US human rights organizations condemn cluster munitions aid to Ukraine ‘short-sighted, inhumane, and a complete disregard for intl law’
Published: Aug 31, 2023 08:38 PM
Photo: VCG

Photo: AFP

Cluster munitions provided by the US arrived in Ukraine in mid-July, while controversies abound as multiple human rights groups and some US congressmen express concern over long-term harm to civilians. At least 38 human rights organizations have publicly opposed the transfer of cluster munitions to Ukraine, where the weapons have already been used in the war to devastating effect, the Hill reported on July 7. 

These human rights groups have urged Russia and Ukraine not to use cluster munitions - which are banned by more than 100 countries - and have asked the US not to supply them.

The Global Times contacted several organizations including Legacies of War, the US-based advocacy and educational organization working to address the impacts of the American Secret War in Laos and conflict in the neighboring countries of Cambodia and Vietnam, and Code Pink, a women-led grassroots organization working to end US wars and militarism, to hear their voices and concerns, many of which are tied to the already dark legacy of cluster munition deployment. 

Growing up in Laos, Sera Koulabdara, the CEO of Legacies of War, witnessed her father, Sith Koulabdara, operate on countless victims of cluster munition accidents, including a little girl who attended the same school as her and shaped her passion for her role today.

"I know firsthand the horrors of cluster munitions. Given Laos' own history of subjugation and foreign invasion, I deeply value freedom and respect each country's right to defend its territory. I stand firmly behind the US' commitment to help Ukrainians. However, not by sending cluster munitions," Koulabdara told the Global Times.

She called the US' decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine "short-sighted, inhumane, and shows an inability to learn lessons from its own history, and a complete disregard for international law." 

"Cluster munitions are not the 'winning weapon' but one that will prolong suffering for Ukrainians now and for decades to come," she stressed. This is a subject with which Koulabdara is familiar. 

"During my last trip to Laos in 2022, I had the opportunity to meet with and hear 64-year-old Yong Kham's story while visiting a demining site in Sepon, Laos, in fall 2022. I learned that he and his family endured the nine-year air war waged by the US from 1964-1973. Most of his childhood was spent in a muddy, foul trench or dark cave to avoid death. He was injured during one of the bombing raids by a cluster bomb. He survived it, but two of his siblings were not so lucky. Cluster munitions claimed their lives in the trench," she recalled.

"Decades later, in 2003, his eldest son, Tong Dum, was fatally killed by cluster bombs while collecting wood and scraps. His life was just getting started at the young age of 21," she continued. 

Koulabdara noted that as a result of the war, one-third of Ukrainian soil is already polluted with unexploded ordnances (UXO) and mines, and that is before Ukraine uses its vast new arsenal of cluster munitions from the US. She urged the US government to reconsider their decision, given the fact that the long-term impact of cluster munitions and other explosives will negatively affect all aspects of life for the people of Ukraine.

Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of Code Pink, said they believe that cluster munitions can result in a high civilian casualty rate, "severing the limbs of adults who, decades later, accidentally step on unexploded grenades, as well as children who picked up the small shiny bombs thinking they were toys, only to lose their hands."

"Some claim Ukraine can 'clean up' [the cluster bombs] after the war, but we have seen over and over again -  in Laos, Cambodia, Kosovo, Lebanon, and Afghanistan - how unlikely that is. There is no magic eraser," Benjamin told the Global Times. 

The co-founder of Code Pink also noted that the organization is pleased to see that 49 democrats and 98 republicans voted for an amendment to stop Biden from sending these weapons to Ukraine. "Although the amendment failed, it showed bipartisan opposition," Benjamin said.

 "There is no moral sanctity - only moral atrocity- in choosing to ship hideous weapons to Ukraine while dismissing calls from the Global South, the UN Secretary General, and the Pope to support an immediate ceasefire and peace negotiations," said the co-founder. 

"While the US did not sign the treaty banning cluster munitions, it did pass a law against their transfer. President Biden's choice to bypass the law in the supposed interest of national security undermines congress' constitutional authority," Benjamin argued. 

Rather than "escalating an arms race to risk nuclear war," Code Pink believes that the Biden administration should "promote a ceasefire and negotiations without preconditions."

"Instead of breaking international law, the US should break the military stalemate by joining the global call for a diplomatic resolution to the conflict. We oppose shipping cluster munitions, as well as all weapons to Ukraine because there is no military solution - only more heartache as the war escalates," said Benjamin.

The Peace in Ukraine Coalition anchored by Code Pink has been tabling, petitioning, writing op-ed pieces, taking out full page ads, and meeting with congressional staff on Capitol Hill to promote a ceasefire and diplomatic resolution.

"It is incumbent upon us to support a diplomatic resolution and not sabotage peace negotiations by sending more and more barbaric weapons, from tanks with depleted uranium, to nuclear-capable long range fighter jets to cluster bombs," warned Marcy Winograd, the coordinator of Peace in Ukraine Coalition.