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Last Updated: 14 September 2011

Cluster Munition Ban Policy


As this report went to print in early August 2011, fighting was continuing between Libyan government forces under the leadership of Muammar Gaddafi and rebel groups supported by nations participating in the Operation Unified Protector military action by NATO. Cluster munitions have been used in the conflict by Libyan government forces.


The Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya has not acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Under the leadership of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya showed interest in the convention, but made no effort to join it.

The Monitor is not aware of any statements on the cluster munition ban by the National Transitional Council (NTC), the opposition authority in Libya. On 28 April 2011, the NTC formally pledged not to use mines.[1]

Libya participated in three regional conferences held during the 2007–2008 Oslo Process that developed the convention, but attended the formal negotiations in Dublin in May 2008 as an observer only and did not join in the consensus adoption of the convention.[2] Libya did not attend the Oslo Signing Conference in December 2008.

Libya showed some interest in the convention during 2010. It attended a regional conference on cluster munitions in Pretoria, South Africa in March 2010 and participated as an observer in the First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Vientiane, Lao PDR in November 2010. Its representatives did not make any statements at these meetings. Libya did not attend intersessional meetings of the convention in Geneva in June 2011.

Libya is not a party to the Mine Ban Treaty or the Convention on Conventional Weapons.

Production, transfer, and stockpiling

Libya is not known to have produced or exported cluster munitions. 

Libya possesses a stockpile of cluster munitions, but its current status and composition are unknown. Jane’s Information Group lists Libya as possessing KMG-U dispensers (which deploy submunitions) and RBK-500 aerial cluster bombs, again presumably of Soviet/Russian origin.[3] It also possesses Grad 122mm surface-to-surface rocket launchers, but it is also not known if the ammunition for these weapons includes versions with submunition payloads.[4]

In June 2011, Spain confirmed that it had transferred a total of 1,055 MAT-120 cluster munitions containing 22,155 submunitions to Libya in 2006 and 2008.[5]


2011 Conflict

In April 2011, Human Rights Watch and The New York Times documented the use of cluster munitions by government forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in residential areas of the city of Misrata. This is believed to be the first and only known use of the MAT-120 cluster munition in combat.

Human Rights Watch observed at least three cluster munitions explode over the el-Shawahda neighborhood of Misrata on the night of 14 April 2011. It subsequently interviewed witnesses to two other apparent cluster munition strikes and found that submunitions appeared to have landed about 300 meters from Misrata hospital.  Recovered remnants of the cluster munitions were identified by Human Rights Watch and The New York Times as the MAT-120 manufactured by Spanish company Instalaza SA. The MAT-120 is a projectile fired by a 120mm mortar that contains 21 dual-purpose submunitions. Markings on carrier projectile remnants and submunitions indicated they were produced in 2007.[6]

Libyan authorities immediately denied government use of cluster munitions in Misrata. When asked by media to comment on the use, Tripoli-based government spokesperson Mussa Ibrahim responded, “We can never do this [use cluster munitions], morally, legally and because this is our country. We can't do that, we will never do it.”[7]

On 8 May 2011, NATO’s chief of operations and intelligence, U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Mark Ramsay, said, “We have absolutely irrefutable evidence that he [Gaddafi] used, likely mortar fire, to drop cluster munitions on his own people for the express purpose of killing and injuring them.”[8]

By 1 July, the European Union and at least eight States Parties and signatories to the Convention on Cluster Munitions had condemned or expressed grave concern about the Libyan government’s use of cluster munitions: Austria, Australia, Lao PDR, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, and the United Kingdom (UK). United States (US) Secretary of State Hilary Clinton described the Libyan government’s cluster munition use as “worrying.”[9]The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the CMC condemned Libyan use of cluster munitions.[10] A NTC spokesperson said the government’s use of cluster munitions confirmed it was “bent on creating a large humanitarian crisis in Misrata.”[11]

There is no evidence of cluster munition use in Libya by states involved in the NATO military action, including by the US and other states that have not yet joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions.[12]

