The question on many of our minds these days is, "have cluster munitions been used in Georgia and, if so, by whom?" There have been accusations, counter-accusations and denials. Fingers are being pointed in many directions. To briefly recap:
- -- On 15 August, the NGO Human Rights Watch reported on Russian use of cluster munitions in Georgia, after it identified strikes on Gori and Ruisi on August 12 that it said killed at least 11 civilians and injured dozens more.
- -- On the same day, according to the Cluster Munitions Coalition of NGOs, the Defence Minister of Norway - the country that has spearheaded international efforts to ban cluster munitions and that will host, on December 3, a signing ceremony for the new Convention on Cluster Munitions - expressed grave concern at Russia’s alleged use of cluster munitions.
- -- Also on the same day, Colonel General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy head of the Russian General Staff, is reported as stating that, “We did not use cluster bombs, and what’s more, there was absolutely no necessity to do so.”
- -- On 19 August, the Russian Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva accused Georgia of using cluster munitions against South Ossetian civilians and Russian peacekeepers.
- -- On 21 August (yesterday), Human Rights Watch rejected Russia's denial that it had used cluster munition, saying that it had documented additional Russian cluster munitions attacks during the conflict in Georgia.
- -- Also yesterday, the Irish Foreign Minister, who hosted the diplomatic conference in Dublin in May of this year at which 107 States (although not Russia or Georgia) adopted a new treaty banning cluster munitions, expressed "deep concern" over allegations that cluster bombs were used by Russian forces.
The fact that there has been so much protest - both from governments and the general public - over the use of cluster munitions in Georgia, and the fact that Russia has thought it necessary to deny that it has used these weapons, is strong evidence that the stigmatisation of this particular weapons system is now well rooted in the global public conscience. As the Norwegian Defence Minister Anne Grethe Strøm-Erichsen put it:
The majority of the world’s states have, with the adoption of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, made it clear that the use of such weapons cannot be considered acceptable
Patrick Mc Carthy
Photo Credit: A group of aerial bombs as depicted on the website of Miltra Engineering Ltd. The cluster munition that Russia is accused of using in Georgia - the RBK-250 - is on the far right.