N.B. As per the disclaimer, neither the ICRC nor the authors can be identified with the opinions expressed in the Cases and Documents. Some cases even come to solutions that clearly violate IHL. They are nevertheless worthy of discussion, if only to raise a challenge to display more humanity in armed conflicts. Similarly, in some of the texts used in the case studies, the facts may not always be proven; nevertheless, they have been selected because they highlight interesting IHL issues and are thus published for didactic purposes.
[Source: GARDAZ, Samuel, “Les états-Unis utilisent des bombes à fragmentation”, in Le Temps, Geneva, 26 October 2001. Original in French, unofficial translation.]
The United States uses cluster bombs
The United Nations confirmed on Thursday that nine Afghan civilians had been killed by controversial weapons. [...]
The United States each day unleashes a little more of its range of weapons against the Taliban and seems to have gone one step further this week. On the twentieth day of the bombing of Afghanistan, US aircraft are said to have dropped cluster bombs on targets close to Herat in the west and on the fronts north of Kabul and near Mazar-i-Sharif. On Thursday a Pentagon official admitted anonymously that such weapons had been used.
According to the United Nations spokesperson in Islamabad, these missiles – which scatter hundreds of bomblets if they open before they touch the ground – have claimed the lives of nine civilians in Herat since the start of the week. For technical reasons, these sub-munitions, which are the size of a soft drink can, do not necessarily explode when they hit the ground and turn into de facto mines. One of the nine victims is said to have set off one of these sub-munitions by handling it.
The United States’ use of cluster bombs, a controversial weapon which has not been formally prohibited by international treaty, has angered several humanitarian organizations. The United Nations, which is carrying out de-mining campaigns in Afghanistan, asked Washington for clarification. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) did not give an opinion. In an “official statement” issued on Wednesday, it merely expressed its increasing concern “about the impact in humanitarian terms of the war in Afghanistan”. Darcy Christen, deputy ICRC spokesman, pointed out that “the ICRC only gives an opinion about the legitimacy of military means employed as a last resort and always bases its views on its own intelligence gathered in the field”. Like the other international organizations, the ICRC has evacuated its expatriate staff from Afghanistan.
An ICRC project
Cluster bombs, which were last used by the United States in Kosovo in 1999, are controversial. According to a Human Rights Watch report dated January 2000, in May 1999 the US supreme command issued a secret order prohibiting their use by its armed forces. Next December in Geneva, when the United Nations Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons of 1980 is reviewed, the ICRC will propose, among other recommendations, that it be prohibited to use sub-munitions, including cluster bombs, against military targets near populous civilian areas.
A bomb which splits into many others [...]
Cluster bombs are tubes which each contain 200 to 300 sub-munitions. Dropped by plane or fired by the artillery, the bombs release these sub-munitions, each the size of a soft drink can, at an altitude of between 100 and 1,000 metres. These sub-munitions can cover an area of 200 metres by 400 metres, the equivalent of eight football pitches. By scattering shrapnel over a range of 76 metres, each bomblet has an explosive force capable of piercing through armour plating, wiping out troop concentrations or neutralising minefields. Cluster bombs were used during the Viet Nam war and turn into mines when their sub-munitions do not explode: according to NATO, 29,000 sub-munitions did not explode in Kosovo.
[Source: ICRC, Press Release, 01/43, 16 October 2001; available on http://www.icrc.org]
ICRC warehouses bombed in Kabul
Geneva (ICRC) – Shortly after 1.00 p.m. local time today, two bombs were dropped on an ICRC compound in Kabul, wounding one of the organization’s employees who was guarding the facility. He was taken to hospital and the latest reports from ICRC staff in the Afghan capital indicate that he is in stable condition.
The compound is located two kilometres from the city’s airport. Like all other ICRC facilities in the country, it is clearly distinguishable from the air by the large red cross painted against a white background on the roof of each building.
