Human Rights Watch says it has received an official letter from Georgia’s Defense Ministry that acknowledges use of the M85 cluster munition near the Roki tunnel that connects South Ossetia with Russia. The M85 is the same weapon that was used extensively by Israel in its 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon.
HRW arms division researcher Bonnie Docherty told reporters in Geneva on Monday that Russia undoubtedly used cluster munition in several places during the conflict. However, Russia has denied using the weapon.
Cluster munitions or cluster bombs are air-dropped or ground-launched munitions that eject a number of smaller submunitions: a cluster of bomblets. The most common types are intended to kill enemy personnel and destroy vehicles. Submunition based weapons designed to destroy runways, electric power transmission lines, deliver chemical or biological weapons, or to scatter land mines have also been produced. Some submunition based weapons can disperse non-munition payloads, such as leaflets.
Because cluster bombs release many small unexploded bomblets over a wide area, they can kill or maim civilians long after a conflict has ended. Unexploded submunitions are very costly to locate and remove.
Cluster bombs are prohibited under the Convention on Cluster Munitions, which was adopted in Dublin in May 2008 and will open for signature in December 2008. The general rules of international humanitarian law aimed at protecting civilians also apply to cluster bombs as they do to all weapons.