Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Mon, Jan 11th, 2016

Cluster Bombs and War Crimes

There are regular bombs that blow everything up in their path and then there are cluster bombs that are designed to inflict the maximum amount of damage by releasing “submunitions” that can kill or maim individuals within the distance of several football fields.

cluster_s (1)

There is a reason that cluster bombs are prohibited by international treaties, since like land mines they remain a hazard even as duds. As long ago as May, 2015, human rights groups reported that the Saudi-led coalition was using cluster bombs obtained from the United States. Already in the new year there are multiple reports of cluster bombs being dropped again. The evidence is overwhelming with numerous photographs available online. There is no doubt at all that cluster bombs are being dropped in this bombing campaign and are killing civilians: no doubt at all.

Virtually all of Europe, including Great Britain, has signed the treaty that bans such cluster bombs, but not the United States, which is one of the major weapon suppliers in the region. None of the states on the Arabian Peninsula, including Saudi Arabia, has signed on to the treaty banning these deplorable weapons of sinister destruction; nor have Iran, Israel and Syria. Somehow this devastating weapon, designed to kill and keep on killing, is permissible in the once holy land where fanatics on all sides are salivating over the prospect of an Armageddon. Does “not signing” a treaty to ban such weapons make their use ethical? It may be “legal” as a pathetic politicized alibi, but it is a war crime in all but name. The lack of ink on the signatory page of an international treaty can never justify wanton acts that spill the blood of civilians – men, women and children – caught in the crossfire of competing power struggles.

Denial is no excuse. The coalition spokesperson, Brigadier-General Ahmed al-Asseri, asserted on Sunday that their planes were not using cluster bombs in Sanaa, calling a report (one of several) by Human Rights Watch as “very weak” and not showing evidence. He further argued that 90% of the raids were against Scud missile launchers. Really? There have been thousands of bombing raids, so how many Scud missiles aimed at Saudi Arabia could there be in Yemen and what purpose would dropping cluster bombs be on a missile base? The evidence is quite clear unless you are silly enough to think that Yemenis are importing cluster bomb remnants from other countries. Even the feeble U.N. recognizes what is going on. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has voiced concern over the reported use of cluster bombs in Yemen, but do not expect the Security Council to follow up on this issue with a “trusted ally” in the region.

Human rights and ethics are the first victims of warfare. It could and perhaps should be argued that war in itself is criminal, especially launching an attack on a neighboring country when that country is not being attacked. Most people would agree that war is hell, especially the victims, no matter what the glorified objective. But war is also lucrative. The whirling sound of a bomb heading for a target is but an echo of the tinkling of champagne glasses for those who toast the profits in the weapons industry. War is also convenient to ignore when it is “over there” and when there is an otherized “enemy.” Consider the fate of the city of Sa’da in the far north of Yemen. At the start of this bombing against all things Huthi, the entire town, a civilian enclave and not a military base by any means, was said to be a military target. The residents were “warned” to leave their homes and flee to avoid being killed. Where exactly were they to go? How would you like it if someone dropped a leaflet saying you must abandon your home. Targeting a civilian site is a serious war crime. Blowing up a mosque, as happened to the millennium old Zaydi mosque of al-Hadi ila al-Haqq in Sa’da, is a crime not only against humanity, but against Islam. The feeble excuse that some kalashnikovs had been stored there, a claim with no evidence, does not justify such a blanket bombing of an entire town.

Yes, war is hell, and yes much of what is done in warfare is criminal. The situation is no different in Yemen with all sides guilty of war crimes. The Saudi-led coalition and its Western supplies are guilty of war crimes, but so are the Huthis, Ansar Shariah, ISIS and several other local groups with guns. Not one of the warring factions is interested in real peace; all are jostling for political power. Meanwhile the people of Yemen, most of whom want security and the opportunity to live meaningful lives, are the victims of this criminal behavior. That is in itself an even greater crime for the living.

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

Leave a comment

XHTML: You can use these html tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>