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On this page, HRI presents some of the evidence relevant to the use of cluster munitions in Misrata in April 2011.

As more information comes to light, and in response to the requirements of the on-going investigation, this page is updated on a fairly regular basis.

Unlike those who jump to instant conclusions based on propaganda and partial truths,  HRI is sceptical and unbiased – which clearly isn’t popular in some quarters.

For those looking for a 100% definite answer as to who fired the munitions into Misrata, this page will be a bit of a disappointment but more about links between the banks, governments, arms traders and the military is being uncovered on an almost daily basis.

The use of cluster munitions in Misrata

On 15th April 2011, during the day, sub-munitions of a MAT-120 cluster munition were shown to Human Rights Watch (HRW) and C.J. Chivers, a journalist for the New York Times, in Misrata. That evening, during ongoing clashes between rebel and loyalist forces, HRW workers witnessed 3 or 4 cluster munitions landing in residential areas of Misrata. HRW attest to further subsequent such bombings.

Initial Reactions

Civilians were reportedly killed in these attacks and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, condemned:

“The reported repeated use of cluster munitions and heavy weaponry by Libyan government forces in their attempt to regain control of the besieged city of Misrata.”

She noted that one cluster munition had reportedly exploded a few hundred metres from a hospital in Misrata while another two clinics were apparently hit by mortar or sniper fire.

“Using imprecise weaponry such as cluster munitions, multiple rocket launchers and mortars, and other forms of heavy weaponry, in crowded urban areas will inevitably lead to civilian casualties.”

These attacks were immediately blamed these attacks on the Gaddafi regime and the news has been a front page and first item on the television news around the world.

Here are the relevant HRW and NYT reports:

The Human Rights Watch Report of 15th April on which the Ghaddafi forces fired cluster munitions story has been based.

CJ Chiver’s report on 15th April, ‘Qaddafi Troops Fire Cluster Bombs Into Civilian Areas’

Fred Abrahams on BBC Radio 4 Today Program 16 April 2011

In response to the question of why he assumed the munitions were fired by Libyan rather than NATO forces, Fred Abrahams said,

“Because the MAT-120 is mortar-fired and NATO has no troops on the ground.”

When initially confronted with the information that cluster munitions had been found in Misrata, Hillary Clinton’s reaction was:

“That is worrying information. And it is one of the reasons the fight in Misrata is so difficult, because it’s at close quarters, it’s in amongst urban areas and it poses a lot of challenges to both NATO and to the opposition.”

The MAT-120 cluster munition

The MAT-120 cluster bomb

The MAT-120 can be fired from a number of smoothbore 120mm mortar systems. A 12omm mortar system is a large calibre mortar, operated by a small team and in service with a number of nations.

The systems which can fire the MAT-120  include the NEMO and AMOS systems mounted in a turret.

Here is the AMOS system mounted on a CB-90 in action:

The combination of the AMOS and the Combat Boat 90H has been described as ideal for fire support in urban environments. As Captain Evin H. Thompson, Commander of US Naval Special Warfare Group Four, said in June 2007, in relation to a specific question about US Navy use of the CB90-H and AMOS system (which fires the MAT-120):

“The Amos or something like that – tied into my reduced signature boat gives special operations and our Navy the ability to clandestinely be someplace with the capability to act if circumstances allow.”

Spanish sales of the MAT-120 to Libya.

Spanish media reports indicate that Instalaza have denied selling these weapons to Libya.

The Spanish Industry Minister, Miguel Sebastian (himself linked to a bank who have financed US cluster munition manufacture), has so far failed to meet the HRI request to release details of all exports of cluster munitions.

The Spanish government  needs to confirm exactly what happened to all stocks of MAT-120 produced, where the machinery for making the MAT-120 has ended up, where the MAT-120 was exported to and where they have been stored.

As far as official exports go, a lot hangs on whether the MAT-120 is regarded as a category 3 munition (ML3) – in which case, of the countries to which category 3 exports were officially made in 2007 and 2008, only the USA has not signed the Convention against Cluster Munitions and is involved in the conflict in Libya – or if it is categorised as a Category 4 munition (ML4) in which case the USA, Qatar and Libya fit the bill. According to Nicholas Marsh of NISAT, who is an expert in these matters, “There is a blurred division between weapon categories, and especially ML3 and ML4.”

If exports of the MAT-120 were made to Libya, it has to be explained why, who made the decision, how many were sent there, at what time, of which batches and where else these munitions went.

