s stockpiled cluster munitions is unknown; particularly comprehensive information on where the munitions are stored. Stockpiled cluster munitions were seized by anti-government forces and civilians during the uprising that led to the fall of the Gaddafi regime in 2011, after storage facilities at arms depots were abandoned by government forces and subjected to NATO airstrikes. There has been no systematic or coordinated stockpile destruction effort by successive interim governments or clearance operators in Libya.

From the use of cluster munitions in recent years, it is apparent that Libya has stockpiled air-dropped bombs (RBK-series bombs containing AO-1SCh and PTAB-2.5M submunitions), ground-fired munitions (MAT-120 mortar projectiles containing submunitions), and an unidentified type of submunition contained in Grad-type 122mm surface-to-surface rockets.[6] In 2004, Jane’s Information Group listed Libya as possessing KMGU dispensers (which deploy submunitions) and RBK-500 cluster bombs.[7] Spain confirmed transferring 1,055 MAT-120 cluster munitions containing 22,155 submunitions to Libya in 2006 and 2008.[8]


During 2019, there were several instances or allegations of cluster munition use in Libya by forces affiliated with the LNA. According to Human Rights Watch, LNA forces used cluster munitions in an airstrike on Tripoli, on or around 2 December 2019.[9]

An investigation by the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) into a 15–16 August 2019 attack on Zuwarah Airport that caused two casualties found RBK-500 cluster munition remnants at the site. LNA forces loyal to Field Marshal Haftar took responsibility for conducting the strike and possess RBK-500 cluster bombs.[10]

LNA forces were accused of using cluster bombs in May 2019 in attacks in and around Tripoli.[11] The GNA’s “Volcano of Wrath” military campaign against Field Marshal Haftar released undated photographs—that were not geolocated—showing the remnants of Soviet/Russian RBK-250 cluster bombs and various submunitions reportedly “discovered in greater Tripoli and other areas (Ras al-Lufa, al-Sawani, al-Aziziyah, al-Tugar Mosque and Bir al-Ghanem).”[12]

Previous use

Between 2015 and 2018, there were allegations and some evidence of new use of cluster munitions in Libya, but the Monitor was not able to conclusively attribute responsibility to LNA forces.[13] An aviation blogger documented cluster munitions being loaded on to LNA aircraft used to conduct air attacks on opposition forces in 2016–2018.[14] Investigations by international human rights organizations found evidence of LNA cluster bomb use in late 2014 and early 2015.[15]

Government forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi used at least three different types of cluster munitions at various locations in Libya in 2011: MAT-120 cluster munition mortar projectiles in Misrata in April, RBK-250 PTAB-2.5M cluster bombs in Ajdabiya in March, and DPICM-like submunitions delivered by 122mm cargo rockets in the Nafusa Mountains near Jadu and Zintan on an unknown date.[16] At least 10 states and the European Union (EU) expressed concern over or condemned this use of cluster munitions.[17] In its formal response to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Libya, NATO confirmed that it did not use cluster munitions in Libya in 2011.[18] However, NATO airstrikes on ammunition storage facilities created hazards when munitions stored by Libya, including cluster munitions, were ejected into the surrounding environment.[19]

Libyan forces used air-delivered cluster munitions, likely RBK-series cluster bombs containing AO-1SCh and PTAB-2.5 submunitions, at various locations during an intervention in Chad during the 1986–1987 conflict.[20]

The United States (US) Navy used Mk.-20 Rockeye cluster bombs during an attack on Libyan ships on 25 March 1986, while US Navy aircraft dropped 60 Rockeye bombs on Benina airfield on 14–15 April 1986.[21]

In 2009, a commercial oil company survey crew in Libya found the remnants of a German World War II-era SD-2 “butterfly bomb” (an early version of a cluster bomb) and destroyed the remnants of another six such cluster bombs.[22]

[1] In 2012, Libya told States Parties that it was “committed” to the convention. Statement of Libya, Convention on Cluster Munitions Third Meeting of States Parties, Oslo, 12 September 2012. Notes by the Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC).

