(New York, September 1, 2008) – The Georgian government said it used cluster munitions during the August 2008 armed conflict with Russia, Human Rights Watch said today. In a letter to Human Rights Watch, the Georgian Defense Ministry stated that cluster rockets were “used against Russian military equipment and armament marching from Roki tunnel to Dzara road [sic],” but that they “were never used against civilians, civilian targets and civilian populated or nearby areas.” Human Rights Watch has not independently confirmed this information, but has reported Russia’s use of cluster munitions during the fighting.
Human Rights Watch said it welcomed Georgia’s willingness to acknowledge its use of cluster munitions and expressed hope that this was a first step toward adopting the treaty.
The Georgian Ministry of Defense identified the type of cluster munitions used as the GRADLAR 160 multiple launch rocket system with MK4 rockets with M85 submunitions. First Deputy Minister of Defense Batu Kutelia also told Human Rights Watch that these are the only cluster munitions Georgia possesses.
In August, Human Rights Watch documented Russia’s use of several types of cluster munitions, both air- and ground-launched, in a number of locations in Georgia’s Gori district, causing 11 civilian deaths and wounding dozens more. Russia continues to deny using cluster munitions.
“Russia has yet to own up to using cluster munitions and the resulting civilian casualties,” said Garlasco.
This is the first time that Georgia has acknowledged using cluster munitions. Human Rights Watch to date has no information on any civilian casualties caused by Georgia’s use of the weapon. Human Rights Watch is continuing to investigate use of cluster munitions by both Georgia and Russia.
Human Rights Watch called on Georgia and Russia to immediately renounce any future use of cluster munitions, and to commit to joining the new Convention on Cluster Munitions when it opens for signature in Oslo on December 3, 2008.
Neither Georgia nor Russia was part of the Oslo Process launched in February 2007 to develop a new international treaty banning cluster munitions. In May 2008, 107 nations meeting in Dublin adopted the convention, which comprehensively bans the use, production, trade, and stockpiling of the weapon.
Cluster munitions are large weapons that contain dozens or hundreds of smaller submunitions. They cause unacceptable humanitarian harm in two ways. First, their broad-area effect kills and injures civilians indiscriminately during strikes. Second, many submunitions do not explode, becoming de facto landmines that cause civilian casualties for months or years to come.
The Georgian government told Human Rights Watch that it used the M85 submunitions, which have a “self-destruction mechanism ... designed to ensure that no armed duds will be left on the battlefield.” However, field research has shown that M85 submunitions used by Israel in south Lebanon in 2006 had a failure rate of greater than 10 percent, leaving large numbers of dangerous “duds” on the ground.