Libya

Cluster Munition Ban Policy

Last updated: 05 September 2023

Summary: Non-signatory Libya has expressed interest in the Convention on Cluster Munitions, but has not taken any steps to join it. Libya last participated in a meeting of the convention in September 2021. It voted in favor of a key United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution promoting the convention in December 2022.

Libya is not known to have produced or exported cluster munitions, but it has imported them and possesses a stockpile. The last alleged use of cluster munitions in Libya was in 2019 by forces affiliated with the Libyan Arab Armed Forces (LAAF).

Policy

Libya has not acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Libya has expressed interest in the convention, but has not taken any steps to accede to it.[1] The process of Libya acceding is challenging as a political stalemate has indefinitely delayed national elections that were scheduled at the end of 2021. Since March 2022, two authorities have sought to govern the country: the incumbent interim Government of National Unity in Tripoli, which is recognized by the United Nations (UN), and the eastern-based Government of National Stability.

Under the former government of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya participated in three regional conferences held during the 2007–2008 Oslo Process that created the Convention on Cluster Munitions. However, Libya 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 at the convention’s meetings, most recently the Second Review Conference held in November 2020 and September 2021.[3] Libya was invited to, but did not attend, the convention’s Tenth Meeting of States Parties in Geneva in August–September 2022.

In December 2022, Libya voted in favor of a key 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.

Libya is not party to the Mine Ban Treaty or the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW).

Production, transfer, and stockpiling

Libya is not known to have produced or exported cluster munitions, but it has imported them and possesses a stockpile.

From the use of cluster munitions in past 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.[5] In 2004, Jane’s Information Group listed Libya as possessing KMGU dispensers (which deploy submunitions) and RBK-500 series cluster bombs.[6] Spain confirmed transferring 1,055 MAT-120 cluster munitions containing 22,155 submunitions to Libya in 2006 and 2008.[7]

Libya has not shared information on the types and quantities of its stockpiled cluster munitions. During the uprising that led to the fall of the Gaddafi regime in 2011, abandoned and unsecured stocks of cluster munitions were seized by anti-government forces and civilians, and subjected to North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) airstrikes. There has been no systematic or coordinated stockpile destruction effort by successive interim governments or clearance operators in Libya.

Use

There have been no reports or allegations of new use of cluster munitions in Libya since 2019.

Previous use

The last recorded use of cluster munitions in Libya was when forces affiliated with the LAAF, formerly known as the Libyan National Army (LNA), used air-dropped cluster munitions in Tripoli on or around 2 December 2019.[8] The LAAF took responsibility for conducting an attack on Zuwarah Airport on 15–16 August 2019 that involved the use of RBK-500 cluster munitions.[9] In June 2019, the Government of National Accord (GNA) released undated photographs showing the remnants of RBK-250 cluster bombs and various submunitions, which it said were “discovered in greater Tripoli and other areas (Ras al-Lufa, al-Sawani, al-Aziziyah, al-Tugar Mosque and Bir al-Ghanem)” following airstrikes by LAAF forces in May 2019.

Between 2015 and 2018, there were allegations and some evidence of use of cluster munitions in Libya, but the Monitor was not able to conclusively attribute responsibility.[10] An aviation blogger documented cluster munitions being loaded onto LNA aircraft which were used to conduct aerial attacks against opposition forces in 2016–2018.[11] Investigations by international human rights organizations found evidence of LNA cluster bomb use in late 2014 and early 2015.[12]

Government forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi used at least three different types of cluster munitions in Libya during 2011:

  • RBK-250 PTAB-2.5M cluster bombs in Ajdabiya in March;
  • MAT-120 cluster munition mortar projectiles in Misrata in April; and
  • Dual-purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM)-like submunitions, delivered by 122mm cargo rockets, in the Nafusa Mountains near Jadu and Zintan on an unknown date.[13]

At least 14 states and the European Union (EU) expressed concern over or condemned this use of cluster munitions.[14]

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.[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]

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 amid the 1986–1987 conflict.[17]

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.[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” to the convention. Statement of Libya, Convention on Cluster Munitions Third Meeting of States Parties, Oslo, 12 September 2012. Notes by the 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 had previously participated as an observer at the convention’s Meetings of States Parties in 2010, 2012–2013, and 2016, as well as the First Review Conference in Dubrovnik in 2015, and regional workshops.

[4]Implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” UNGA Resolution 77/79, 7 December 2022.

[5] HRW, “Libya: Evidence of New Cluster Bomb Use,” 14 March 2015.

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

[7] The transfer took place before Spain instituted a moratorium on the 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, 22 June 2011.

[8] 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 munition remnants before the attack. HRW, “Libya: Banned Cluster Munitions Used in Tripoli,” 13 February 2020.

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

[11] A photograph showed an 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, 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, undated; 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, 11:24 UTC. Tweet; 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, 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.

[12] LNA forces used cluster bombs in Bin Jawad on or around 9 January 2015; 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,” 14 March 2015.

[13] See, ICBL-CMC, “Country Profile: Libya: Cluster Munition Ban Policy,” updated 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 (UK).

[15] NATO letter to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Libya, 15 February 2011. Cited in Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), “Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya,” A/HRC/19/68, 2 March 2012, p. 168.

[16] Submunitions were also ejected from ammunition storage bunkers at a military depot near the town of Mizdah, 160km 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 of HRW, Group of Governmental Experts meeting on CCW Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War, Geneva, 25 April 2012.

[17] Humanity & Inclusion (HI), 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: Presidio Press, 1988), p. 423.

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