Cluster Munition Ban Policy

Last updated: 27 July 2019

Summary: Non-signatory Libya has expressed interest in the convention, but has taken no steps to join it. Libya has participated in meetings of the convention, most recently in September 2016. It voted in favor of a key United Nations (UN) resolution on the convention in December 2018.

Libya is not known to have produced or exported cluster munitions, but it imported them and possesses a stockpile. The Monitor has not able to independently confirm alleged use of cluster munitions in Libya this year.


Libya has not acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Libya has expressed interest in the convention, but has taken no steps over the past decade to join it.[1]

A Government of National Accord (GNA) resulting from a 2015 UN-facilitated political process has continued to function in Libya despite continued hostilities between two major factions to the agreement, namely the House of Representatives allied with General Khalifa Hiftar in the east of Libya, who commands the Libya National Army (LNA), and the alliance of militias known as the Libyan Dawn coalition that controls most of western Libya. Other parts of Libyan territory are controlled or contested by smaller militias.

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 meetings of the convention, but not since September 2016.[3]

In December 2018, Libya voted in favor of a UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution that urges 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.

Libya is not party to the Mine Ban Treaty. It is also has not joined the Convention on Conventional Weapons.

Production, transfer, and stockpiling

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

The current status and composition of Libya’s stockpiled cluster munitions is not known, particularly comprehensive information on the types, quantities, and storage locations.Stockpiled cluster munitions were seized by anti-government forces and civilians 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 international actors.

From the use of cluster munitions in recent years, it is clear 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.[5] Additionally, in the past, Jane’s Information Group listed Libya as possessing KMGU dispensers (which deploy submunitions) and RBK-500 cluster bombs.[6]

Spain confirmed transferring 1,055 MAT-120 cluster munitions containing 22,155 submunitions to Libya in 2006 and 2008.[7]


There have been allegations and some indicators of new use of cluster munitions in Libya in the past year, but the Monitor has not been able to independently confirm this or identify who may be responsible. Continued conflict limits access to strike sites and there is a lack of independent media and local reporting from inside the country.

In May 2019, LNA forces loyal to General Hiftar were accused of using cluster bombs in attacks in and around Tripoli.[8] GNA’s “Volcano of Wrath” released more than 30 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).”[9]

LNA forces may have used cluster munitions in air attacks on opposition forces in the period since 2015.[10] An aviation-focused blogger has documented cluster munitions loaded on to LNA aircraft that were subsequently used to conduct air attacks on opposition forces in 2016–2017 and through to June 2018.[11] Investigations by international human rights organizations found evidence of LNA cluster bomb use in late 2014 and early 2015.[12]

Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) provide air support to the forces of Khalifa Hiftar. Both states possess cluster munitions and have not acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Previous use

Government forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi used three different types of cluster munitions at various locations during the 2011 conflict: 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.[13] At least 10 states and the European Union expressed concern over or condemned the use of cluster munitions in Libya in 2011.[14]

There is no evidence of cluster munition use by the countries involved in the NATO military action in in Libya in 2011, including by the United States (US) and other states that have not yet joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions. In its formal response to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Libya, NATO confirmed that it did not use cluster munitions in the Libya operation.[15] However, NATO airstrikes on ammunition storage facilities created hazards when munitions stored by Libya, including cluster munitions, were ejected into the surrounding environment.[16]

Previous use before 2010

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.[17]

The 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.[18]

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.[19]

[1] In 2012, Libya told States Parties that it was “committed” 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. At the Kampala Conference on the Convention on Cluster Munitions in September 2008, Libya endorsed the Kampala Action Plan, which urged African states to sign and ratify the convention as soon as possible. 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 2015. It has attended regional workshops on cluster munitions, most recently in Lomé, Togo in May 2013.

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

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

[6] Robert Hewson, ed., Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, Issue 44 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2004), p. 842.

[7] 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.

[8] 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 Hifter forces. Sami Zaptia, “Tripoli forces claim successes and accuse Hafter of using cluster bombs and internationally banned phosphorus bombs,” Libya Herald, 20 June 2019.

[9] Oded Berkowitz (@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, Tweet.

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

[11] 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. Arnaud Delalande (@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, 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; Arnaud Delalande (@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, Tweet; and Arnaud Delalande (@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, Tweet; and Arnaud Delalande, “All Bets Are Off as a Surprise Offensive Roils the Libyan War,” War is Boring, 6 March 2017.

[12] 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.

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

[14] 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.

[15] 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.

[16] 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.

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

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

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