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Syria

Last Updated: 27 August 2013

Cluster Munition Ban Policy

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

Syria last made a statement on the Convention on Cluster Munitions in September 2011, when it told States Parties: “We appreciate the international efforts to ban the use of these weapons, but cannot sign due to Israel’s occupation of the Golan Heights.”[1]

Syria did not participate in the Oslo Process that created the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Since 2008, it has attended just one meeting of the convention. Syria participated as an observer in the convention’s Second Meeting of States Parties in Beirut, Lebanon in 2011, but it did not attend the Third Meeting of States Parties in Oslo, Norway in September 2012.

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

Production, transfer, and stockpiling

Syria is not known to have produced cluster munitions.

Based on evidence of cluster munition use by government forces in 2012 and the first half of 2013, Syria imported at least three types manufactured by the Soviet Union (now Russia): RBK-250, RBK-250-275, and RBK-500 cluster bombs.[2] Syria also possesses Grad 122mm surface-fired rockets, including at least one version produced by Egypt with a submunition payload.[3] Jane’s Information Group has listed Syria as possessing the RBK-series air-dropped bombs listed above, as well as KMG-U dispensers[4] (see section on Use below).

It is not known when Syria imported its cluster munition stockpile or in what quantities.

Use

In the year from July 2012 until June 2013, Human Rights Watch (HRW) has identified 152 locations across Syria where at least 204 cluster munitions have been used, including in the governorates of Aleppo, Idlib, Latakia, Hama, Deir ez-Zoir, Homs, Daraa, Raqqah, and Rif-Dimashq.[5] However, this data is incomplete as not all remnants have been recorded on video or by other means, so the actual number of cluster munitions used in Syria is likely much higher. Several locations have been repeatedly attacked with cluster munitions, most notably al-Za‘faraneh (near Rastan), as well as Abil (near Homs), Binnish (Idlib), Deir al-‘Assafeer (near Damascus), Douma (near Damascus), and Talbiseh (Homs).

In total, four types of cluster munitions and two types of individual submunitions have been recorded as used in Syria during the conflict, as of July 2013:[6]

1.      RBK-250 cluster bomb, each containing 30 PTAB-2.5M fragmentation submunitions;

2.      RBK-250-275 cluster bomb, each containing 150 AO-1SCh submunitions;

3.      RBK-500 cluster bomb, each containing 565 ShOAB-0.5 submunitions;

4.      122mm SAKR rockets, each containing either 72 or 98 dual purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM) submunitions;[7]

5.      PTAB-2.5KO submunitions;[8] and

6.      AO-2.5RT submunitions.[9]

Initial reports of cluster munition use emerged in mid-2012 and then increased sharply in October 2012 as government forces intensified their air campaign on rebel-held areas. The cluster munition use continued in 2013.

In July 2012, Syrian activists posted videos online showing cluster munition remnants in Jabal Shahshabu, a mountainous area near Hama that had been under sustained bombardment by Syrian forces over the two weeks prior.[10] HRW identified the remnants shown in the videos as a RBK-250-275 cluster bomb and at least 20 unexploded AO-1SCh submunitions.[11] The Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) expressed strong concern and urged the Syrian authorities to confirm or deny the use of cluster munitions.[12]

In October 2012, HRW released evidence showing a marked increase in the use of cluster bombs. It recorded the use of at least 46 cluster bombs in a two-week period at more than 35 cluster bomb strike sites in or near the towns in Aleppo, Deir al-Zor, Homs, and Idlib governorates as well as near Damascus.[13]

In January 2013, HRW documented the first use of ground-launched cluster munitions in Syria when it reported that Syrian forces had used multi-barrel rocket launchers to deliver 122mm cluster munition rockets containing DPICM submunitions. The 122mm cluster munition rockets bore the markings of the Egyptian state-owned Arab Organization for Industrialization and an Egyptian company called Sakr Factory for Development Industries.[14]

In March 2013, a fourth type of cluster munition was identified when video footage was released showing the remnants of a ShOAB-0.5 submunition, the only type of submunition known to be contained in the RBK-500 cluster bomb.[15] Remnants of RBK-500 ShOAB-0.5 bombs were subsequently documented.[16]

