The Islamic State, the extremist militant group now almost universally vilified for atrocities that include boastful beheadings, summary mass executions and enslavement in the areas it aspires to control, also has attacked enemies with cluster bombs, the banned weapons that kill and maim indiscriminately, Human Rights Watch said Monday.
Stephen Goose, the arms division director of Human Rights Watch, said in a statement that “credible evidence” had emerged that Islamic State forces used ground-fired cluster munitions on July 12 and Aug. 14 during fighting with Kurdish militia members in Aleppo province near the northern Syrian border with Turkey.
“The use of cluster munitions by nonstate actors such as the Islamic State shows the urgent need for Syria and all nations that have not yet done so to join the ban on cluster munitions and destroy their stockpiles,” Human Rights Watch said in the statement.
The group cited reports by Kurdish officials and photographic evidence to corroborate its assertions, saying that at least four Kurdish fighters and a child had been killed by the cluster munitions attacks.
Human Rights Watch said it was unclear how the Islamic State had acquired the munitions, which Syrian government forces also have used repeatedly despite worldwide condemnation.
Fired by rockets, mortars and artillery or dropped from aircraft, cluster bombs explode in midair, hurtling hundreds of lethal sub-munitions known as bomblets over a wide area. Many of the bomblets fail to explode immediately, effectively creating booby traps for the unsuspecting.
Last week the Cluster Munition Coalition, an organization of advocacy groups including Human Rights Watch, said in an annual report that Syrian government forces had used cluster bombs starting in 2012 in their campaign to crush an insurgency, surpassing Israel’s use of the weapons in the 2006 war in Lebanon that led to the global treaty banning their use in 2008.
The Human Rights Watch report came on the eve of the Cluster Munition Coalition’s annual meeting, to be held Tuesday through Friday in San Jose, Costa Rica, where compliance with the treaty will be discussed. Aside from Syria, cluster bomb use has been reported this year in the conflicts in South Sudan and Ukraine. None are among the 113 countries that have signed the treaty. Fifty-one have not signed, including the United States, Russia and China, though all three countries abide by the treaty’s provisions.