Actions at major international conference today play politics with the protection of civilians

UK position based on refusal to condemn use of cluster bombs by Saudi-led forces in Yemen

(London, 7 September 2015) At a major international conference on cluster bombs in Dubrovnik today, the UK attempted to block international condemnation of the use of these prohibited weapons. UK representatives said that they could not support the draft declaration of the First Review Conference of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, because the declaration “condemns any use of cluster munitions by any actor.” This position arises from the UK government’s refusal to condemn use of cluster munitions by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, despite having condemned the use of cluster bombs in Sudan, Syria and Ukraine this year.

“Today in Dubrovnik, at a major gathering of states to the cluster bomb ban treaty, the UK has tried to block international condemnation of these banned weapons.” said Thomas Nash, Director of the UK-based weapons monitoring organisation Article 36. “The UK has condemned the use of cluster bombs in Sudan, Syria and Ukraine, but it refuses to condemn the use by Saudi-led forces in Yemen. The protection of civilians must be non-political. By picking and choosing when it wishes to condemn the use of cluster bombs, the UK is playing politics with the protection of civilians. UK efforts to water down international condemnation of cluster bombs show a callous disregard for the human suffering caused by these weapons.” 

As a party to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which bans the weapons outright, the UK has destroyed its own stockpile of millions of cluster munitions, has called on all states to join the treaty and has condemned recent use of the banned weapons in Libya, Sudan, Syria and Ukraine. However, despite evidence from Human Rights Watch that the weapons have been used by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, killing and injuring civilians, the UK has refused to acknowledge or condemn this use. A U.S. official was quoted on 19 August as saying that “the U.S. is aware that Saudi Arabia has used cluster munitions in Yemen.”

On 21 July, FCO Minister Tobias Ellwood did not address this topic in an answer to a parliamentary question by Jeremy Corbyn, saying his speech had been “ruined” by notes he “scribbled” during the debate. There has been no public response since.

Prior to signing the Convention in Oslo in 2008, the UK used cluster munitions extensively during the Falklands War, in Kosovo and in Iraq during 1991 and 2003. The UK sold cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia prior to 2008, but it is not clear whether these transfers included the types of cluster munitions used in Yemen.


  • From 7-11 September states parties will meet in Dubrovnik for the First (five-yearly) Review Conference of the Convention on Cluster Munitions to review progress in implementation of the treaty and set a course for the next five years.
  • The outcome of the meeting will be a detailed ‘Dubrovnik Action Plan’ and a shorter political ‘Dubrovnik Declaration’.
  • UK, Australia and Canada are actively opposing draft language to “condemn any use of cluster munitions, by any actor” in the ‘Dubrovnik Declaration’.
  • The UK’s statement today said: “I hope I have demonstrated the United Kingdom’s full and continuing support for this Convention. Mr President, you have invited all States Parties present to support the Dubrovnik Declaration as it stands. While it includes very useful language on universalisation, clearance, stockpile destruction and victim assistance, the United Kingdom regrets it cannot support the current unqualified language condemning all use of cluster munitions by any actor, as that ignores the other provisions of the Convention such as Article 21– the so-called ‘interoperability’ clause [on relations including military cooperation with states not party]. The UK is concerned that any text which undermines Article 21 may have the unintended effect of dissuading future States Parties from acceding to this Convention. For the United Kingdom, it is crucial that any document we agree here reflects the FULL text of the Convention – but I stress this should NOT be misinterpreted as an effort to ‘water down’ language – it is quite the contrary. Mr President, I would like to make clear that we remain ready and willing to continue constructive discussions to resolve this issue ASAP.” However, it is not the case that comprehensive condemnation would undermine Article 21.
  • Human Rights Watch has documented the use of US-manufactured cluster munitions in northern Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition and has reported US pressure not to condemn such use.
  • Sensor-fused CBU-105 air-dropped cluster munitions with BLU-108 submunitions as well as air-dropped cluster bombs with BLU-97 submunitions and M26 rocket-delivered cluster munitions with M77 submunitions have been used since April.
  • The government has yet to answer a 21 July question from Jeremy Corbyn on the UK response to cluster munition use in Yemen.


Thomas Nash, Director, Article 36: +44 (0) 7711 926 730 or

Posted in: Cluster munitions, Press releases, Protection of civilians,