In May 2013, the Brown Moses blog identified PTAB-2.5KO submunition from video uploaded by activists.[17]

In June 2013, the Brown Moses blog identified AO-2.5RT submunitions date-stamped 1983 in photographs reportedly taken in Harbnafeh, Hama.[18]

Responses to Syria’s cluster munition use

Syrian authorities have denied the government’s use of cluster munitions. 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 Command said the Syrian Army does not possess such bombs.”[19] In March 2013, Syrian diplomatic representatives continued to deny the evidence of Syrian cluster bomb use.[20]

As of July 2013, a total of 113 states had condemned Syria’s use of cluster munitions, most through a UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution.[21] At least 25 states have issued national statements expressing concern.[22]

Austria’s Foreign Minister, Michael Spindelegger, was the first to publicly raise concern at cluster munition use in Syria when the first reports emerged in July 2012.[23] Following reports of civilian casualties from cluster munitions in mid-October, the ministers of foreign affairs of Belgium,[24] Denmark,[25] France,[26] Germany,[27] Mexico,[28] and Norway[29] made statements condemning the use. Later in October at the UNGA First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, seven more States Parties condemned Syria’s use: Ireland,[30] Japan,[31] Netherlands,[32] New Zealand,[33] Portugal,[34] Switzerland,[35] and the United Kingdom (UK).[36]

Non-signatory Qatar told the UN Security Council it was “appalled” at Syria’s use of cluster munitions “against its own people.”[37] The United States (US) Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Susan Rice, tweeted that the cluster munition use was an example of “atrocities” by the Syrian regime.[38]

During the convention’s intersessional meetings in Geneva in April 2013, 17 states publicly condemned Syria’s continued use of cluster munitions, six for the first time: States Parties Australia,[39] Croatia,[40] Ecuador,[41] Ghana,[42] and Lao PDR,[43] and non-signatory Cambodia.[44] Later in April, Luxembourg expressed deep alarm at Syria’s use of cluster munitions during a UN Security Council debate.[45]

At a regional seminar on cluster munitions in Lomé, Togo in May 2013, Guinea-Bissau[46] and South Africa[47] explicitly condemned Syria’s cluster bomb use and joined 34 other African states participating in the meeting to endorse the Lomé Strategy on the Universalization of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which expresses “grave concern over the recent and on-going use of cluster munitions” and calls for the immediate end to the use of these weapons.[48]

On 15 May 2013, a total of 107 states voted in favor of UNGA Resolution 67/262 on “the Situation in the Syrian Arab Republic” that included a strong condemnation of “the use by the Syrian authorities of...cluster munitions.”[49] The affirmative votes included 88 nations that had not previously condemned Syria’s cluster munition use, of which 37 were non-signatories to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.[50]

On 4 April 2013, the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, urged Syria to immediately stop using cluster munitions.[51]

Throughout this period, the President of the Third Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, Norwegian Ambassador Steffen Kongstad, issued multiple statements condemning the cluster munition use; he stated in March 2013 that States Parties and others must “continue to communicate clearly to those responsible in Syria that attacks on civilians in general and the use of cluster munitions in particular must stop.”[52]

Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, in October 2012 denied that “Russian-made” cluster bombs were being used in Syria, stating there was “no confirmation” of use and noting it was “difficult” to establish where the cluster munitions came from. New York Times correspondent C.J. Chivers noted, “[t]he only charitable way to characterize that denial is to offer that perhaps Mr. Lavrov was engaging in misdirection by word play, as these weapons, by their date stamps, appeared to have been manufactured during the late Soviet period, and not during the period of the current, post-union Russian state.”[53]

Egypt did not comment on the Syrian government’s use of Egyptian-made cluster munitions.[54]

 



[1] Statement of Syria, Convention on Cluster Munitions Second Meeting of States Parties, Beirut, 15 September 2011, www.clusterconvention.org/files/2011/09/statement_syria.pdf.

[2] A review by Human Rights Watch (HRW) of the markings on the RBK-series air-dropped bombs and the submunitions contained inside them, as well as a comparison with the Soviet manuals for the weapons, show that they were manufactured at Soviet state munitions factories in the 1970s and early 1980s.