Previous Use

Previously, Libyan forces used aerial cluster bombs, likely RBK bombs of Soviet/Russian origin, containing AO-1Sch and PTAB-2.5 submunitions, at various locations during its intervention in Chad during the 1986–1987 conflict.[13]

On 25 March 1986, US Navy aircraft attacked Libyan ships using Mk-20 Rockeye cluster bombs in the Gulf of Sidra. On the night of 14–15 April 1986, US Navy aircraft dropped 60 Rockeye bombs on the airfield at Benina.[14]

On 27 November 2009, a commercial oil company survey crew in Libya found remnants of a German World War II-era “butterfly bomb” (an early version of a cluster bomb).  Subsequently, an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) expert identified six more such cluster munition remnants.[15]

Cluster munition remnants

The precise extent of contamination from cluster munition remnants is not known. Mines Advisory Group (MAG) conducted a rapid assessment of contamination in Misrata at the end of May 2011 and reported, “The presence of UXO and cluster munitions is extensive. … Conclusive evidence of cluster munition use was found at three sites, and the probability of finding additional contamination in other currently inaccessible areas of the city is very high.”[16]

In June 2011, MAG reported that makeshift street “museums” in Misrata were displaying a large range of munitions, including unexploded submunitions, and attracting hundreds of curious visitors every day.  MAG displayed a photograph on its website of a man holding a submunition in each hand, which it described as “a disaster waiting to happen.”[17]

While it has not been confirmed, contamination from unexploded submunitions may also have occurred from air strikes on ammunition storage areas that contained stockpiled cluster munitions, causing submunitions to be ejected into the surrounding area.

Clearance of cluster munition contaminated areas

Due to the ongoing conflict, as of July 2011 the Monitor is not able to provide detailed information on the status of the clearance of cluster munition remnants. In July 2011, it was reported that MAG and DanChurchAid (DCA) had found parts of a cluster munition casing and four unexploded submunitions at Al Dafaniya, west of Misrata, which were all subsequently destroyed.[18]

To ensure the mine action response to the mine/explosive remnants of war (ERW) threat in Libya is coordinated, the UN and international NGOs have partnered to form a “Joint Mine Action Coordination Team” (JMACT).[19] JMACT partners include, Danish Demining Group (DDG), DCA, Handicap International (HI), Information Management and Mine Action Programs (iMMAP), ICRC, Norwegian People’s Aid, MAG, the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action, UNICEF, and the UN Mine Action Service (UNMAS). 

Risk Reduction Education

To respond to the immediate threat from ERW, including cluster munition remnants, UNICEF and HI have initiated a mine/ERW risk education (RE) program in Libya. As of July 2011, direct sessions with trained volunteers were underway in internally displaced person (IDP) camps in areas of eastern Libya including Ajdabiya, Benghazi, and Misrata.[20] In addition, more than 30,000 information leaflets had been distributed to IDP communities in Ajdabiya, Benghazi, Brega, and Misrata in addition to Tunisian border areas. Mosques, local radio stations, and civil society groups have also disseminated safety messages in their local communities.[21] As of mid-July, HI reported that it had intervened in 23 IDP camps in Benghazi, providing more than 2,000 people (mostly children) with emergency RE. Private companies, local authorities, and other associations have also benefited from RE.[22]


In June and July 2011, four cluster munition casualties were reported, all in Misrata: one man was reported killed at Al Dafaniya west of Misrata[23] and three children—two boys[24] and one girl[25]—were reported injured. The Monitor has been unable to verify if these casualties were caused by unexploded submunitions from the MAT-120 cluster munition strikes and, as yet, there is no coherent data collection system in place.

The Monitor has identified a total of 63 mine/ERW casualties in the period from April-July 2011, including the four reported cluster munition casualties listed above. Casualties were reported in Ajdabiya, Al Wahat, Misrata, and the Nafusa mountains. For 54 casualties, no detailed information was available on the type of explosive item that caused the casualty; it is possible that there may have been additional casualties from unexploded submunitions among these casualties.[26]

No casualties from cluster munitions were identified in Libya prior to the outbreak of conflict in 2011.

The 2011 conflict has resulted in a deteriorating health care situation in the country including lack of access to health care, drugs, and medical supplies and a shortage of health professionals, including nurses and other hospital staff.  Libya’s health system had been dependent on migrant workers, many of whom left the country due to the conflict.[27]


[1] Human Rights Watch Press release, “Libya: Rebels Pledge Not to Use Landmines,” 29 April 2011, www.hrw.org.

[2] At the Livingstone Conference on Cluster Munitions in April 2008, Libya endorsed the Livingstone Declaration, which called on African states to support the negotiation of a “total and immediate” prohibition on cluster munitions. At the Kampala Conference on the Convention on Cluster Munitions in September 2008, Libya endorsed the Kampala Action Plan, which called on all African states to sign and ratify the convention as soon as possible.  For more details on Libya’s cluster munition policy and practice up to early 2009, see Human Rights Watch and Landmine Action, Banning Cluster Munitions: Government Policy and Practice (Ottawa: Mines Action Canada, May 2009), pp. 220–221. Libya also attended the Africa Regional Conference on the Universalization and Implementation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Pretoria, South Africa in March 2010.

[3] Robert Hewson, ed., Jane’s Air-Launched Weapons, Issue 44 (Surrey, UK: Jane’s Information Group Limited, 2004), p. 842.

[4] International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2011, (London: Routledge, 2011), p. 320. Libya has demonstrated that it possesses at least one type of 122mm cargo rocket. Human Rights Watch and The New York Times also documented the use by government forces of Type-84A scatterable antivehicle mines (made in China) delivered by 122mm rockets into the port area of Misrata on the night of 14–15 April 2011, see www.hrw.org.

[5] The transfer took place before Spain instituted a moratorium on export of cluster munitions and prior to its adoption of the Convention on Cluster Munitions. Statement by Spain, Convention on Cluster Munitions Intersessional Meeting, Geneva, 29 June 2011. In the statement, Spain confirmed information provided to the New York Times by the Deputy Director General for Foreign Trade of Defense Materials and Dual Use Goods, Ramon Muro Martinez, that: “One license to Lybia [sic] consisting of 5 cluster munitions for demonstration was issued in August 2006. The export took place in October 2006. There were two more licenses issued in December 2007 with a total amount of 1,050 cluster munitions. They were sent in March 2008.” CJ Chivers, “Following Up, Part 2. Down the Rabbit Hole: Arms Exports and Qaddafi’s Cluster Bombs,” The New York Times – At War Blog, June 22, 2011, atwar.blogs.nytimes.com.

[6] Human Rights Watch fact sheet: “Cluster Munition Use in Libya,” 27 June 2011. www.hrw.org; CJ Chivers, “Qaddafi Troops Fire Cluster Bombs Into Civilian Areas,” The New York Times, 15 April 2011, www.nytimes.com; and Human Rights Watch Press release, “Libya: Cluster Munitions Strike Misrata,” 15 April 2011, www.hrw.org.

[7] ‘Tripoli denies use of cluster bombs’, Reuters (Tripoli), video report, 16 April 2011, www.reuters.com.

[8] Eric Westervelt, “NATO Official: More Progress Than Meets Eye In Libya,” NPR, 8 May 2011, www.npr.org. 

[9] Transcript of remarks by Hillary Rodham Clinton, US Secretary of State, Berlin, 15 April 2011, www.state.gov.

[10] CMC press release, “Cluster Munition Coalition condemns use of cluster munitions by Libyan Armed Forces,” 15 April 2011, www.stopclustermunitions.org; and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, Condemnation of reported use of cluster munitions in Libya, 20 April 2011, www.ohchr.org.

[11] Abdul Hafiz Ghoga, NTC Spokesperson, Comments on reports of cluster munition use in Libya, 17 April 2011, www.telegraph.co.uk.

