UN expert urges US government to review decision to transfer cluster munitions to Ukraine
20 September 2023
GENEVA (20 September 2023) – The Government of the United States must reconsider its decision to transfer cluster munitions to Ukraine, a UN expert said today, warning that the weapons could cause serious, indiscriminate harm to civilians both immediately and in the long term.
Alice Jill Edwards, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, sent an urgent communication to the US Government in July 2023, urging Washington to provide its assessment of whether the decision to transfer cluster munitions to Ukraine was compatible with its obligations under international human rights law, particularly in relation to the absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the duty to protect the right to life of all human beings. No reply has yet been received.
This communication has now been made public. It also comes as media reports suggest that longer-range missiles packed with cluster bombs may also be sent to Ukraine by the US administration.
“These weapons could indiscriminately and seriously injure civilians both at the time of use and after a conflict has ended, potentially for decades,” Edwards said.
“I am calling on the Government of the United States to demonstrate leadership in this area,” she said. “Cluster munitions may be extremely harmful to civilian populations, causing death and life-altering permanent injuries. They are banned by more than 100 countries. I am urging the US to reconsider its decision to transfer these weapons. Military exigencies must not override human rights.”
The expert said it was deeply worrying that, in the ongoing armed attack by the Russian Federation against Ukraine, both Ukrainian and Russian armed forces have reportedly used cluster munitions, causing numerous deaths and serious injuries to civilians.
“Women, children and the elderly are most likely to be killed in indiscriminate attacks against civilian populations,” the Special Rapporteur said. “With cluster munitions, this is an enduring threat as they often fail to explode as intended on impact and can remain dangerous for decades. They unnecessarily prolong a full transition to peace, and act as painful reminders of war,” Edwards said.
The invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation is a violation of the United Nations Charter and international law, Edwards said. “The sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine must be upheld, within its internationally recognised borders,” she said.
The Special Rapporteur’s concerns also acknowledged the right of the Government of Ukraine to self-defence.
Dr. Alice Jill Edwards, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, is part of what is known as the Special Proceduresof the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent of any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.
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