Since May 2014, forces affiliated with the internationally recognized government based in eastern Libya and under the command of Gen. Khalifa Hiftar have been engaged in a military operation against Libya Dawn. Hiftar’s operation, known as Libya Dignity, involves former members of the military, tribal factions, and militias from the mountain town of Zintan. Libya Dawn is led by forces from Misrata and includes militias from Tripoli, Zawiyah, Sebratha, and elsewhere.
The use of cluster munitions in populated areas, such as Sirte, violates the laws of war due to the indiscriminate nature of the weapon. Cluster munitions contain dozens or hundreds of smaller munitions, called submunitions or bomblets, in a container such as a rocket or a bomb. After launch, the container opens up, dispersing submunitions designed to explode when they hit the ground.
The submunitions spread indiscriminately over a wide area, often the size of a football field, putting anyone in the area at the time, whether combatants or civilians, at risk of death or injury. Many submunitions do not explode on impact, but remain armed, becoming de facto landmines. Any location contaminated with dud submunitions remains hazardous until cleared by trained explosive ordnance disposal personnel.
Libya should join the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, prohibiting the use of cluster munitions in any circumstance, Human Rights Watch said. A total of 116 nations are party to the treaty, which also requires clearance of cluster munition remnants and assistance to victims of the weapons. Human Rights Watch is a cofounder of the international Cluster Munition Coalition and serves as its chair.
“Most nations have banned these weapons due to their inherently indiscriminate nature and the unacceptable harm they pose to civilians,” Goose said. “The internationally recognized government in Libya and parties to the conflict should urgently secure and destroy any stocks of cluster munitions.”