Human Rights Watch says cluster bombs need to be banned

by Rafael Epstein (ABC Radio National AM, 28 April 2003)

LINDA MOTTRAM: Human Rights Watch brands as misleading the Pentagon's claim that only 26 cluster bombs landed near civilian areas in Iraq.

Human Rights Watch and others are pushing for a treaty that would specifically ban the use of cluster bombs, similar to the existing treaty that bans anti-personnel landmines. In the latter case, Australia is a signatory, the United States is not.

Cluster bombs are not used by Australian forces, but that's a policy decision not a legal ban

Rafael Epstein reports.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: A cluster bomb is like a massive shotgun: as a shotgun shell sprays hundreds of pellets over a wide area, one cluster bomb opens up and releases hundreds of coke can sized bomblets over an area roughly one hundred metres square.

The military call cluster bombs "explosive rain". Some bomblets are designed to destroy vehicles, some to kill people, and others, incendiary bomblets, burst into a large cloud of explosive flame before they hit the ground. The effect is to saturate a large area with explosives and flying shards of steel and because they disperse widely, they're extremely effective on concentrations of people and vehicles.

Kenneth Roth, from Human Rights Watch in New York, says General Richard Myers is not telling the full story.

KENNETH ROTH: What he seems to have deliberated omitted is reference to the use by American and British forces of cluster munitions fired by artillery shells by ground forces. We are just investigating this, but it appears, based on preliminary reports, that in fact there was fairly extensive use of cluster munitions in places like Baghdad, Hilla, and Basra and that these probably accounted for substantially more civilian casualties than General Myers was willing to own up to.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: In Kosovo, six in every 100 bombs were cluster bombs, yet they accounted for a fifth of all civilian deaths. In the year after the Kosovo campaign there were 150 cluster bomb casualties, including 50 deaths.

Several RAF officers resigned their commissions in the 1991 Gulf War in protest against the use of cluster bombs. And in the last 12 years 1,600 Kuwaiti and Iraqi civilians have been killed, and 2,500 have been injured by leftover bomblets.

KENNETH ROTH: Because they are very difficult to target, that is, they disperse over a wide area, they in essence are the only dumb weapon that the Pentagon still uses in populated areas and that's an exception that should simply be stopped altogether.

A certain percentage of the cluster bomblets do not explode on initial contact with the ground. Instead they sit there and in a sense, function like anti-personnel landmines, that is to say, if somebody stumbles upon them they immediately are killed.

RAFAEL EPSTEIN: Reported deaths from cluster bombs include 27 people killed and 54 injured in a Baghdad suburb on April 9, and on April 23rd a US Army Sergeant was killed and several soldiers were injured when a cluster munition exploded. It had been handed to them after being discovered by an Iraqi child.

LINDA MOTTRAM: Rafael Epstein reporting.

Dozens of cluster bomb injuries in Iraq

by Mark Willacy (ABC Radio National AM, 28 April 2003)

LINDA MOTTRAM: There is literally continuing fallout from the fighting in Iraq, not least from cluster bombs. Washington admits using them in this war, despite the immense internationally sensitivity about the weapons and the claims of some that they are effectively outlawed.

Washington claims that just one civilian was killed by cluster bombs during the Iraq conflict, but a visit by AM to a southern Baghdad neighbourhood tells a different story.

Several dozen people there have lost family members and scores are still sporting the horrible injuries caused by these tiny bomblets and AM saw many of these toy-like devices still unexploded in areas where Iraqi children play.

Our Middle East Correspondent, Mark Willacy, reports from the Al-Furat neighbourhood.

[Sound of gate shutting]

MARK WILLACY: These days Maksun Ali Hamad has to keep the school gate locked because inside on the playground are several unexploded cluster bombs.

[Maksun Ali Hamad speaking]

Maksun counts 22 exploded cluster bombs, pointing to the little craters in the concrete playground. "The school guard lost his leg. I thought these bombs were supposed to be banned," he says.

An air-dropped cluster bomb is designed to spread hundreds of little bomblets, most of which explode when they hit the ground. Some of those that don't are picked up by civilians who then suffer horrific injuries.

[Iraqi boy talking]

Around the Al-Furat neighbourhood in southern Baghdad, the children have already found dozens of unexploded bomblets.

[Iraqi boy talking]

"I've seen 15 cluster bombs in a house near here," says this boy.

I'm then taken to Omar's house, where an unexploded bomblet lies half buried in the garden next to the roses

[Omar speaking]

Sixteen-year-old Omar lifts his shirt, revealing a giant wound which runs from his breast bone through his navel to his groin.

"I was hit here in the stomach by a cluster bomb, and here in the leg, which cut the large vein," Omar says, showing me another ugly wound in his upper thigh.

The United States' top general, Richard Myers, recently told a press conference in Washington that while his troops had used cluster bombs in Iraq, there had been only one recorded case of collateral damage.

RICHARD MYERS: Initial review of all cluster munitions used and the targets they were used on, indicate that only 26 of those hit targets within 1,500 feet of civilian neighbourhoods, and there's been only one recorded case of collateral damage from cluster munitions noted so far.

MARK WILLACY: That's a rather offensive way of saying that one person was killed.

But here in Al-Furat there are dozens of people who've lost loved ones to cluster bombs.

[Khalif Abdel speaking]

"One night the cluster bomb fell on my house," says 82-year-old Khalif Abdel. "I was injured and taken to hospital for six days."

[Khalif Abdel speaking]

"My wife of 60-years was killed," he says.

Standing nearby is Jabar Abdullah, another Iraqi who's lost family to US cluster bombs.

[Jabar Abdullah speaking]

"While I was drinking tea I heard the cluster bomb. There was the sound of broken glass, one of my sons was injured, the other was killed, my neighbour also died," Jabar says.

All around Al-Furat there is broken glass, pockmarked walls, and shrapnel holes in doors, the result of thousands of exploding cluster bombs which fell from the sky.

But the United States' top general, Richard Myers, says only 26 bomblets landed close to civilian neighbourhoods. He needs to take a drive through Al-Furat.

This is Mark Willacy in Baghdad for AM.

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