[3] It is not known if Syria was the source for Chinese Type-81 122mm cluster munition rockets fired by Hezbollah into northern Israel from southern Lebanon in July–August 2006.

[4] Robert Hewson, ed., Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, Issue 44 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2004), p. 846.

[5] HRW press release, “Syria: Mounting Casualties from Cluster Munitions,” New York, 16 March 2013, www.hrw.org/news/2013/03/16/syria-mounting-casualties-cluster-munitions.

[6] In addition, HRW has documented civilian casualties from Syrian government use of ZAB-series incendiary aircraft bombs (Zazhigatelnaya Aviatsionnaya Bomba) made by the Soviet Union, including the RBK-250 ZAB-2.5 bomb, which contains 48 incendiary ZAB 2.5 submunitions. These are not listed by the Monitor as they do not appear to be covered by the Convention on Cluster Munitions because the bombs contain incendiary and not explosive submunitions. For more information, see HRW press release, “Syria: Incendiary Weapons Used in Populated Areas,” New York, 12 December 2012, www.hrw.org/news/2012/12/12/syria-incendiary-weapons-used-populated-areas.

[7] It is not known if the 122mm rockets were the SAKR-18 or SAKR-36 type, containing 72 and 98 submunitions respectively.

[8] The PTAB-2.5KO submunitions are loaded into BFK blocks (cartridges), which are loaded into KMGU/KMGU-2 containers that are mounted on aircraft (jets and helicopters).

[9] These types of cluster submunitions can be both dropped inside RBK series cluster bombs, as with the PTAB-2.5M or AO-1SCh types, or inside a KMG-U/KMG-U-2 container.

[10] Brown Moses Blog, “Evidence of cluster bombs being deployed in Syria,” 10 July 2012, www.brown-moses.blogspot.com/2012/07/evidence-of-cluster-bombs-being.html.

[11] HRW press release, “Syria: Evidence of Cluster Munitions Use by Syrian Forces,” New York, 12 July 2012, www.hrw.org/news/2012/07/12/syria-evidence-cluster-munitions-use-syrian-forces. 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.

[12] Cluster Munition Coalition (CMC) press release, “CMC concerned over reports of cluster munition use in Syria,” 12 July 2012.

[13] The evidence included interviews with victims, other residents, and activists who filmed the cluster munitions; analysis of 64 videos; photographic evidence; and satellite imagery. See HRW press release, “Syria: New Evidence Military Dropped Cluster Bombs,” New York, 14 October 2012, www.hrw.org/news/2012/10/14/syria-new-evidence-military-dropped-cluster-bombs; and HRW press release, “Syria: Despite Denials, More Cluster Bomb Attacks,” New York, 23 October 2012, www.hrw.org/news/2012/10/23/syria-despite-denials-more-cluster-bomb-attacks.

[14] HRW press release, “Syria: Army Using New Type of Cluster Munition,” New York, 14 January 2013, www.hrw.org/news/2013/01/14/syria-army-using-new-type-cluster-munition.

[15] HRW press release, “Syria: Mounting Casualties from Cluster Munitions,” New York, 16 March 2013, www.hrw.org/news/2013/03/16/syria-mounting-casualties-cluster-munitions.

[16] “RBK-500 ShOAB-0.5 Cluster Bomb Casing,” uploaded by Brown Moses, 23 April 2013, youtu.be/DlFmS66t0DA.

[17] Brown Moses Blog, “Another New Cluster Munition Recorded in Syria,” 26 May 2013, www.brown-moses.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/another-new-cluster-munition-recorded.html.

[18] Brown Moses Blog, “The Seventh Cluster Submunition Of The Syrian Conflict Arrives,” 6 June 2013, www.brown-moses.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-seventh-cluster-submunition-of.html.

[19] “Syria denies using cluster bombs,” CNN, 16 October 2012, www.edition.cnn.com/2012/10/15/world/meast/syria-civil-war/index.html.

[20] Letter from Firas al Rashidi, Charge d’affair ad interim, Embassy of the Syrian Arab Republic to Japan, to the Japanese Campaign to Ban Landmines, 7 March 2013.

