Russian-Made Cluster Bombs Dropped in Syria: Human Rights Watch

Russia cluster bombs Syria
Sukhoi Su-25 jet fighters take off during a drill at the Russian southern Stavropol region, March 12, 2015. Eduard Korniyenko/Reuters

Forces supporting the Syrian government could be using Russian-made cluster munitions in airstrikes, according to the non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The human rights charity reported over the weekend that its activists had photographic and video evidence suggesting Russia is either using or supplying the Syrian military with "air-dropped cluster munitions."

They reportedly were used southwest of Aleppo, in the village of Kafr Halab, and HRW also said "ground-fired Russian-made cluster munition rockets" had been used in the Russian-Syrian operations in northern Syria. The charity noted that it could not conclusively prove that either Russia or Syria was responsible, but neither country has banned the use of the highly imprecise munitions.

The use of cluster munitions is highly controversial because they launch as many as hundreds of small missiles in various directions on impact and are capable of maiming indiscriminately. Also, the bomblets in cluster bombs often fail to explode for a long time, presenting a sustained risk to civilians.

"It's disturbing that yet another type of cluster munition is being used in Syria given the harm they cause to civilians for years to come," Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East director at HRW, said. "Neither Russia nor Syria should use cluster munitions, and both should join the international ban without delay."

Russian defense officials have repeatedly denied having any knowledge that civilians have been hit as a result of their airstrikes. Earlier this month, Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to reports that Russian airstrikes have killed innocent Syrians as an "information attack."

On Monday, the Ministry of Defence told state news agency Itar-Tass that over the last three days Russia had destroyed sites belonging to the terror group ISIS around Raqqa, adding that Islamists were making "desperate attempts" to reinforce their fighters engaged with the Syrian army on the ground. Russia has been engaging in airstrikes in Syria since the end of September.