Cluster Munition Ban Policy

Last updated: 15 September 2021


Non-signatory Ethiopia has expressed interest in the convention but has not taken any steps to join it. Ethiopia last participated in a meeting of the convention in 2013. It voted in favor of a key annual United Nations (UN) resolution promoting the convention in December 2020.

Ethiopia states that it has never produced cluster munitions and denies that it has stockpiled or used cluster munitions. There is evidence that cluster bombs have been used in Ethiopia’s Tigray region in the first half of 2021, but the user and circumstances of use are not known.


The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has not acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Ethiopian officials have expressed interest in the convention but has not taken any steps to accede to it.[1] After the convention was adopted in 2008, an Ethiopian official said it was not a question of whether Ethiopia would sign, but rather when.[2]

Ethiopia attended a few meetings of the Oslo Process that created the Convention on Cluster Munitions, but it participated only as an observer in the formal negotiations in Dublin in May 2008.[3]

Ethiopia has participated as an observer in one Meeting of States Parties to the convention, in 2013.[4] It was invited to, but did not attend, the first part of the convention’s Second Review Conference held virtually in November 2020.

Ethiopia voted in favor of a UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution on the convention in December 2020 which urged states to “join as soon as possible.”[5] It has voted in favor of previous annual resolutions promoting the convention since the first one was introduced in 2015.

Ethiopia is a State Party to the Mine Ban Treaty. It is not party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW).

Production, transfer, and stockpiling

Ethiopia stated in April 2013 that it has never produced or used cluster munitions.[6] In a June 2012 letter to the Monitor, Ethiopia stated that it “does not possess cluster bombs and did not possess them during the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict.”[7]

The Monitor and others have consistently reported that Ethiopia likely still possesses cluster munition stockpiles, including Soviet or Russian-made RBK series cluster bombs, UK-made BL755 cluster bombs, and Chilean-made CB-500 cluster bombs.[8] Ethiopia also possesses Grad 122mm surface-to-surface rockets, but it is not known if these include versions with submunition payloads.[9]


Ethiopia has used cluster munitions in the past. It is unclear if the Ethiopian Air Force used cluster bombs in the country’s northern Tigray region during the first half of 2021.

Media reports and accounts and images shared on social media indicate that several types of Soviet or Russian-made RBK-series cluster bombs may have been used in attacks on Samre and Gijet southwest of the city of Mekelle on 20-25 February 2021 and on Menji and Guyya near the town of Abi-Adi Tembien on 13 June 2021.[10] The air-delivered cluster munitions reportedly used include RBK-250 PTAB-2.5M and RBK-250-275 AO-1SCh bombs. RBK-250 ZAB-2.5 incendiary weapons may have also been used and deliver submunitions containing an incendiary payload similar in effect to white phosphorus.

The Ethiopian Air Force possesses aircraft capable of delivering Soviet-made RBK-series cluster bombs. As of 31 July, Ethiopia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs has not responded to a request to confirm or deny the Ethiopian National Defence Force’s use of cluster munitions in the outbreak of hostilities in Tigray in 2020 and 2021.[11]

Previous use

Ethiopia and Eritrea both used cluster munitions during their 1998–2000 war. Although Ethiopia has denied it, there is ample evidence that it attacked several parts of Eritrea with cluster munitions. The Mine Action Coordination Center of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea identified approximately 30–40 cluster munition strikes inside Eritrea.[12] There have also been reports of Ethiopia using cluster bombs in other areas in the late 1980s and early 1990s.[13]

In 2012, Ethiopia stated that, “[Cluster] munitions from the former military regime era were left at the former Ethiopian Air Force base in Asmara, Eritrea. The Eritrean regime used some of these cluster bombs to attack an elementary school in Ayder, Tigray National Regional State on 5 June 1998 during the Ethio-Eritrean conflict. The remnants of these cluster munitions are still found in the area, some of which were presented as evidence to the Ethiopia-Eritrea Claims Commission in The Hague.”[14]

Cluster munition remnants including air-dropped PTAB-2.5M and AO-1SCh submunitions have been found near Somalia’s border with Ethiopia, near the Somali border town of Dolow.[15] The contamination is believed to date from the 1977–1978 Ogaden War between Somalia and Ethiopia, but it is unclear who was responsible for the use.[16]

[1] ICBL-CMC meeting with Assefa Chemere Kinde, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Yahwehnsi Fikru, Legal Adviser at the Ministry of Defense, and Tesfaye Daba Wakjira, Chairperson of the Foreign Affairs Standing Committee of Ethiopia’s Parliament, Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, 5 August 2016. See also, telephone interview with Fortuna Dibaco, Director, Specialized Agencies and Intergovernmental Organizations Affairs Directorate, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 27 February 2011; and Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) meeting with Fortuna Dibaco, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in New York, 21 October 2010.