[21] “The situation in the Syrian Arab Republic,” UNGA Resolution A/67/L.63, 15 May 2013, www.un.org/News/Press/docs//2013/ga11372.doc.htm.

[22] In addition to the statements provided, please see CMC @banclusterbombs Storify, “Syria’s cluster bomb use,” www.storify.com/banclusterbombs/syria-s-cluster-bomb-use. Last updated 19 May 2013.

[23] Statement of Austria, Convention on Cluster Munitions Second Meeting of States Parties, Beirut, 13 September 2011; and Federal Ministry for European and International Affairs press release, “Spindelegger: ‘Fordere dringende Aufklärung über die Verwendung von Streumunition in Syrien’” (“Spindelegger: ‘Requesting urgent clarification on the use of cluster munitions in Syria’”), 13 July 2012, www.bmeia.gv.at/aussenministerium/pressenews/presseaussendungen/2012/spindelegger-fordere-dringende-aufklaerung-ueber-die-verwendung-von-streumunition-in-syrien.html.

[24] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development Cooperation, “Minister Reynders on the use of cluster munitions in Syria,” 17 October 2012, www.diplomatie.belgium.be/en/Newsroom/news/press_releases/foreign_affairs/2012/10/ni_171012_clustermunitie_syrie.jsp?referer=tcm:312-202152-64.

[25] Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release, “Denmark condemns the use of cluster munitions in Syria,” 18 October 2012, www.um.dk/en/news/newsdisplaypage/?newsID=94F76D80-7B8A-40EE-9374-544D64308700.

[26] LCP Assemblée Nationale, “Syrie: Fabius dénonce le recours aux bombes à sous-munitions” (“Syria: Fabius denounces the use of cluster munitions”) , 17 October 2012, www.lcp.fr/actualites/politique/141237-syrie-fabius-denonce-le-recours-aux-bombes-a-sous-munitions.

[27] “Westerwelle besorgt wegen Einsatzes von Streubomben in Syrien” (“Westerwelle concerned about use of cluster bombs in Syria”), Die Welt, 18 October 2012, www.welt.de/newsticker/news2/article110018722/Westerwelle-besorgt-wegen-Einsatzes-von-Streubomben-in-Syrien.html.

[28] Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement, “México condena el uso de municiones en racimo y hace un llamado a Siria para que se adhiera a la Convención de Oslo” (“Mexico condemns the use of cluster munitions and calls on Syria to adhere to the Oslo Convention”), 17 October 2012, www.saladeprensa.sre.gob.mx/index.php/es/comunicados/1986-292.

[29] Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release, “Norway Condemns use of Cluster Munitions in Syria,” 15 October 2012, www.regjeringen.no/en/dep/ud/press/news/2012/syria_cluster.html?id=704783.

[30] Statement of Ireland, UNGA First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, New York, 1 November 2012, www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/1com/1com12/statements/1Nov_Ireland.pdf.

[31] Statement of Japan, UNGA First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, New York, 24 October 2012, www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/1com/1com12/statements/24Oct_Japan.pdf.

[32] Statement of the Netherlands, UNGA First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, New York, 24 October 2012.

[33] Statement of New Zealand, UNGA First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, 1 November 2012, www.reachingcriticalwill.org/images/documents/Disarmament-fora/1com/1com12/statements/1Nov_NZ.pdf.

[34] Statement of Portugal, UNGA First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, New York, 1 November 2012.

[35] Statement of Switzerland, UNGA First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, New York, 24 October 2012. Notes by HRW.

[36] Statement of the UK, UNGA First Committee on Disarmament and International Security, New York, 23 October 2012.

[37] Email from Anna Fritzsche, Campaign and Research Assistant, Crisis Action, 17 October 2012. The email contained verbatim notes taken during the debate.

[38] Tweet by @AmbassadorRice, 24 October 2012, www.twitter.com/AmbassadorRice/status/261192284362653696.

[39] Statement of Australia, Convention on Cluster Munitions Intersessional Meetings 17 April 2013, www.clusterconvention.org/files/2013/04/Australia3.pdf.