[2] 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. In September 2008, Libya endorsed an action plan issued by the Kampala Conference on the Convention on Cluster Munitions, committing to sign and ratify the convention. 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.

[3] Libya participated as an observer in convention’s Meetings of States Parties in 2010, 2012–2013, and 2016, as well as the First Review Conference in Dubrovnik, Croatia in 2015, and regional workshops.

[4]Implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” UN General Assembly (UNGA) Resolution 74/62, 12 December 2019.

[5]Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic,” Human Rights Council Resolution 43/28, 22 June 2020.

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

[7] Robert Hewson, ed., Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, Issue 44 (Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, 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] HRW visited the site of the attack in December 2019 and found remnants of two RBK-250 PTAB 2.5M cluster bombs, apparently used in the attack. There were no reports of casualties and the area was not known to be contaminated by cluster munitions before the attack. HRW, “Libya: Banned Cluster Munitions Used in Tripoli,” 20 February 2020.

[11] This is according to a 19 June 2019 press briefing by the Faiez Serraj-aligned Volcano of Rage operations room (Burkan Alghadab), which coordinates the fight against the Gen. Haftar’s LNA forces. Sami Zaptia, “Tripoli forces claim successes and accuse Hafter of using cluster bombs and internationally banned phosphorus bombs,” Libya Herald, 20 June 2019.

[12] Berkowitz, Oded (Oded121351), “#Libya- #GNA Volcano of Wrath release a reassure trove of 34 photos showing various cluster bombs & submunition discovered in greater #Tripoli and other areas (Ras al-Lufa, al-Sawani, al-Aziziyah, al-Tugar Mosque and Bir al-Ghanem). Some posted before but will re-post all.” 19 June 2019, 10:05 UTC, Tweet.

[13] Arnaud Delalande, “Libyan CBU monitoring,” AeroHistory blog, undated.

[14] A photograph showed a RBK-250–270 PTAB 2.5M cluster bomb mounted on a MiG-23 aircraft that reportedly flew sorties to southern Sebha. Delalande, Arnaud (Arn_Del), “#Libya - #LNA MiG-23UB '8008' loaded with RBK-250–270 cluster bomb seen at Brak al-Shati before taking off to strike Chadian militias southern #Sebha.” 6 June 2018, 09:53 UTC, Tweet. This is the only evidence of possible use in 2018, while there were three sightings of RBK-series PTAB-2.5M and AO-1SCh cluster munitions affixed to Libyan aircraft in 2017. Arnaud Delalande, “Libyan CBU monitoring,” AeroHistory blog, 9 July 2017; Delalande, Arnaud (Arn_Del), “Video – LNA tech. loading bombs (including RBK-250 cluster bombs) on MiG-23UB ‘8008’ before striking #Benghazi Defense Brigade this morning,” 3 March 2017, 11:24 UTC, Tweet; and Delalande, Arnaud (Arn_Del), “Video - LNA still used cluster bombs against SDB : MiG-23BN '4136' loaded with 2 RBK-250 at Benina AB this afternoon #Libya.” 3 March 2017, 16:52 UTC, Tweet; and Arnaud Delalande, “All Bets Are Off as a Surprise Offensive Roils the Libyan War,” War is Boring, 6 March 2017.

[15] LNA forces used cluster bombs in Bin Jawad on or about 9 January 2015, again on 18 December 2014, and in Sirte in December 2014 or the first quarter of 2015. Amnesty International, “Libya: Mounting evidence of war crimes in the wake of Egypt’s airstrikes,” 23 February 2015. 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, HRW, “Libya: Evidence of New Cluster Bomb Use,” 15 March 2015.

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

[17] 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 United Kingdom.

[18] 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.

[19] 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.

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

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

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