Saudi Arabia

Cluster Munition Ban Policy

Last updated: 05 September 2023

Summary: Non-signatory Saudi Arabia has not commented on the humanitarian concerns raised by cluster munitions or taken any steps to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Saudi Arabia has participated as an observer at meetings of the convention, most recently in September 2019. Saudi Arabia abstained from voting on the key annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution promoting the convention in December 2022.

Saudi Arabia is not known to have produced or exported cluster munitions, but has imported them and possesses a stockpile. Saudi Arabia used cluster munitions in 2015–2017 in Yemen, during its military operation against Ansar Allah (Houthi) forces.

Policy

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has not acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

Saudi Arabia has shown interest in the convention, but has not taken any steps to accede to it. In 2017, Saudi Arabia acknowledged the humanitarian rationale behind the convention, and said that the government was considering its position on joining.[1]

Saudi Arabia attended several meetings of the Oslo Process, including the Dublin negotiations in May 2008, as an observer.[2] Yet Saudi Arabia did not participate in the Oslo Signing Conference in December 2008 or explain why it did not sign the convention.

Saudi Arabia has participated as an observer at meetings of the convention, most recently attending the Ninth Meeting of States Parties in Geneva in September 2019.[3] Saudi Arabia was invited to, but did not attend, the Tenth Meeting of States Parties held in Geneva in August–September 2022.

In December 2022, Saudi Arabia abstained from voting on a key UNGA resolution urging states outside the Convention on Cluster Munitions to “join as soon as possible.”[4] Saudi Arabia has not explained why it has abstained from the vote on the annual UNGA resolution since it was first introduced in 2015.

Saudi Arabia has voted in favor of UNGA resolutions condemning use of cluster munitions in Syria.[5]

Saudi Arabia is not party to the Mine Ban Treaty. It is party to the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW).

Production and transfer

Saudi Arabia is not known to have produced or exported cluster munitions, but has imported them.

The United States (US) suspended its sales and deliveries of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia in May 2016, after evidence that Saudi Arabia had used cluster munitions in civilian areas of Yemen.[6]

Stockpiling

Saudi Arabia has not provided information on the quantities and types of cluster munitions in its stockpile, which includes cluster munitions manufactured in Brazil, the United Kingdom (UK), and the US.

Saudi Arabia purchased 1,300 CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons manufactured by US company Textron Defense Systems in 2013, after concluding a previous deal in 2011 for 404 CBU-105s.[7] Other US transfers of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia include 1,000 CBU-58 and 350 CBU-71 cluster bombs between 1970 and 1995.[8] In 1991, the US concluded agreements to provide 1,200 CBU-87 Combined Effects Munitions cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, and to provide another 600 CBU-87 cluster bombs in 1992.[9]

The Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) has UK-produced BL-755 cluster bombs in service, according to Jane’s Information Group.[10] The last UK transfer of BL-755 cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia occurred in 1989.[11]

Saudi Arabia also possesses Hydra-70 and CRV-7 air-to-surface rockets, but it is not known whether its stocks include the M261 submunition variant.[12]

Use

There has been no evidence or allegations of cluster munition use by Saudi Arabia in 2022 and the first half of 2023.

Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions in the past, most recently in 2015–2017 in Yemen during the military operation that it led against Ansar Allah (Houthi) forces.[13]

Previous use in Yemen

From 2015 to 2017, a Saudi Arabia-led coalition of states used seven types of air-delivered and ground-launched cluster munitions in Yemen. The cluster munitions were manufactured and exported by three countries.

Cluster munition attacks in Yemen (April 2015 to February 2017)[14]

Type of cluster munition

Country of origin

Stocks possessed by

Location and date of attack

Air-delivered

CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon,each deploying 10 BLU-108 canisters that disperse four submunitions called “skeet” by the manufacturer Textron

US

Saudi Arabia,

UAE

Al-Shaaf, Saada, 17 April 2015

Al-Amar, Saada, 27 April 2015

Harf Sofian, Amran, 29 June 2015

Sanhan, Sanaa, 1 November 2015

Al-Hayma, Hodaida, 12 December 2015

Amran, Sanaa, 15 February 2016

Al-Hayma, Hodaida, 5 October 2016

CBU-87 bomb,each containing 202 BLU-97 submunitions

US

Egypt, Saudi Arabia

Al-Nushoor, Saada, 23 May 2015

Al-Maqash, Saada, 23 May 2015

CBU-58 bomb, each containing 650 BLU-63 submunitions

US

Morocco, Saudi Arabia

Sanaa city, 6 January 2016

BL-755 cluster bomb, each containing 147 No. 2 Mk 1 submunitions

UK

Saudi Arabia

Al-Khadhra, Hajja, 6 January 2016

Ground-launched

ASTROS II rocket, each containing up to 65 submunitions

Brazil

Bahrain, Qatar,

Saudi Arabia

Ahma, Saada, 25 October 2015

Sadaa city, 6 December 2016

Sadaa city, 15 February 2017

Qahza, Saada, 22 February 2017

M26 rocket,each containing 644 M77 Dual Purpose Improved Conventional Munition (DPICM) submunitions

