Human Rights Watch has documented a number of incidents of Saudi-led coalition forces in Yemen using internationally banned cluster munitions supplied by the United States, despite US prohibitions on using such weapons against civilian targets. The use of these munitions, which were recently transferred to coalition forces, is contrary to US export requirements. The weapons also appear to be failing to meet the reliability standard required by US regulations. “Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, as well as their US supplier, are blatantly disregarding the global standard that says cluster munitions should never be used under any circumstances,” said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the international Cluster Munition Coalition. The use of these munitions have led to a number of civilian casualties in residential areas of Sa’dah, San’a, ‘Amran, and al-Hudaydah.
“Something hit the wall and broke through it. I immediately hit the floor. This strange object landed about five meters from me. It looked like a small silver model of a rocket. I was very afraid, I tried to crawl away and escape because I knew it could explode at any moment. It looked very scary. But as I moved, it moved with me...in slow motion it seemed. This went on for about a minute and then it exploded.”
The most recently documented incident took place on December 12, 2015 in al-Hudaydah. The cluster bombs, which were shown to have been manufactured in Wilmington, Massachusetts, injured a woman and two children in their homes.
The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions prohibits the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of these munitions due to their tendency to leave behind large numbers of unexploded bomblets, which can pose a serious danger to civilians years--and even decades--after the end of a conflict.
Yemen, the US, and Saudi Arabia are not party to this convention. However, the use of these munitions still violates the US export law that prohibits the recipients of cluster munitions from using them in populated areas, which the Saudi-led coalition is clearly doing, and only allows the transfer of cluster munitions with a failure rate of less than 1 percent. It appears that the “Sensor Fuzed Weapons” being used in Yemen are not functioning in ways that meet this reliability standard.
In July, US Representative Jim McGovern raised concern about the use of cluster munitions, stating: “If we have evidence that countries are not complying with US law that ought to be enough to say we sell these weapons to them no more. Period. End of story.” McGovern and Human Rights Watch call for the US to join the Convention on Cluster Munitions and for the Saudi-led coalition to immediately stop using them.