Russian use of cluster munitions in Ukraine ‘may be a war crime’

More than 100 countries have committed never to use the weapons under the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

28 February 2022

Amnesty International has condemned Russia’s reported use of cluster munitions in Ukraine, saying an attack on a pre-school “may constitute a war crime”.

The human rights charity said “a 220mm Uragan rocket dropped cluster munitions on the Sonechko nursery and kindergarten in the town of Okhtyrka in Sumy Oblast” on Friday.

It added: “The strike may constitute a war crime.”

Amnesty said three people were killed in the attack, including a child, while another child was wounded.

Cluster munitions scatter or release smaller munitions or bomblets over a wide area, increasing the potential for casualties and damage.

More than 100 countries have committed never to use the weapons under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, including the UK, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have signed the agreement.

Agnes Callamard, secretary-general of Amnesty International, said: “It is stomach-turning to see an indiscriminate attack on a nursery and kindergarten where civilians are seeking safe haven. Plain and simple, this should be investigated as a war crime.

“As this human tragedy unfolds in Ukraine, any person who commits war crimes should be held individually accountable before the International Criminal Court (ICC) or another international criminal justice process at the national or international level.

“It is imperative that UN member states and the ICC urgently consider how to ensure the timely and effective collection and preservation of evidence of any crimes under international law committed in Ukraine.”

Human Rights Watch said it has also identified examples of cluster munition use.

On Friday, it said a cluster bomb had been used the day before by the Russian military in the town of Vuhledar.

(PA Graphics)

Four civilians were killed in the attack, the organisation said.

Human Rights Watch describes the weapon as posing “an immediate threat to civilians during conflict by randomly scattering submunitions or bomblets over a wide area”.

Bellingcat, a website specialising in investigations and verification, said on Sunday that it had located multiple sites in Ukraine where cluster munitions had been used.

It outlined two, at a pre-school in the city of Okhtyrka, and in Kharkiv, where it had verified social media reports of cluster munition attacks.

(PA Graphics)

Bellingcat said: “Open source evidence from Ukraine appears to suggest that the cluster munitions… are not being carefully targeted. Instead, we have identified multiple examples that have impacted civilians, schools and hospitals.

“As the fighting begins to move further into urban areas, there is a danger there could be significantly more examples of such usage of cluster munitions.”

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence told the PA news agency: “As a state party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, we oppose the use of cluster munitions and discourage all states from using them.”

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