[40] Statement of Croatia, Convention on Cluster Munitions Intersessional Meetings, 17 April 2013. Notes by the CMC.

[41] Statement of Ecuador, Convention on Cluster Munitions Intersessional Meetings, Geneva, 18 April 2013, www.clusterconvention.org/files/2013/04/Ecuador.pdf.

[42] Statement of Ghana, Convention on Cluster Munitions Intersessional Meetings, Geneva, 16 April 2013, www.clusterconvention.org/files/2013/04/ccm-intersec-statement-universalization-.pdf.

[43] Statement of Lao PDR, Convention on Cluster Munitions Intersessional Meetings, Geneva, 30 May 2013. Notes by the CMC.

[44] Statement of Cambodia, Convention on Cluster Munitions Intersessional Meetings, Geneva, 17 April 2013.

[45] Statement by Sylvie Lucas, Permanent Representative of Luxembourg to the UN in New York, UN Security Council, New York, 24 April 2013. Recording available at www.unmultimedia.org/radio/library/2013/04/84436.html.

[46] Statement of Guinea-Bissau, Lomé Regional Seminar on the Universalization of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, Lomé, Togo, 23 May 2013.

[47] Statement of South Africa, Lomé Regional Seminar on the Universalization of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, Lomé, Togo, 23 May 2013, www.clusterconvention.org/files/2013/05/VIII_South-Africa.pdf.

[48]Lomé Strategy on the Universalization of the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” Lomé Regional Seminar on the Universalization of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, Lomé, Togo, 23 May 2013, www.clusterconvention.org/files/2013/04/Lome-Strategy-for-the-Universalization-of-the-CCM-Final-Draft_En.pdf.

[49] “The situation in the Syrian Arab Republic,” UNGA Resolution A/67/L.63, 15 May 2013, www.un.org/News/Press/docs//2013/ga11372.doc.htm.

[50] States voting in favor of UNGA Resolution A/67/L.63 included 51 States Parties and signatories to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (Afghanistan, Albania, Andorra, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Canada, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, Colombia, Comoros, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, Gambia, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Madagascar, Malawi, Malta, Moldova, Monaco, Montenegro, Nauru, Palau, Panama, Peru, Samoa, San Marino, Senegal, Seychelles, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Sweden, and Tunisia,) and 37 non-signatories (Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Brunei Darussalam, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, Gabon, Georgia, Greece, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Latvia, Libya, Malaysia, Maldives, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Micronesia, Mongolia, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Republic of Korea, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovakia, Thailand, Tonga, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Vanuatu, and Yemen). In addition, 19 states that had previously condemned the cluster munition use also voted in favor of the resolution: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland, and the UK, as well as non-signatories Qatar and the US.

[51] European Parliament press release, “Schulz on the International Day for Mine Awareness,” 4 April 2013, www.europarl.europa.eu/the-president/en/press/press_release_speeches/press_release/2013/2013-april/press_release-2013-april-1.html.

[52] “Continued use of cluster munitions in Syria,” 22 March 2013, www.clusterconvention.org/2013/03/22/continued-use-of-cluster-munitions-in-syria/.

[53] The Gun blog, “Data Sharing: The ATK-EB Fuze,” 28 December 2012, www.cjchivers.com/post/39051905571/data-sharing-the-atk-eb-fuze-commonly.

[54] In January 2013, Morsi officials deferred media questions, stating, “[a]ny comment on this subject should come from a military official in the armed forces.” “Morsi mum on reports that Egyptian cluster bombs used by Syria,” World Tribune, 29 January 2013, www.worldtribune.com/2013/01/29/morsi-mum-on-reports-that-egyptian-cluster-bombs-used-by-syria/. According to local media, retired Maj. Gen. Dr. Mahmoud Khalaf, an advisor at Nasser Higher Military Academy, denied that Egypt had manufactured “this kind of unlawful weapon” and stressed Egypt’s commitment to “international conventions.” See “Egypt denies making cluster bombs for Syria’s Assad,” Al Bawaba, 15 January 2013, www.albawaba.com/news/syria-bombs-egypt-463900.