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The Cluster Munition Monitor Releases Its Annual 2023 Report with Participation from The White Helmets

During the reporting period (from August 2022 to June 2023), the Cluster Munition Monitor recorded 1,172 new victims (those killed or injured) across eight countries, marking the highest annual toll of individuals affected by cluster munitions since the Monitor began reporting in 2010.

On Tuesday, September 5th, the Cluster Munition Monitor published its annual report for 2023. This comprehensive report spans the period from August 2022 to June 2023 and involves the collaborative efforts of nations and organizations dedicated to clearing and documenting the remnants of war. It offers insights into the survey and removal of cluster munitions, alongside detailed information regarding victims. Furthermore, the report discusses monitoring the presence of cluster munitions, global policies concerning their prohibition, utilization, production, transfer, and storage, and provides valuable data on the ramifications of cluster munition contamination and injuries. Additionally, it highlights the latest developments and challenges in addressing these issues through clearance operations, risk education, and support for victims.

The White Helmets contributed data concerning non-technical survey operations, the identification of areas contaminated with cluster munitions, and the subsequent disposal processes. Last year, The White Helmets officially joined The International Campaign to Ban Landmines – Cluster Munition Coalition (ICBL-CMC) in a commitment to the ongoing efforts aimed at clearing war remnants within Syria, and to highlight the enduring and substantial legacy that these remnants have imposed on the Syrian population and underscore the urgency of addressing these remnants and safeguarding civilians from their devastating consequences.

An Escalation in Cluster Munition Casualties

During the reporting period (from August 2022 to June 2023), the Cluster Munition Monitor recorded 1,172 new victims (those killed or injured) across eight countries, marking the highest annual toll of individuals affected by cluster munitions since the Monitor began reporting in 2010.

The report underscores that this high outcome can be attributed to the continued use of cluster munitions by Russia in Ukraine, cluster munition attacks in Syria in 2022, and a substantial rise in victims resulting from cluster munition remnants in Yemen.

In 2022, 95% of the cluster munition victims recorded by the observatory were civilians. Among all the recorded victims in 2022, there were a total of 987 victims due to cluster munition attacks, while 185 cases were a result of unexploded cluster munition remnants. Direct victims of cluster munition attacks were documented in three countries during 2022: Myanmar (for the first time), Syria, and Ukraine. The total annual casualties from cluster munition remnants in 2022 saw a significant increase from the 149 recorded victims in 2021.

Among the 916 cluster munition victims recorded in Ukraine during the year 2022, 890 of them were a result of cluster munition attacks, while the remaining 26 victims were from unexploded cluster munition remnants. Ukraine has now surpassed Syria in terms of annual casualties caused by cluster munitions. In past years, Syria has repeatedly witnessed the highest annual total of casualties compared to any other country every year from 2012 to 2021.

In the year 2022, a total of 185 casualties from cluster munition remnants were recorded worldwide, with 50 people killed and 134 others injured. This represents an increase from the 149 casualties resulting from cluster munition remnants in 2021. However, it is likely that the total number for 2022 is significantly higher according to the report.

The Use of Cluster Munitions in Syria

According to the report, Syrian regime forces extensively employed cluster munitions between 2012 and 2020. Reports of new deployments waned in 2021 but reemerged in November 2022, documented in attacks verified by the United Nations.

On November 6, 2022, government forces, backed by Russian military support, utilized cluster munitions in attacks on the Marham displaced persons' camp near Kafr Jalis and other displaced persons' camps in Idlib, resulting in the deaths of at least eight civilians and injuries to over 75 others. The cluster munitions employed were Oragan 9M27K series 220mm rockets containing submunitions, including 9N235 or 9N210. Human Rights Watch had previously reported the Syrian government's use of this type of cluster munition, including an attack on an internally displaced persons' camp in October 2015.

The damage inflicted on civilians due to the use of cluster munitions in Syria has prompted condemnation from more than 145 countries since May 2013. The United Nations General Assembly has passed ten resolutions denouncing the use of cluster munitions in Syria, and since 2014, the Human Rights Council has adopted over 18 resolutions condemning their usage as well. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria has issued multiple reports detailing cluster munition attacks by the Assad regime.

The Demographics of Cluster Munition Victims

In 2022, civilians comprised 94.5% (1109) of the total recorded victims. The high proportion of civilian casualties resulting from cluster munitions in 2022 is consistent with historical data analysis. This ongoing and disproportionate impact on civilians can be attributed to the indiscriminate nature of these weapons.

Child victims due to cluster munition remnants saw a continued increase in 2022, reaching 71%. Children constituted two-thirds (66%) of cluster munition remnants victims in 2021 and 44% in 2020.

In 2022, children made up the majority of cluster munition remnants victims in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen.

Contamination of Cluster Munition

In Syria, cluster munitions were extensively used between 2012 and 2020 in 13 out of 14 provinces. Although usage decreased in 2021, new reports of cluster munition deployment emerged in November 2022 within internally displaced persons' camps in Syria, following attacks by government forces targeting these camps. In Ukraine, widespread cluster munition attacks were reported in 2022 and the first half of 2023 following the Russian invasion, leading to extensive contamination.

White Helmets's Response to Cluster Munition Attacks:

Cluster munitions pose a grave threat to the lives of civilians in northwest Syria due to the impossibility of confining the areas contaminated by these munitions and their continued use by government forces and Russia in their attacks on civilian populations.

During the past year in 2022, our teams responded to five internationally prohibited cluster munition attacks. Among them was an attack involving a ground-to-ground missile loaded with cluster munitions, targeting the Kafr Jalis camps in western Idlib. This attack resulted in the deaths of nine civilians and left around 70 others injured. Similarly, another attack occurred on the Khirbat al-Natour olive farms, leading to injuries of two farmers who were in the process of harvesting olives. Additionally, cluster munition attacks targeted the outskirts of the town of Bsanqul in southern Idlib and the farms of the Al-Ghafar village in western Idlib. Furthermore, a Russian airstrike employing incendiary cluster munitions targeted the western outskirts of Idlib city.

In 2021, The White Helmets responded to three cluster munition attacks carried out by government forces and Russia, all involving missiles containing cluster munitions. One of these attacks targeted a fuel market, while the other two struck makeshift fuel refining stations in the eastern Aleppo countryside.

In 2020, The White Helmets responded to 20 cluster munition attacks in northwest Syria. Two of these attacks targeted schools, one targeted a popular market, 11 targeted civilian residences, and the rest targeted roads and agricultural areas.

Cluster munitions lack specific targets, dispersing indiscriminately over broad areas. According to the United Nations, approximately 40% of these munitions fail to explode upon impact, leading to devastating consequences for individuals who come into contact with them later. White Helmets teams have documented the use of over 11 types of cluster munitions, all of which are of Russian origin, by both the Assad regime and Russia.

The Lethal Legacy of War Remnants

With the ongoing war and deliberate use of cluster bombs and other munitions by government forces and Russia, Syrians face a long-term threat to the lives of future generations, particularly children who may remain unaware of the nature, varieties, and hazards posed by these munitions.

In the past year, The White Helmets documented 32 explosions caused by war remnants in northwest Syria. These incidents led to the tragic loss of 29 lives, including 13 children, and left 31 others injured, including 22 children and one woman.

Throughout 2022, White Helmets unexploded ordnance clearance teams conducted more than 1300 non-technical survey operations across over 430 munition-contaminated areas. They successfully removed 990 various types of ordnance, including 430 cluster bombs, through 890 removal operations. Moreover, these teams conducted awareness sessions on the dangers of landmines and war remnants, benefiting 50,000 civilians, including children and farmers.

Download the full report 👇