US

Bahrain,

Egypt,

UAE

Bani Kaladah, Hajja, April–May 2015

Al-Hazan, Hajja, May–June 2015

Malus, Hajja, 7 June 2015

Dughayj, Hajja, June–July 2015

Al-Qufl, Hajja, 14–15 July 2015

Haradh, Hajja, 25 July 2015

Al-Fajj, Hajja, 25 July 2015

“ZP-39” DPICM submunition (unknown delivery system)

Unknown

Unknown

Baqim, Saada, 29 April 2015

Note: UAE=United Arab Emirates; UK=United Kingdom; US=United States.

A December 2016 statement by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition did not deny using cluster munitions in Yemen and argued that “international law does not ban their use.”[15] Saudi Arabia’s spokesperson said that the coalition used a CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon once, in April 2015, but claimed that they are not prohibited weapons.[16] The United Arab Emirates (UAE) also stockpiles CBU-105s, but denied using them in Yemen.[17]

The Saudi Arabia-led coalition’s use of BL-755 cluster munitions marked the first recorded use of UK-made cluster munitions since the Convention on Cluster Munitions—to which the UK is a State Party—took effect in 2010.[18] Saudi Arabia committed to stop using BL-755 cluster munitions in December 2016.[19]

In September 2016, States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions issued a joint declaration stating that they “condemn any use by any actor” and expressing deep concern at “any and all allegations, reports or documented evidence of the use of cluster munitions, most notably in Syria and Yemen in the past year.”[20]

Other use

The RSAF conducted airstrikes and Saudi military forces intervened on the ground in late 2009 in Saada governorate, after fighting between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels intensified and spilled over the border into Saudi Arabia.[21] Remnants of CBU-52 cluster bombs were filmed near Saada city.[22]

In 1991, both Saudi and US forces used cluster munitions on the territory of Saudi Arabia in response to an incursion by Iraqi armored units in the prelude to Operation Desert Storm. During the battle of Khafji in January 1991, Saudi Arabia attacked Iraqi forces with cluster munitions fired from ASTROS multi-barrel rocket launchers, which Saudi Arabia had acquired from Brazil.[23] The weapons reportedly left behind a significant number of unexploded submunitions.[24]



[1] CMC interview with Amb. Abdulaziz Alwasil, Permanent Representative of Saudi Arabia to the United Nations (UN) in Geneva, Geneva, 5 September 2017. Previously, in 2012, the diplomatic mission in Geneva informed the Monitor that the Convention on Cluster Munitions was “still under examination by the competent authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” Statement of the Embassy of Saudi Arabia to the UN in Geneva, to Human Rights Watch (HRW), 26 April 2012.

[2] For more details on Saudi Arabia’s cluster munition policy and practice up to early 2009, see HRW and Landmine Action, Banning Cluster Munitions: Government Policy and Practice (Ottawa: Mines Action Canada, May 2009), p. 235.

[3] Saudi Arabia participated as an observer at the convention’s First Review Conference in Dubrovnik in 2015, and at Meetings of States Parties in 2010–2014 and 2019.

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

[5]Situation of human rights in the Syrian Arab Republic,” UNGA Resolution 77/230, 15 December 2022. Saudi Arabia voted in favor of similar UNGA resolutions on Syria from 2013–2021.

[6] According to an article in Foreign Policy, a senior US official said the administration acknowledged reports that the weapons had been used “in areas in which civilians are alleged to have been present or in the vicinity.” John Hudson, “White House blocks transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia,” Foreign Policy, 27 May 2016; and HRW, “US: Stop Providing Cluster Munitions,” 2 June 2016. As a recipient of US cluster munitions, Saudi Arabia has agreed to use cluster munitions “only against clearly defined military targets and…not be used where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians.” This language is required by a US law restricting the export of cluster munitions. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA), US Department of Defense, “Saudi Arabia – CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons,” 13 June 2011.

[7] The contract called for the construction of 1,300 cluster bomb units by December 2015. US Department of Defense, “Contracts,” No. 593-13, 20 August 2013. See also, DSCA, US Department of Defense, “Saudi Arabia – CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons,” 13 June 2011.

[8] DSCA, US Department of Defense, “Cluster Bomb Exports under FMS, FY1970–FY1995,” 15 November 1995. Obtained by HRW in a Freedom of Information Act request, 28 November 1995.

[9] DSCA, US Department of Defense, “Notifications to Congress of Pending US Arms Transfers,” 25 July 1991.