[2] CMC, “CMC Newsletter, October 2008,” Issue 4, 17 November 2008.

[3] For details on Ethiopia’s policy and practice regarding cluster munitions through early 2009, see Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Landmine Action, Banning Cluster Munitions: Government Policy and Practice (Ottawa: Mines Action Canada, May 2009), pp. 201–202.

[4] It attended intersessional meetings in 2012–2014 and regional workshops on the convention, most recently in Addis Ababa in August 2016. See “The Addis Ababa Commitment on Universalization and Implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” Africa Regional Workshop on the Universalization of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, 5 August 2016.

[5]Implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” UNGA Resolution 75/62, 7 December 2020.

[6] Statement of Ethiopia, Convention on Cluster Munitions Intersessional Meetings, Geneva, 16 April 2013.

[7] Letter 066/2012-A from the Permanent Mission of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to the UN in Geneva, 13 June 2012.

[8] The types listed are based on the unexploded submunitions identified by clearance organizations at cluster munition strike sites in Eritrea. See, Mines Action Canada and Landmine Action, Explosive remnants of war and mines other than anti-personnel mines: Global Survey 2003–2004 (London: Landmine Action, 2005), pp. 60 and 64–65; Landmine Action, Explosive remnants of war: Unexploded ordnance and post-conflict communities (London: Landmine Action, 2002), pp. 50–53; and Rae McGrath, Cluster Bombs: The Military Effectiveness and Impact on Civilians of Cluster Munitions (London: Landmine Action, 2000), p. 38.

[9] International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2011 (London: Routledge, 2011), p. 424.

[10] For an example of the claims, see, Hiwot, Kindeya G. (ProfKindeya), ‘‘These are the bombs that jets of Abiy Ahmed @AbiyAhmedAli are dropping in #Tigray against civilians everytime his forces lose battles. Some of these images seem to suggest the probable use of gas cannisters than ordinary bombs. #tigraygenocide #Tigraywillprevail @antonioguterres.’’ 21 June 2021, 06:32 UTC, Tweet; and Martin Plaut, “Situation Report EEPA HORN No. 168 – 14 June 2021,” 14 June 2021.

[11] Letter from Mary Wareham to H.E. Demeke Mekonnen, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia, 21 June 2021.

[12] For additional information, see HRW and Landmine Action, Banning Cluster Munitions: Government Policy and Practice (Ottawa: Mines Action Canada, May 2009), p. 201.

[13] Africa Watch, “Ethiopia: ‘Mengistu has Decided to Burn Us like Wood,’ Bombing of Civilians and Civilian Targets by the Air Force,” News from Africa Watch, 24 July 1990, pp. 16–17; and Africa Watch, “Evil Days: 30 Years of War and Famine in Ethiopia,” September 1991, pp. 241–242.

[14] Letter 066/2012-A from the Permanent Mission of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to the UN in Geneva, 13 June 2012. In April 2009, the Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission in The Hague awarded Ethiopia US$2.5 million “in respect of deaths and injuries, medical expenses and property damage resulting from the dropping of cluster bombs in the vicinity of the Ayder School in Mekele.” See, Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission, “Ethiopia’s Damages Claims between the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the State of Eritrea,” The Hague, 17 August 2009. According to the report, “Ethiopia’s claim in the present case is based…upon the fact that Eritrean aircraft also dropped cluster bombs that killed and wounded civilians and damaged property in the vicinity of the Ayder School and the surrounding neighborhood in Mekele town. Ethiopia states that those bombs killed 53 civilians, including 12 school children, and wounded 185 civilians, including 42 school children.” Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission, “Partial Award–Central Front–Ethiopia’s Claim 2, between the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the State of Eritrea,” The Hague, 28 April 2004, p. 24.

[15] Interview with Mohammed A. Ahmed, Director, Somalia Mine Action Authority, in Geneva, 16 April 2013.

[16] Email from Mohammed A. Ahmed, Somalia Mine Action Authority, 17 April 2013. Photographs of the cluster munition remnants are available here. It is not possible to determine definitively who was responsible for this cluster munition use. The Soviet Union supplied weapons and munitions to both sides in the Ogaden War, and foreign military forces known to have cluster munitions fought in support of Ethiopia, including the Soviet Union and Cuba.