One of the five buildings in the compound suffered a direct hit. It contained blankets, tarpaulins and plastic sheeting and is reported to be completely destroyed. A second building, containing food supplies, caught fire and was partially destroyed before the fire was brought under control.
The ICRC strongly regrets this incident, especially as one of its staff was wounded. It has approached the United States authorities for information on the exact circumstances.
International humanitarian law obliges the parties to conflict to respect the red cross and red crescent emblems and to take all the precautions needed to avoid harming civilians.
[Source: ICRC, Press Release, 01/48, 26 October 2001; available on http://www.icrc.org]
Bombing and occupation of ICRC facilities in Afghanistan
Geneva (ICRC) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) deplores the fact that bombs have once again been dropped on its warehouses in Kabul. A large (3X3 m) red cross on a white background was clearly displayed on the roof of each building in the complex. Initial reports indicate that nobody was hurt in this latest incident.
At about 11.30 a.m. local time, ICRC staff saw a large, slow-flying aircraft drop two bombs on the compound from low altitude. This is the same compound in which a building was destroyed in similar circumstances on 16 October. In this latest incident, three of the remaining four buildings caught fire. Two are said to have suffered direct hits.
Following the incident on 16 October, the ICRC informed the United States authorities once again of the location of its facilities.
The buildings contained the bulk of the food and blankets that the ICRC was in the process of distributing to some 55,000 disabled and other particularly vulnerable persons. The US authorities had also been notified of the distribution and the movement of vehicles and gathering of people at distribution points.
The ICRC also deplores the occupation and looting of its offices in Mazar-i-Sharif which were taken over by armed men three days ago. Office equipment, including computers, and vehicles were stolen. ICRC representations both to local authorities and to the Taliban ambassador in Pakistan have had no effect.
The ICRC reiterates that attacking or occupying facilities marked with the red cross emblem constitutes a violation of international humanitarian law.
[Source: U.S. inadvertently strikes residential area and ICRC warehouses, Centcom release number 01-10-06, 26 October 2001.]
October 26, 2001
Release number: 01-10-06
For immediate release
U.S. Inadvertently strikes residential area and ICRC warehouses
Macdill AFB, FL – At approximately 8 p.m. EDT yesterday (Oct. 25), two U.S. Navy F/A-18C Hornets each dropped one 2,000-pound GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) on warehouses used by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Kabul, Afghanistan.
At approximately the same time, an F/A-18C intending to strike the warehouses inadvertently dropped one 500-pound GBU-12 bomb in a residential area approximately 700 feet south of the warehouses.
At 4 a.m. EDT today (Oct. 26), two B-52H Stratofortress bombers each dropped three 2,000-pound JDAMs on the same warehouse complex.
The ICRC in Geneva has issued a statement indicating that no one was hurt in this incident. The U.S. sincerely regrets this inadvertent strike on the ICRC warehouses and the residential area.
Although details are still being investigated, preliminary indications are that the warehouses were struck due to a human error in the targeting process. Tow [sic] of the six warehouses hit had been inadvertently struck by the U.S. aircraft on Oct. 16 because the Taliban had used them previously for storage of military equipment, and military vehicles had been seen in the vicinity of these warehouses. Regarding he F/A-18C that inadvertently struck the residential area, initial indications are that the bomb’s guidance system malfunctioned.
U.S. forces intentionally strike only military and terrorist targets. The U.S. is the largest donor of food and other humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, and U.S. forces are aggressive supporters of the worldwide effort to help the Afghan people. The U.S. has been a strong and longstanding supporter of the ICRC.
[Source: Commentary by Fannie, 8 years old, Montréal, Canada, during the programme “Le Point”, Télévision de Radio-Canada, 13 November 2001; unofficial translation.]
They made mistakes; this morning they launched missiles. I heard that they had launched them into a Red Cross building. I think that it is true we can make mistakes, but I think that they should have made the mistake elsewhere.