SANAA, Yemen, May 3 (UPI) -- The Saudi Arabian-led bombing campaign against Houthi rebels in Yemen has used U.S.-manufactured cluster bomb munitions banned by a large swath of the international community, according to a human rights monitoring group.
Human Rights Watch reported evidence -- in the form of video, photos and satellite imagery -- indicating the use of cluster munitions in Yemen's northern Saada governorate, the traditional Houthi stronghold bordering Saudi Arabia, including images of "two CBU-105 Sensor Fuzed Weapons manufactured by the Textron Systems Corporation and supplied to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates by the [United States] in recent years."
Cluster bombs are designed to detonate over a target, releasing several smaller munitions that explode over a wide area. Individual munitions that fail to detonate become de facto land mines.
The 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, which banned the use of such weaponry, was adopted by 116 countries but not the United States, Saudi Arabia or any of the countries in the coalition against the Houthis, including Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Qatar, Sudan and the UAE. Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Israel are also not signatories.
In a 2008 memorandum outlining U.S. policy on the weapons, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said nations receiving cluster munitions must agree they "will only be used against clearly defined military targets and will not be used where civilians are known to be present or in areas normally inhabited by civilians."
Evidence obtained by HRW indicates the use of the munitions within hundreds of meters of civilian villages in Yemen.
"Saudi-led cluster munition airstrikes have been hitting areas near villages, putting local people in danger," Steve Goose, arms director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "These weapons should never be used under any circumstances. Saudi Arabia and other coalition members – and the supplier, the US – are flouting the global standard that rejects cluster munitions because of their long-term threat to civilians."
The bombing campaign against the Houthis began in late March after the rebels, which Iran has been accused of backing, seized Yemen's capital and forced President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi to flee the country.
The United Nations estimates 1,200 Yemenis have been killed and 300,000 have fled their homes in the past six weeks.
Shortly after beginning the campaign, a Saudi official was quoted by the BBC as saying: "We are not using cluster bombs at all."
Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri, a Saudi military spokesman, on Sunday told CNN the CBU-105 was being used against armored vehicles and not civilian targets.
"We do not use it against persons," Asiri said. "We don't have any operation in the cities. So the allegation which is in the report it is, I think it is not so solid."