01/15/2013 08:26 am ET Updated Mar 17, 2013

Syria: Army Using New Type of Cluster Munition

(Washington, DC) – Syrian forces are using notoriously indiscriminate rockets that contain explosive submunitions. Evidence indicates that Syrian forces used BM-21 Grad multi-barrel rocket launchers to deliver cluster munitions in attacks near the city of Idlib in December 2012 and in Latamneh, a town northwest of Hama, on January 3, 2013.

These are the first known instances of Syrian use of ground-based cluster munitions. No information is available on how or when Syria acquired these cluster munitions, which were made in Egypt. Human Rights Watch and others have previously reported use of air-dropped cluster bombs. The Syrian government should immediately cease all use of cluster munitions, which have been comprehensively banned by 111 nations through an international treaty.

“Syria is escalating and expanding its use of cluster munitions, despite international condemnation of its embrace of this banned weapon,” said Steve Goose, director of the Arms division at Human Rights Watch. “It is now resorting to a notoriously indiscriminate type of cluster munition that gravely threatens civilian populations.”

Based on interviews with witnesses, analysis of approximately a dozen videos posted online by local activists, and photographs taken by an international journalist, Human Rights Watch has concluded that since at least early December Syrian forces have used BM-21 Grad multi-barrel rocket launchers to deliver 122mm cluster munition rockets containing submunitions of the DPICM-type (dual purpose improved conventional munition).

The attack using these cluster munitions on January 3 on Latamneh killed one civilian man and wounded 15 people, including women and children, while another civilian man was killed by an unexploded submunition left from the attack. Another man, a fighter for the armed opposition group the Free Syrian Army, was killed on December 5 after handling an unexploded submunition left from an attack two days earlier on the village of Banin in Jabal al-Zaweya.

The Soviet-made BM-21 multi-barrel rocket launcher is a truck-mounted system capable of firing 40 rockets nearly simultaneously. The rockets have a range from 4 to 40 kilometers and are notorious for their inability to be accurately targeted due to their lack of a guidance system. The inaccuracy of these rockets exacerbates the danger from the wide area effect of the submunitions they contain. Fired in groups, the rockets can inflict large-scale civilian casualties when used in residential areas, Human Rights Watch said.

The 122mm cluster munition rockets bear the markings of the Egyptian state-owned Arab Organization for Industrialization and an Egyptian company called Sakr Factory for Development Industries. The DPICM submunitions contained in the rockets are designed for both antipersonnel and antivehicle purposes. Each DPICM submunition is the size of a D cell battery and has a distinctive white ribbon. It is not known if the 122mm rockets are SAKR-18 or SAKR-36 variants, which contain 72 and 98 submunitions respectively.

These are the first recorded uses of the 122mm rockets containing DPICM submunitions in the Syrian conflict. In October and November, Human Rights Watch documented a country-wide increase in the use of Soviet-made RBK-250/275 AO-1SCh and RBK-250 PTAB-2.5 cluster bombs delivered by Syrian aircraft.

Detailed accounts of the attacks >>