[10] Robert Hewson, ed., Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, Issue 44 (Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, 2004), p. 845. This research was confirmed in 2016 by Amnesty International, as they documented the use of this weapon in Yemen. Amnesty International, “Yemen: Evidence counters UK claims about use of British-made cluster munitions in Yemen,” 6 June 2016.

[11] Patrick Wintour, “MoD to investigate claims Saudis used UK cluster bombs in Yemen,” The Guardian, 24 May 2016.

[12] Colin King, ed., Jane’s Explosive Ordnance Disposal, CD-edition (Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, December 2007).

[13] No states participating in the Saudi Arabia-led military coalition—Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Pakistan, Sudan, and United Arab Emirates (UAE)—are party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

[14] Amnesty International press release, “Yemen: Saudi Arabia-led coalition uses banned Brazilian cluster munitions on residential areas,” 9 March 2017; HRW, “Yemen: Brazil-Made Cluster Munitions Harm Civilians,” 23 December 2016; Amnesty International press release, “Children among civilians killed and maimed in cluster bomb minefields in Yemen,” 22 May 2016; HRW, “Technical Briefing Note: Cluster Munition Use in Yemen,” February 2016; and Amnesty International press release, “Yemen: Brazilian cluster munitions suspected in Saudi Arabia-led coalition attack,” 30 October 2015.

[15] “International law does not ban the use of cluster munitions. Some States have undertaken a commitment to refrain from using cluster munitions by becoming party to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. Neither the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia nor its Coalition partners are State Parties to the 2008 Convention, and accordingly, the Coalition’s use of cluster munitions does not violate the obligations of these States under international law.” See, “Coalition Forces supporting legitimacy in Yemen confirm that all Coalition countries aren’t members to the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” Saudi Press Agency, 19 December 2016.

[16] Brig.-Gen. Ahmed Asiri informed CNN on 4 May 2015 that Saudi Arabia had used CBU-105 cluster bombs in Yemen against armored vehicles only, describing it as an “antivehicle weapon” and stating, “We do not use it against persons. We don’t have any operation in the cities.” Ben Brumfield and Slma Shelbayah, “Report: Saudi Arabia used U.S.-supplied cluster bombs in Yemen,” CNN, 4 May 2015. Asiri also acknowledged to the Financial Times that Saudi forces had used a US-made weapon that engages targets such as armored vehicles and is “equipped with self-destruct and self-deactivation features” but did not call it a cluster munition and argued that it was being used to target vehicles and not people. “Saudi Arabia accused of using cluster bombs in Yemen airstrikes,” Financial Times, 3 May 2015. Asiri told Bloomberg that the categorization of the cluster munitions as banned “isn’t correct.” Glen Carey, “Saudis Deny Sending Troops to Yemen, Reject Cluster-Bomb Report,” Bloomberg, 3 May 2015. Asiri further informed CNN on 11 January 2016 that Saudi Arabia had used cluster munitions against concentrated rebel camps and armored vehicles, but never against civilian populations. Zachary Cohen, “Rights group: Saudi Arabia used US cluster bombs on civilians,” CNN, 29 February 2016.

[17] A diplomatic representative of the UAE told the CMC that the UAE is not using CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons because they are banned by the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Interview with UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs representative, in Geneva, 12 April 2016.

[19] Rowena Mason and Ewen MacAskill, “Saudi Arabia admits it used UK-made cluster bombs in Yemen,” The Guardian, 19 December 2016.

[20] See the political declaration annexed to: “Final report of the Convention on Cluster Munitions Sixth Meeting of States Parties, Geneva, 5–7 September 2016,” CCM/MSP/2016/9, 30 September 2016.

[21] In July 2013, the Monitor reviewed photographs taken by clearance operators in Saada governorate showing the remnants of unexploded BLU-97 and BLU-61 submunitions, as well as dual-purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM) submunitions of an unknown origin. Interviews with Abdul Raqeeb Fare, Deputy Director, Yemen Executive Mine Action Center (YEMAC), Sanaa, 7 March 2013; and with Ali al-Kadri, Director, YEMAC, in Geneva, 28 May 2013; and email from John Dingley, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Yemen, 9 July 2013.

[22]VICE on HBO Debriefs: Crude Awakening & Enemy of My Enemy,” VICE News, 19 May 2014; Ben Anderson and Peter Salisbury, “US Cluster Bombs Keep Killing Civilians in Yemen,” VICE News, 17 May 2014; and “Saudi Arabia used cluster bombs against Houthi Shiites,” AhlulBayt News Agency, 19 May 2014.

[23] Terry Gander and Charles Cutshaw, eds., Jane’s Ammunition Handbook 2001–2002 (Surrey: Jane’s Information Group, 2001), p. 630.

[24] HRW interviews with former explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) personnel from a Western commercial clearance firm, and with a Saudi military officer with first-hand experience in clearing the unexploded submunitions from ASTROS rockets and Rockeye cluster bombs, names withheld, in Geneva, 2001–2003.