Human rights organizations have urged Russia to halt its use of cluster bombs in Ukraine, claiming that lethal attacks using the indiscriminate weapons on a hospital and a school might amount to war crimes.
Cluster bombs hit a preschool in northeastern Ukraine that was being used as a refuge for civilians on Friday, killing three people, including a toddler, according to Amnesty International.
After pictures indicated cluster bombs impacted at least seven spots on or near the school, rights organizations stated the strike in Okhtyrka “may constitute a war crime.”
Amnesty said the attack “appears to have been carried out by Russian forces, which were operating nearby, and which have a record of using cluster munitions in populated areas”.
“There is no possible justification for dropping cluster munitions in populated areas, let alone near a school,” Amnesty Secretary General Agnes Callamard said in a statement on Sunday.
The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which prohibits the manufacturing and use of cluster munitions, has been signed by over 100 nations, however Russia and Ukraine have not.
Cluster munitions-carrying missiles burst in the air, scattering dozens or hundreds of tiny bomblets across a vast region.
They frequently fail to detonate upon impact, making them landmines for anybody who stumbles across them.
According to Human Rights Watch, Russian cluster bombs targeted a hospital in Vuhledar, eastern Ukraine, killing four people and injured ten others, six of whom were healthcare professionals.
“This callous attack has killed and injured civilians, and damaged a hospital,” said HRW’s arms director Stephen Goose.
It is a war crime to launch indiscriminate strikes that kill or harm people, and hospitals and schools are accorded further particular protection under international law.
According to the investigative website Bellingcat, which has been compiling claims of cluster bomb use in Ukraine, Kharkiv “appears to have been the target of multiple cluster munition attacks.”
“Images and videos posted online demonstrate even wider use of these weapons in civilian areas,” Bellingcat said, reproducing dashcam footage of a driver trying to avoid a hail of bomblets in Kharkiv.
“This stretch of highway runs through a residential area and is immediately next to a children’s hospital,” Bellingcat said.
The International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Cluster Munitions (ICBL-CMC) “strongly criticized” their deployment in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and demanded a “immediate halt to their usage.”