There is additional detail on this in the section on Spanish bombs.

The United States leadership fully approve of cluster munitions

Although Spain has apparently gone to extraordinary effort to try and clear the USA of any involvement in the use of cluster munitions in Misrata, the USA has refused to sign the Convention on Cluster Munitions and these weapons are an important part of their arsenal with the USA possessing a large stockpile of cluster munitions.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has said cluster munitions are regarded by the US as:

“Legitimate weapons with clear military utility.”

As Richard Kidd, Director of the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement, U.S. Department of State, wrote in “Is There a Strategy for Responsible U.S. Engagement on Cluster Munitions?” April 28, 2008:

“Cluster munitions are available for use by every combat aircraft in the U.S. inventory, they are integral to every Army or Marine maneuver element and in some cases constitute up to 50 percent of tactical indirect fire support.”

Yet, incredibly, the alleged war crime of bombing Misrata is also being used by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other authorities to justify an escalation of the conflict in Libya.

The US government position in favour of the use of cluster munitions, their widespread possession by US forces and the weakening of the Convention on Cluster Munitions to accommodate nations fighting in coalition with US forces,  implicates the US government in the use of cluster munitions anywhere in the world.

The Battle for Misrata

As part of the investigation, HRI is looking into both land and naval forces  involved in the Misrata operation, as the specific units involved, operating at night, who made use of the cluster munitions is not yet clear.

There is no doubt that this was fierce urban warfare, with hundreds killed in the battle and NATO, including US Naval forces, about which HRI has written, were deeply involved.

On the 14th of April, NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen confirmed that Admiral Stavridis had briefed foreign ministers that Gadaffi’s forces were now in populated areas and that “to avoid civilian casualties we need very sophisticated equipment.”

Certainly coalition forces were providing fire support and (allegedly) special services support to the rebels in order to secure the town for the rebels and establish a major foothold in western Libya.

Our update on the bombing of Misrata shows that on the eve of the Royal Wedding, NATO admitted to using “certain weapons” within the city of Misrata and some more detail on this has been provided by the RAF.

So it is quite clear that coalition forces were deeply involved in the bombing of Misrata, using deadly force in a civilian area, contrary to the spirit of UN Resolution 1973.

Human Rights Investigations calls for:

1). A full investigation by the United Nations into the use of munitions (including cluster munitions and DU weapons), particularly in urban areas.

2) For all parties in the Libyan conflict to confirm they will not use cluster munitions in the current conflict and to pledge to sign up to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

3). Suspension of military personnel found to be involved pending investigation for war crimes.

4). An end to the ‘information war’ and military distortion of the public debate.

5). An end to the ongoing bombing of Libya which is against the spirit and intent of UN Resolution 1973 which was intended to protect civilians, not justify bombing of civilian areas.

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On 15th April Human Rights Watch issued a statement asserting,

“Government forces loyal to the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, have fired cluster munitions into residential areas in the western city of Misrata.”

Subsequent reports indicate a large number of civilians died in these attacks.

According to Fred Abrahams, Human Rights Watch assigned responsibility for these attacks to the loyalist forces on the basis that this munition was only fired from land-based mortars.

In fact, the MAT-120 is a specialised heavy cargo mortar system which is typically fired from a turret and which can be mounted on a small sea-based vessel.

The assignment of responsibility for these attacks to the Gaddafi forces is therefore, at best, premature.

Indeed, there is evidence these munitions are in the armoury of the coalition forces, the weapons systems needed to deliver them are in the coalition armoury and the coalition military leadership, including US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates regard the use of these weapons as effective and legitimate.

As the purported use of these munitions by Gaddafi’s forces has been an important factor in escalation of the Libyan conflict, it is a matter of urgency that Human Rights Watch correct their original report and ensure the world’s press are aware of the mistake made.

In addition, we would ask Human Rights Watch to provide a full explanation of

1) How this mistake was made, including from where the false information came from that these weapons could only be delivered by land-based weapons systems.

2) Why later investigation by HRW did not turn up this error.

Given the new information we have uncovered we would also expect Human Rights Watch

1) To issue a demand for full disclosure of coalition possession and use of cluster munitions in the Libyan conflict.

2) To issue a demand the coalition forces provide a full explanation of their operations, including special operations, off the coast of Misrata.

Update 23 June – No reply received – see later articles for updates on the HRI investigation.