Improvised Explosive Devices

Tackling IEDs – AOAV’s approach towards reducing their harm

IEDs kill and injure tens of thousands of people each year. AOAV’s 2013 data showed that 85% of those killed and injured were civilians. IED attacks destroy people’s lives, undermine security and weaken the development of communities affected by them. To this end AOAV believes that:

IED attacks which cause civilian casualties need to be considered an unacceptable form of violence in every culture and must be condemned as such.

Practical policies to disrupt access to materials and knowledge need to be implemented nationally and internationally.

Victims of this form of violence must receive a full range of support including treatment for psychological harm.

What is the policy in brief?
AOAV believes that explosive weapons have harmful effects on civilians when used in populated areas. All actors should therefore refrain from their use. Explosive weapons include both manufactured weapons, like air-dropped bombs and ballistic missiles, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), like car bombs and explosive vests.

Alongside the work AOAV is doing with states to develop measures to reduce the harm caused by manufactured explosive ordnance with wide area effects, AOAV is working to reduce the incidence of IED use and address the suffering that these weapons cause.

There are three interconnected approaches to this policy:

  1. Working with States to improve policies through more traditional arms control and disarmament efforts.
  2. Changing wider cultural norms around the acceptability of IED use used through innovative efforts aimed at a diverse audience.
  3. Increasing the understanding of the wide-ranging impacts of IEDs, including their impacts on development and how to quantify the harm they bring to bear.

What is the problem?
IEDs are essentially homemade bombs, generally manufactured and used by non-state groups. Such devices may use military explosives, conventional ammunition or homemade explosives for their main charge.

Research on the harm caused by explosive weapons over the last three years has shown that IEDs are responsible for more than half of all civilian deaths and injuries. As well as being used against legitimate military targets, many IED attacks occur in populated areas and are sometimes designed to cause large numbers of civilian casualties and spread terror through the population.

As with all explosive weapons, IEDs project blast and fragmentation across an area. All those in proximity are at risk of death or injury, buildings and infrastructure can be damaged or destroyed. The effects of these bombings are felt long after the initial blast.

IED use is globally widespread with many of the most heavily affected countries not officially part of a conflict.

Non-state groups rather than state military forces principally use IEDs. It is not a problem that can be addressed using just traditional diplomatic channels and measures. A range of innovative approaches is necessary.

What does the evidence say? 

Data and testimonies
AOAV has already collected extensive data on the global impact of explosive weapons,. Between 2011 and 2013 over 60,000 people were killed and injured by IEDs around the world, 81% of these casualties were civilians. Attacks caused casualties in 66 different countries.

AOAV also has compelling evidence based on testimonies from victims of the long-term and indirect effects these bombings have on people. These effects range from draining financial resources from healthcare providers to leaving psychological scars on the population that persist for years afterwards.

Few actors from the international NGO community have engaged with this issue in policy and advocacy terms. While some organisations have approached the problem through efforts focused on counter-radicalisation and engagement of non-state groups, there has not yet been a weapon-centred approach to IEDs focusing on their humanitarian impact.

While victim-activated IEDs have been banned under the Mine Ban Treaty and the use of these weapons has been heavily stigmatised, other IED types like vehicle-borne bombs and remote-detonated devices have largely been excluded.

States are increasingly engaging with the broader issue of explosive weapons in populated areas. In his report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict the UN Secretary-General highlighted the harm which non-state use of IEDs causes to civilians and urged for enhanced compliance with international law by these groups. An Expert Meeting hosted by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and Chatham House called for greater focus on the problem of IEDs and practical steps that can be taken to address the problem.

What do we want to change?
The goal of this policy is to reduce the incidence and impact of improvised explosive devices through disrupting efforts to manufacture these weapons, increasing the moral outrage around their use and improving support offered to victims.

AOAV will therefore work to:

  • Change cultural beliefs around the acceptability of using IEDs in ways that expose civilians to significant risk.
  • Strengthen existing measures regulating the transfer and traffic of materials used for the manufacture of IEDs.
  • Improve efforts to assist and support victims of IED attacks.

Relevant publications

Three years of harm
Data collected by AOAV on the harm caused by IEDs between 2011 and 2013

Anatomy of a suicide bombing
An investigation of the wide-ranging impacts of a single IED attack on a market in Lahore, Pakistan

Explosive events
AOAV’s data on global explosive weapon casualties in 2013

Contact person: Iain Overton