Armenia used cluster munitions in multiple attacks on Azerbaijan, HRW confirms

Armenia or the so-called regime in Nagorno-Karabakh repeatedly fired widely banned cluster munitions in attacks on populated areas in Azerbaijan during the six-week war, said a report by Human Rights Watch.    

During a visit to Azerbaijan in November 2020, HRW researchers documented four attacks with cluster munitions in three of the country’s districts, read the report. “The attacks killed at least seven civilians, including two children, and wounded close to 20, including two children.”

Providing information about the features of cluster munitions, HRW said they can be fired from the ground by artillery, rockets, and mortars, or dropped by aircraft.

“They typically open in the air, dispersing multiple bomblets or submunitions over a wide area, putting anyone in the area at the time of attack, whether combatants or civilians, at risk of death or injury. In addition, many of the submunitions do not explode on contact, but remain armed, becoming de facto landmines. Locations contaminated by unexploded submunitions remain dangerous until the remnants are cleared and destroyed,” said the report.

HRW also documented a cluster munition attack on Azerbaijan’s Barda city that killed 21 civilians and wounded 70 in October.

Moreover, during a research trip to Azerbaijan in the first half of November, HRW documented four attacks with cluster munitions by Armenian forces, including one in Barda district, two in Goranboy district, and one in Tartar district.

According to the report, in a meeting with Human Rights Watch on November 27 in Yerevan, a Foreign Affairs Ministry representative denied that Armenia possesses any cluster munitions in its arsenal.

"Standard international reference publications, including the authoritative annual Military Balance 2020 by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, state that Armenia has Tockhka and Iskander ballistic missiles and Smerch and Chinese-made WM-80 multi-barrel rocket launchers, all of which can deliver cluster munition warheads. As far as Human Rights Watch is aware, forces in Nagorno-Karabakh do not possess cluster munitions, and it is therefore likely that Armenian forces carried out the attacks or supplied the munitions to forces in Nagorno-Karabakh,” the report said.

As prohibited weapons, cluster munitions should not be used or supplied by anyone under any circumstances, HRW underlined.

“Cluster munitions are a brutal weapon, banned under an international treaty, and using them shows flagrant disregard for civilian life,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Both Armenia and Azerbaijan should make an immediate commitment not to use cluster munitions and join the treaty banning them.”

The report also includes views and interviews of those who were directly attacked by cluster munitions.