Saudi Arabia's coalition in Yemen is using internationally banned cluster munition explosives supplied by the United States, despite evidence of civilian casualties and the fact that the weapons fall short of US weaponry standards, according to Human Rights Watch.
HRW says the weapons were recently transferred to the Saudi-led coalition, and "are being used in civilian areas contrary to US export requirements and also appear to be failing to meet the reliability standard required for US export of the weapons."
"Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners, as well as their US supplier, are blatantly disregarding the global standard that says cluster munitions should never be used under any circumstances," said Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch and chair of the international Cluster Munition Coalition. "The Saudi-led coalition should investigate evidence that civilians are being harmed in these attacks and immediately stop using them."
Cluster munitions, also known as "cluster bombs," are weapons containing multiple "sub-explosives" that are released and dispersed over an area. Due to the threat they pose to civilians (often, fallen submunitions fail to explode and are highly dangerous until they're cleared) a total of 118 countries have banned their use.
An FZU-39/B proximity sensor, which opens CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapon in mid-air, reportedly taken in Sanhan, Sanaa governorate on May 21. (Image via Human Rights Watch)
In the report, a man named Muhammed Ahmed recalled watching parachutes fall toward his village when the coalition carried out an air attack on the military port of al-Hayma, which is reportedly occupied by the Yemeni coast guard, Houthi rebel forces, local fishermen, and gasoline smugglers.
"We suddenly saw about 20 white parachutes in the air, falling toward the port," Ahmed said. "Less than a minute later, each one released a cloud of black smoke as it neared the ground and exploded. It looked like a series of multiple bombs all next to each other.
"Less than 5 minutes later, it happened again, another bomb let out a group of about 20 parachutes and the same thing happened... But because of the direction the wind was blowing, the parachutes suddenly started falling toward our village," he continued.
Fishing boats burn in al-Hayma Port in Hodaida governorate after CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons used in the attack on December 12, 2015.
Cluster munitions have also been reported by HRW as a weapon employed in at least 14 attacks in Syria by the Russian-Syrian joint military operation.
The report says that US export law prohibits "recipients of cluster munitions from using them in populated areas, as the Saudi coalition has clearly been doing," and "only allows the transfer of cluster munitions with a failure rate of less than 1 percent." The report said the Sensor Fuzed Weapons the coalition is using in Yemen are not meeting those standards.
In January, United Nations investigators reported that the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has been "systematically" targeting civilians through air strikes, and was suspected to have bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital.