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Last Updated: 17 December 2012

Cluster Munition Ban Policy


Libya has not acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The Monitor is not aware of any statements on the cluster munition ban by the National Transitional Council (NTC) of Libya, which announced the liberation of the country on 24 October 2011. The NTC is an interim government, and Libyans are scheduled to elect a 200-member assembly to oversee writing a new constitution and form a government in 2012.

The previous government of 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.[1] Libya did not attend the Oslo Signing Conference in December 2008. It participated in a regional conference on cluster munitions in Pretoria, South Africa in March 2010 and attended the First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions in Vientiane, Lao PDR in November 2010 as an observer, but did not make any statements.

No representatives from Libya participated in any meetings of the convention in the second half of 2011 or the first half of 2012.

Libya is not a party to the Mine Ban Treaty. On 28 April 2011, the NTC formally pledged not to use landmines.[2]

Libya is not a party to 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 in the past listed 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]

From the recent conflict, it is now also known that Libya has stockpiled RBK-250 cluster bombs, MAT-120 mortar projectiles with submunitions, and an unidentified type of cluster munition with dual purpose improved conventional munition (DPICM) submunitions.

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]


During the 2011 conflict, government forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi used three different types of cluster munitions at locations including Ajabiya, Misrata, and in the Nafusa Mountains near Jadu and Zintan. NATO air strikes on a military depot at Mizdah created unexploded ordnance from munitions stored by Libya, including unexploded submunitions.

In April 2011, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and The New York Times documented the use of MAT-120 mortar cluster munitions by government forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in residential areas of the city of Misrata.[6] The clearance agency Mines Advisory Group (MAG) estimated a dud rate of 9.5% for the MAT-120s used in Libya.[7]

In February 2012, The New York Times reported that MAG clearance staff had found the remnants of an RBK-250, an air-dropped cluster munition, and about 30 PTAB-2.5M submunitions, “some exploded, others not,” a month earlier in the desert 20 miles south of the city of Ajdabiya. Manufactured in the Soviet-era, the cluster munition was found “where journalists witnessed low-elevation airstrikes by Libyan government aircraft” in March 2011 “often against convoys and concentrations of anti-Qaddafi fighters who roamed the highway between Ajabiya and Ras Lanuf.” [8]

On 8 March 2012, Human Rights Watch found two different types of intact submunitions that had been scattered from their storage site in bunkers at Mizdah military depot, 160 kilometers south of Tripoli, during NATO air strikes in 2011. HRW found approximately 15 PTAB bomblets and about three dozen DPICM submunitions of an unidentified type.[9]

In March 2012, the United Nations (UN) Commission of Inquiry on Libya reported that the same unidentified DPICM and 122mm cargo rockets used by the Libyan government were also found in the Nafusa Mountains near Jadu and Zintan.[10]

The European Union and at least ten States Parties and signatories to the Convention on Cluster Munitions condemned or expressed grave concern about the Libyan government’s use of cluster munitions in 2011.

There has been no evidence of cluster munition use in Libya by countries that were involved in the NATO military action, including by the US and other states that have not yet joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions.[11] In its formal response to the UN Commission of Inquiry, NATO confirmed that it did not use cluster munitions in the Libya operation.[12]

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; 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) and an explosive ordnance disposal expert subsequently identified six more such cluster munition remnants.[15]


[1] 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.

[2] HRW press release, “Libya: Rebels Pledge Not to Use Landmines,” 29 April 2011, http://www.hrw.org/news/2011/04/29/libya-rebels-pledge-not-use-landmines.

[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. HRW 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.

[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 of 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.” C.J. Chivers, “Following Up, Part 2. Down the Rabbit Hole: Arms Exports and Qaddafi’s Cluster Bombs,” The New York Times – At War Blog, 22 June 2011.

[6] Chivers, “Qaddafi Troops Fire Cluster Bombs Into Civilian Areas,” The New York Times, 15 April 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/16/world/africa/16libya.html?pagewanted=all; and HRW press release, “Libya: Cluster Munitions Strike Misrata,” 15 April 2011, www.hrw.org/news/2011/04/15/libya-cluster-munitions-strike-misrata.

[7] UNOHCHR, “Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya,” A /HRC/19/68, 2 March 2012, p. 173, Para 664, http://bit.ly/yBvmCR.

[8] Chivers, “More Evidence of Cluster-Bomb Use Discovered in Libya,” The New York Times – At War Blog, 13 February 2012, http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/13/more-evidence-of-cluster-bomb-use-discovered-in-libya/#.

[9] Statement by HRW, CCW Group of Governmental Experts Meeting on Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War, Geneva, 25 April 2012, http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/04/25/statement-explosive-remnants-war-libya-and-implementation-convention-conventional-we. The New York Times reporter Chivers has led an effort to identify the DPICM submunition and the type of 122mm cargo rocket that carried it found at Mizdah, which could be of China or North Korean origin, but still did not have a confirmed identification as of 1 June 2012. Chivers, “A Code, of Sorts, to the Mystery Cluster Bomb from Libya,” The New York Times – At War Blog, 16 February 2012, http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/16/a-coda-of-sorts-to-the-mystery-cluster-bomb-from-libya/.

[10] UNOHCHR, “Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya,” A /HRC/19/68, 2 March 2012, p. 168, Para 665, http://bit.ly/yBvmCR.

[11] 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, http://www.stopclustermunitions.org/news/?id=3067.

[12] NATO letter to the Commission, 15 February 2011. Cited in UNOHCHR, “Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Libya,” A /HRC/19/68, 2 March 2012, p. 168, Para 638, http://bit.ly/yBvmCR.

[13] Handicap International, 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.