Cluster bomb use deemed 'war crime' by UN team

Israel's ambassador to UN argues report ignores Hizbullah attacks on Israel.

yitzhak levanon un 29888 (photo credit: AP [file])
yitzhak levanon un 29888
(photo credit: AP [file])
Three international law experts assigned by the UN human rights watchdog to investigate the aftermath of this summer's war in Lebanon said Friday that one of their main conclusions is that Israel's use of cluster bombs proves the weapons should be banned. The indiscriminate use of cluster bombs and deliberate attacks on civilians could qualify as war crimes that Israel should prosecute, according to a 153-page report the commission of inquiry presented to the UN Human Rights Council.
  • The second Lebanon war: special report "We saw the terrible, cruel consequences of the use of those weapons," said Joao Clemente Baena Soares of Brazil. "We think they should be banned. They should be included in the list of weapons that are prohibited by international law." Israel's ambassador rejected the report as one-sided because it failed to include attacks on Israel by Hizbullah, which he said targeted the Israel with 13,000 missiles, placing more than two million Israeli citizens within firing range. "Because a vast majority of Israeli civilian homes are equipped with bomb shelters, Israel's number of casualties was thankfully lower than might otherwise have been expected," Israeli Ambassador Itzhak Levanon said. "But the commission cannot blame Israel for protecting its civilians and must be taken to task for failing to recognize the difference between one party that strives to protect its citizens through shelters and another which fills its civilian homes with missile stores," he said. The commission, which also included Judge Mohamed Chande Othman of the Tanzanian supreme court and Greek professor Stelios Perrakis, noted that the mandate given them by the council was only to investigate the impact of the war on Lebanon and not to go into what happened in Israel. The Israeli ambassador said Hizbullah "made every effort to create civilian casualties on both sides" while his country's forces "were committed to making every effort to minimize them." "Israel had no desire to injure Lebanese civilians, and it did not spare efforts to spare their lives, by dropping leaflets, giving advance notification of military maneuvers, and repeatedly sending warning messages through radio and television," he said. The commission, however, said it found that "the excessive, indiscriminate and disproportionate use of force by the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) goes beyond reasonable arguments of military necessity and of proportionality, and clearly failed to distinguish between civilian and military targets, thus constituting a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law," the report said. "In certain cases, such as the deliberate attacks against civilians and civilian properties, attacks against Red Cross ambulances and other protected objects, and the indiscriminate use of cluster munitions, the violations committed by IDF could qualify as serious violations of the laws and customs of war and war crimes," the report said. Ninety percent of the cluster munitions used by the Israelis were fired during the last 72 hours of the conflict, it said and asserted that the weapons were used deliberately to make large areas of fertile agricultural land unusable. Latest estimates are that Israel dropped more than 1 million mini-explosives on Lebanon, it said. The miniature bombs are packed into containers that can be fired by artillery or dropped from aircraft to destroy airfields or tanks and soldiers. A single container typically scatters some 200 to 600 of the mini-explosives as small as a flashlight battery over an area the size of a football field. The high "dud" rate of the small-bombs means that they effectively have become land mines littered across Lebanon, waiting to explode when someone touches them, the report said. Children are especially vulnerable because the tiny bombs are often an eye-catching yellow with small parachutes attached. The European Union, the United Nations and the international Red Cross have joined in the international outcry against cluster bombs in recent months. The weapons, a descendant of the "butterfly bomb" dropped by Nazi Germany on Britain in World War II, were first used by the United States in Southeast Asia, and most recently in Afghanistan and Iraq. Similar weapons were used by Soviet and Russian troops in Angola, Afghanistan and Chechnya, where leftover duds also continue to inflict casualties. The United States opposes a ban on the weapons, maintaining they are valuable for attacking artillery positions or runways, armor columns and missile installations. The report said the conflict in Lebanon resulted in 1,191 deaths and 4,409 injured, with children making up one-third of the casualties. Some 30,000 Lebanese houses were destroyed, and more than 900,000 people fled their homes. "Israel also suffered serious casualties," the commission said, noting reports that 43 civilians were killed and 997 injured and that 300,000 persons were displaced by Hizbullah's attacks on Israeli towns in northern Israel. Rights organizations have accused Hizbullah of also using cluster bombs. Human Rights Watch said in a report published in October that the militant group had fired Chinese-made Type-81 rockets at northern Israel, "the first confirmed use of this particular model of cluster munition anywhere in the world." Israeli officials said a total of 113 cluster bombs landed in Israel during the war, killing one person and injuring dozens. Hizbullah denies it used the weapon.