Cluster Munition Ban Policy

Last updated: 25 August 2022


Non-signatory Syria has shown little interest in the Convention on Cluster Munitions. It abstained from voting on a key United Nations (UN) resolution promoting the convention in December 2021.

Syria is not known to have produced or exported cluster munitions, but it has acquired them and possesses stocks. The Syrian Armed Forces used cluster munitions repeatedly in 2012–2021, with the support of Russia. The use of cluster munitions in Syria has caused widespread harm, and has been met with strong international 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 on the convention once, in 2011, when it expressed appreciation for it and described cluster munitions as “criminalized by humanity.” However, Syria stated that it “cannot sign” the convention “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 was its first and, to date, only participation in a meeting of the convention.

In December 2021, Syria abstained from voting on a key United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution that urged states outside the Convention on Cluster Munitions to “join as soon as possible.”[2] Syria has not explained why it has abstained from the vote on the annual UNGA resolution promoting the convention since it was first introduced was 2015.

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

Production, transfer, and stockpiling

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

There is no publicly available information on the types and quantities of cluster munitions stockpiled by Syria. Yet based on documented use, Syria possesses at least 13 types of cluster munitions, as listed in the following table, but when and how the Syrian government obtained them is not known.[3]

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


Cluster munition

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















Note: USSR=Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.



Syrian government forces have used cluster munitions since 2012, though the Monitor is not aware of any cluster munition attacks in the period from April 2021 to July 2022. Previously, at least a dozen cluster munition attacks were recorded in Syria between August 2019 and July 2020.

In Syria, the last credible evidence of cluster munition use was near Aleppo on 14 March 2021 by government forces, but subsequent attacks may have gone unreported.[5] In northeastern Syria, the head of the Tal Tamr Military Council reportedly alleged that Turkish-backed armed groups had used cluster munitions while shelling the village of Um Kef, near Tal Tamir in al-Hasakah governorate, on 4 June 2022.[6] The Monitor was not able to independently verify the alleged attack or determine whether cluster munitions were used.

At least 687 individual cluster munition attacks were recorded in Syria from July 2012 until March 2021.

Syrian government forces have been primarily responsible for use in the country, but Russian and Syrian government forces have used many of the same aircraft and weapons, and frequently carry out operations together. There is strong evidence that Russia stockpiles cluster munitions in Syria at its airbase at Hmeymim, southeast of Latakia city, and has used them in Syria since October 2015.[7] 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.[8]

There is no evidence to indicate that the United States (US) or its partners used cluster munitions in Syria.[9] The Islamic State used cluster munition rockets in Syria in 2014, and may have used them since.[10] It has not been possible to determine with confidence if other non-state armed groups (NSAGs) in Syria have used cluster munitions.[11]

All except two types of cluster munitions used in Syria since 2012 were manufactured by the Soviet Union or its successor state, Russia.[12] The Syrian Air Force has used an array of RBK-series cluster bombs.[13] More advanced RBK-500 SPBE bombs, containing SPBE sensor-fuzed submunitions and a ground-fired 240mm 3-O-8 rocket-assisted mortar projectile, were used in Syria after Russia began its joint operation in the country in September 2015.[14]

Syrian government forces have used ground-launched cluster munitions since the end of 2012, deploying multi-barrel rocket launchers to fire 122mm SAKR cluster munition rockets containing DPICM submunitions.[15] Since 2014, Syrian government forces have used Smerch 9M55K and Uragan 9M27K-series surface-to-surface rockets, which contain 9N210 or 9N235 submunitions and are fitted with self-destruct mechanisms.[16] Syrian government forces have also used Tochka 9M79-series ballistic missiles with 9N123K cluster munition warheads.

Responses to use of cluster munitions

The Syrian military has denied possessing cluster munitions, but rarely responds to or comments on allegations of new use.[17] Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has not explicitly denied Russia’s involvement in the use of cluster munitions in Syria, but in 2016 claimed that cluster munitions have been used in accordance with international humanitarian law and not indiscriminately.[18]

The civilian harm caused by the use of cluster munitions in Syria has attracted widespread media coverage, global public outcry, and condemnations from more than 145 states.[19] In September 2019, at the Ninth Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, States Parties 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.” [20] During the course of the meeting, at least 10 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.[21]

Since May 2013, the UNGA has adopted more than nine resolutions condemning the use of cluster munitions in Syria.[22] Since 2014, states have also adopted more than 17 Human Rights Council resolutions condemning the use of cluster munitions in Syria. The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria has issued numerous reports detailing cluster munition attacks.[23]

[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 76/47, 6 December 2021.

[3] In 2004, Jane’s Information Group listed Syria as possessing some RBK-series air-dropped bombs, as well as the KMGU dispensers, indicating that stocks used after 2012 were not newly-acquired. See, Robert Hewson, ed., Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, Issue 44 (Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, 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] According to Syria Civil Defense, cluster munitions were used in attacks on Al-Hamran and Tarhin villages, east of Aleppo, on 14 March 2021. See, The White Helmets (SyriaCivilDef), “The regime and Russia's shelling on Tarhin and Al-Hamran villages east of #Aleppo yesterday has left unexploded cluster bombs that threaten the lives of civilians in the area. The #WhiteHelmets UXO teams scan the area to locate and destroy any unexploded cluster bombs.” 15 March 2021, 16:31 UTC. Tweet.

[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. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), and others have compiled credible evidence, including videos and photographs, documenting SU-25 and SU-34 jets near or involved in attacks near sites when cluster munitions were used. See, 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] 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.” See, “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.”

[9] 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 United Kingdom (UK). It listed nine coalition nations participating in US-led airstrikes in Syria: Convention on Cluster Munitions non-signatories Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and United Arab Emirates (UAE), as well as States Parties Australia, Canada, and France. See, US Department of Defense press release, “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, The Washington Post, 27 July 2016. See, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, “Despite denial, ‘growing evidence’ Russia is using cluster bombs in Syria, report says,” The Washington Post, 28 July 2016.

[10] In 2014, Islamic State forces used an unknown type of rocket-fired cluster munition that dispersed DPICM-like submunitions 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. See Higgins, Eliot (EliotHiggins), “The markings on what’s assumed to be a Sakr submunition suggests the designation is ZP39, made in 1993.” 4 April 2014, 17:27 UTC. Tweet.

[11] 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 a victim, such devices are considered antipersonnel landmines prohibited by the Mine Ban Treaty. A video uploaded to YouTube on 26 March 2014, reportedly documenting arms captured by government forces from rebel groups, shows submunitions prepared for use as IEDs. The video is no longer available.

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

[13] The 250kg 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. 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.

[15] 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. See, HRW press release, “Syria: Army Using New Type of Cluster Munition,” 14 January 2013.

[16] 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.

[17] 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.” See, “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 (JCBL), 7 March 2013.

[18]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.

[19] More than 145 countries, including 53 non-signatories, have condemned the use of cluster munitions in Syria via national statements and/or by endorsing resolutions or joint statements.

[20] See, Final report, Convention on Cluster Munitions Ninth Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, 18 September 2019.

[21] Australia, Belgium, Chile, Cuba, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Slovenia, and Sweden.

[22]Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic,” UNGA Resolution 75/193, 16 December 2020.

[23] Human Rights Council, “Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic,” Report 46/54, 21 January 2021; Human Rights Council, “Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic,” Report 43/57, 28 January 2020; Human Rights Council, ““They have erased the dreams of my children”: children’s rights in the Syrian Arab Republic,” Report 43/CRP.6, 13 January 2020; and Human Rights Council, “The siege and recapture of eastern Ghouta,” Report 38/CRP.3, 20 June 2018.