Syria’s children – the right to a life free from cluster bombs

Child cluster bomb victim, Aleppo, Syria. © Amnesty International

Child cluster bomb victim, Aleppo, Syria. © Amnesty International

Merel Krediet, International Advocacy and Campaign Assistant, Cluster Munition Coalition

There is little abatement to the number of videos appearing on my screen as Twitter documents the deadly impact of the Syrian government’s use of cluster munitions on its own population. From almost the start of the ongoing conflict in Syria, there has been evidence of widespread cluster munition use by the government.  Over one year, at least 152 locations have been attacked with cluster bombs, causing unacceptable harm to civilians.

Cluster munitions, also called cluster bombs, are weapons forbidden under international law. A cluster munition contains dozens and sometimes hundreds of explosive submunitions or bomblets. The munition is dropped from an aircraft or fired from the ground. They are designed to break in the air, releasing the submunitions, scattering over football field wide stretches of land. Its wide footprint makes the weapon highly indiscriminate when used, as it can’t distinguish between a military or civilian target.

The explosive submunitions are supposed to explode on impact, but a significant number fail. They are left on fields where civilians will return to work the land in cities, on streets, squares and in playgrounds, where children will return to play. The submunitions can be easily mistaken for a curiously shaped toy or children might encounter them while herding livestock, gathering wood and food, or collecting scrap metal, not knowing its lethal effects.

This might be the first time you read about cluster munitions. For a lot of child victims their first introduction with a cluster munition was when they were severely injured, or worse, killed by one.

An unexploded submunition is like a little time bomb, waiting for someone to step on it or pick it up, waiting as long as it takes to explode.

Children have the right to walk and play without fear of losing a limb or life. Past use of the lethal weapon has taught us the destruction and devastation it leaves behind, even years and decades after a conflict has ended. Children in particular are gravely affected. Their small and underdeveloped bodies are not capable of withstanding the impact of a cluster munition bomblet exploding near to them, leaving them severely maimed or killed.

In Iraq, where the US used cluster bombs in 1991 and again in 2003, casualties are still being reported. According to Landmine Monitor, where the age was recorded, a quarter of estimated casualties since 1991 were children.  In Lebanon, at least 120 children have been maimed or injured by unexploded submunitions since the conflict of 2006. And in 2012, 37 years after the end of the Vietnam War child casualties continue to be reported. I could continue listing casualties resulted by cluster munitions in other countries, but I think you get the idea.

With countless civilians already maimed or killed by cluster munitions in Syria since the beginning of the uprising, the statistics shed a grim perspective on what is ahead for the people of the country.

The stretches of land potentially contaminated with cluster munitions pose a threat to human life now and will continue to do so in the future. When the conflict is over, cluster munition remnants must be cleared and destroyed as soon as it is safe to do so. Until then, communities need to be urgently given clear warnings about the terrible danger the unexploded bomblets pose.

The use of cluster munitions by the Syrian government has provoked international condemnation; to date, 113 countries have expressed their concerns. Governments worldwide must continue to condemn Syria for its use and call for a complete halt in use of the weapon.

More than half the countries in the world have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions, prohibiting countries from the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions and obliging them to destroy all stocks, clear affected areas, and assist victims. All countries yet to join the international ban on cluster munitions must do so without delay to prevent future harm.

So, now you know what cluster munitions are. It might feel like you can’t do anything about it, but you can do something.  Check whether your government is among the 113 countries that have taken action to eliminate the threat of this weapon by joining the Convention on Cluster Munitions. If not, voice your demand that it does. Even if you might feel your voice is only small, the more voices we gather, the more noise we are able to make.

The longer the use of cluster munitions continues, the greater the deadly legacy and its heinous consequences for Syria’s people. As other tweets come in, the videos of munitions falling on Syria move down and out of sight. But let’s make sure the reality of cluster munitions use in Syria does not move out of our minds.

To find out more about the CMC and our work visit www.stopclustermunitions.org. Follow @banclusterbombs

On 16 October bloggers around the world blog about human rights for Blog Action Day. #BAD13, #HumanRights, #Oct16

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