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Explosive Events: AOAV talks to Voice of America about new report

Robert Perkins, AOAV researcher and one of the authors of the report Explosive Events, speaks with Susan Yackee, Anchor of the International Edition of Voice of America about the latest findings.

The full interview can be heard here. Transcript below.


A new report by Action on Armed Violence says there has been a major increase in the global civilian casualties from explosive weapons. AOAV and its article Explosive Events, analyses such armaments as missiles, artillery and improvised explosive devices. We asked Rob Perkins about the findings.

This is actually the third year in which we have monitored the incidents and impacts of explosive violence around the world. We do so by tracking English-language media sources, so first of all it’s worth pointing out that the data we present is very much just the tip of the iceberg in terms of casualties. We know that it doesn’t represent every casualty and incident, but it’s a really good indicator of the patterns of violence in which civilians are most at risk.

And last year it was very much the case that civilians bore the brunt of bombings worldwide. More than 31,000 civilian casualties were recorded from explosive weapons, and that means that they made up 82% of total casualties around the world.

As I say, this is the third year in which we have done this, and in terms of the levels of suffering this year [2013] compared to last [2012], there is actually a 15% rise in the number of recorded civilian casualties in 2013.

Why are so many civilians the victims of this kind of device?

The main reason is that it is very common for explosive weapons to be used in populated areas. This is a term that covers all the locations in which civilians are likely to be gathered and concentrated. It is places like markets, place of worship, or just busy town centres. People think of explosive weapons as weapons of war, weapons just used on the battlefield, but actually it is very common for them to be used in places where civilians are gathered.

Last year there more than 1500 incidents in populated areas; that’s more than half of all we recorded. And in those locations the impacts on civilians, as you might imagine, was particularly severe. In 2013 93% of the casualties in populated areas were civilians, and this stands in stark contrast to attacks that took place in areas that could not be called populated. In those circumstances only 36% of the casualties were civilians.

It sounds like these attacks might be against international law.

Some might be, that is very much the case in a couple of cases, and as you might imagine, when you think of explosive weapons attacks you think of the terrible bombings in Syria, or the occasional indiscriminate [IED] attacks in places like Iraq. The issue with international humanitarian law is that while it does exist, it doesn’t apply in many circumstances.

For a start, not all of these are in armed conflicts, which are the only places where IHL applies. Secondly, and most importantly perhaps, IHL is only applied on a case by case basis. There’s nothing preventative and nothing that recognises the pattern of harm that exists from these weapons as a technical category.

What are the most affected nations?

Well last year we recorded an incident where a casualty occurred from explosive weapon use in 58 different countries and territories. So it’s worth noting first off that this is a geographically-widespread problem. Having said that there are definitely countries, as you might imagine, that were more affected than others. Syria and Iraq were by a long way the most affected countries.

We weren’t able to capture the full scale of suffering in Syria because of reporting issues on the ground, and the sheer intensity of bombardments in the country. But with Iraq, one thing that’s really worth noting is that this is very much an under-reported crisis that is taking place there. It’s been more than ten years since the conflict started there, and for many people it’s faded into the background. But last year we recorded a 91% increase in civilian casualties [in Iraq] from explosive weapons, mostly from IEDs.

And that was already from a very high level. The United Nations has said that armed violence more generally has reached levels not seen since 2008.

So Iraq and Syria were very much the most-affected countries. But other places that saw high levels of explosive violence in 2013 included Pakistan, Afghanistan, Lebanon, India, Somalia, Yemen, and also the USA, which saw attacks in the Boston bombings last year.

To read the report click here

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