The Ukrainian military has been accused of using cluster munitions to shell the city of Izyum, resulting in civilian deaths, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW). This attack reportedly took place before the US provided Ukraine with additional cluster shells, despite objections from NATO members.
Mary Wareham from HRW stated that their investigators discovered remnants of cluster munitions in Izyum after the departure of Russian forces. They determined that these munitions were used by Ukrainian forces based on the direction of the fire. The findings were detailed in HRW’s annual Cluster Munition Monitor report, published this week. However, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry denied ever using such munitions in or around Izyum.
Izyum, located in the Kharkov Region, holds strategic importance and was under Russian control from May 2022 until their withdrawal in late September. The report by HRW highlighted that the Ukrainian military had been using cluster munitions in the area throughout 2022, as documented by the UN’s Independent Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine.
HRW collected testimonies about civilian casualties caused by cluster bombs. A previous report from January also revealed the Ukrainian use of cluster munitions and the targeting of Izyum with ‘Butterfly’ anti-personnel mines, resulting in the deaths of 11 civilians and around 50 injuries, including five children. The Russian military had reportedly warned civilians about the presence of these mines.
Cluster munitions are considered inhumane and are banned globally due to the harm and suffering they cause to civilians. Wareham, while announcing the annual report, described the continued use of cluster munitions as unconscionable, given that they have been outlawed for 15 years.
It is worth noting that Ukraine, Russia, and the US are not party to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), which aims to ban this type of weapon due to its impact on civilians. Earlier this year, the US disregarded objections from NATO allies who are signatories to the CCM and sent Ukraine 155mm artillery shells loaded with dual-purpose improved conventional munitions (DPICM). Reports suggest that the Pentagon receives detailed information from Ukraine regarding the use of DPICM ordnance. Russia has documented multiple instances of their use against civilians in Donetsk.
The use of cluster munitions and the resulting civilian casualties in Izyum highlight the ongoing challenges and controversies surrounding the conflict in Ukraine. Despite the global ban on these weapons, their continued use raises concerns about the protection of civilians and adherence to international humanitarian law. The stance of Ukraine, Russia, and the US as non-parties to the CCM further complicates efforts to address this issue and end the suffering of civilians caught in the crossfire.