Reports from Human Rights Watch say that the Gadhafi regime has used some cluster munitions in the siege of the city of Misrata. The Libyan government has denied the allegations, but the reports were enough to spark international condemnation, particularly from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who termed the report “troubling.”
Cluster bombs have been criticized recently for their potential to cause massive civilian deaths long after their use, and sparked claims that Gadhafi was violating international law in using the “banned” munitions.
Which is ultimately untrue. Though there is a ban on cluster munitions which has entered into force, Libya is one of eight nations that are not signatories. Interestingly, the US also spurned the ban, and has used cluster bombs regularly in its own wars, including in the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Indeed, US officials fought tooth and nail to weaken the ban on cluster munitions so other NATO member nations that did sign the ban could continue to participate in US-led wars in which the US was using such bombs.
In fact the reason cluster bombs have such an infamous reputation is because of the enormous death tolls caused in the recent US uses, as well as the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, during which the US “rushed” a shipment of cluster bombs to Israel before a ceasefire was agreed to. Such bombs have continued to kill and maim for years after their use.
The reports of use in Libya are so far comparatively isolated, but in a nation where the population is clustered around a few major cities and all the fighting is occuring in those cities, the use of the munitions could be a horrific humanitarian crisis.