[12] At the outset of the conflict, the CMC urged all countries that have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions to help ensure that cluster munitions are not used by states that have not yet joined the Convention in any military action in Libya. See CMC statement, “States parties should warn against use of cluster munitions in Libya,” 18 March 2011, www.stopclustermunitions.org.

[13] HI, Circle of Impact: The Fatal Footprint of Cluster Munitions on People and Communities (Brussels: HI, 2007), p. 48.

[14] Daniel P. Bolger, Americans at War: 1975–1986, An Era of Violent Peace (Novato, CA.: Presidio Press, 1988), p. 423.

[15] Daily report by Jan-Ole Robertz, EOD Technical Advisor, Countermine Libya, 27 November 2009.

[16] MAG, “Libya: Assessment mission shows need for urgent response in Misrata,” 1 June 2011, www.maginternational.org.

[17] MAG, “Libya: Remnants of conflict continue to pose huge threat to civilians,” 22 June 2011, www.maginternational.org.

[18] In mid-July 2011, it was reported that MAG and DCA had conducted an assessment in Al Dafaniya, west of Misrata, where they found that a man had been killed while handling an item of unexploded ordnance. On further inspection the teams found parts of a cluster munition casing as well as four other unexploded submunitions, all of which were destroyed.  Joint Mine Action Coordination Team – Libya, “Weekly Report # 9, 18 July 2011,” p. 4.

[19] UNMAS, “Joint Mine Action Coordination Team – Libya (JMACT),” undated, www.mineaction.org.

[20] UNICEF Press release, “UNICEF and Handicap International raising risk awareness through programs for children in Libya,” Benghazi, Libya, 8 July 2011, www.unicef.org.

[21] Ibid.

[22] HI, “Libya: Widespread distribution of mine-risk prevention messages,” 12 July 2011, www.handicap-international.us.

[23] Joint Mine Action Coordination Team – Libya, “Weekly Report # 9, 18 July 2011,” p. 4.

[24] On 6 June 2011, UNICEF reported that two cousins, Ayman (14) and Mamud (9), had brought home a piece of ordnance from near the Medical Technical College in Misrata, which subsequently exploded, destroying Ayman’s hands. UNICEF, “Libya: Protecting children from unexploded ordnance,” Misrata, 6 June 2011. www.unicef.org.au. Ayman was subsequently taken to Tunisia for treatment. His family believes his injuries were definitely caused by an unexploded submunition. Email from James Wheeler, 11 June 2011. 

[25] In late June 2011, a spokesperson for Misrata health committee, Dr. Khaled Abufalghan, told Al Jazeera, “Just the other day a child was admitted to hospital after picking up a live cluster bomb. She lost her hand.” Ruth Sherlock, “Unlucky camel finds Libya's largest minefield,” Al Jazeera, 28 June 2011, english.aljazeera.net.

[26] Monitor casualty analysis based on the following sources: MAG, “LIBYA: Children at risk from munitions,” 14 June 2011, www.maginternational.org; UNICEF, “Libya: Protecting children from unexploded ordnance,” Misrata, 6 June 2011, www.unicef.org.au; Ruth Sherlock, “Unlucky camel finds Libya's largest minefield,” Al Jazeera, 28 June 2011, english.aljazeera.net; email from James Wheeler, Photographer, 10 August 2011; C.J. Chivers, “Land Mines Descend on Misurata’s Port, Endangering Libyan City’s Supply Route,” New York Times (Misrata) 6 May 2011, www.nytimes.com; Human Rights Watch, “Libya: Government Lays More Mines in Western Mountains,” (Zintan), 8 July 2011, www.hrw.org; and UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), “Libya Arab Jamahiriya Crisis: Situation Report #44,” 10 June 2011, libya.humanitarianresponse.info.

[27] OCHA, ““Libya Arab Jamahiriya Crisis: Situation Report #49,” 14 July 2011, libya.humanitarianresponse.info.