Wide-Area Impact Report

Wide-Area Impact Report: Introduction

Below is the introduction, rationale, methodological approach and framing of an AOAV report that analyses the wide area effects of certain explosive weapons and the concern about their use in populated areas.  The report –Wide-Area Impact – can be read here.  AOAV’s investigation covered the impact of air-dropped bombs in Yemen, mortar attacks on the Syrian-Jordanian border and multiple-rocket attacks in Ukraine.

Explosive weapons include a wide range of ordnance, both manufactured and improvised. They range in size and scale from hand grenades to massive ballistic ‘Scud’ missiles. They may be dropped from helicopters and drones, fired by tanks and artillery systems, or launched by hand. What unites all these weapons is their shared ability to project blast and fragmentation effects from around a point of detonation.

All explosive weapons, in this way, affect an area. Their killing and maiming capacity cannot be limited to a single point, as a sniper’s bullet may. They kill or injure anyone, or damage anything, in their vicinity.

The use of such weapons in a populated area is, therefore, of grave concern as it exposes civilians to a high and unacceptable risk of harm.2 Since 2011, UK-based charity Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) has recorded the immediate impacts of explosive weapons around the world. Between 2011 and 2014, civilians made up 90 per cent of casualties when explosive weapons were used in populated areas. In other, non-populated, areas this fell to 34 per cent.

The risk to civilians is most severe when explosive weapons that have wide-area effects are used in populated areas. Wide-area effects may result from one of three factors, either alone or in combination.

The International Commission of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC) has broken down this concept into three broad categories of explosive weapons:

Those that have a wide impact area because of the large destructive radius of the individual munition used, i.e. its large blast and fragmentation range or effect (such as large bombs or missiles) – in this case we look at the Paveway air-dropped bomb series;

Those that have a wide impact area because of the inherent lack of accuracy of the delivery system (such as unguided indirect fire weapons, including artillery and mortars) – in this case we look at mortars;

Those that have a wide impact area because the weapon system is designed to deliver multiple munitions over a wide area (such as multi-launch rocket systems) – in this case we look at the Grad multiple rocket series.

In Wide-Area Impact, AOAV investigates each of the ICRC’s broad categories in turn. Through fieldwork conducted over the course of 2015, AOAV has taken case studies of explosive violence that occurred in that year and used these to explore how the technical characteristics that give a weapon wide-area impacts translate into severe and long-lasting civilian harm on the ground.

This report is intended to help illustrate the broad descriptive parameters of the term ‘wide-area effects’ and to further the development of a collective understanding of the need for States to act to restrict the use of explosive weapons with wide area effects in populated areas.

Weapon types of concern were identified from AOAV’s dataset of more than 12,000 incidents of explosive violence recorded between 1 January 2011 and 30 June 2015. Analysis of patterns of harm over this time period indicated WIDE AREA EFFECTS EXPLOSIVE WEAPONS AOAVseveral weapon types that typically resulted in high levels of civilian harm. Example weapon types were selected which correspond broadly with those identified by the ICRC in the above tripartite definition. A large range of explosive weapons embody the harmful characteristics identified by the ICRC in its three broad descriptive categories, and many could feature in all three.

Selection is based on AOAV’s dataset and is intended to be indicative, and the parameters of each ICRC category are not limited to the weapon groups identified by AOAV in this report.

For each selected weapon type, country case studies were identified in which civilian casualties had been reported. This report only considers manufactured explosive weapons, and does not consider improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

During 2015, AOAV conducted field investigations into the use of large aircraft bombs in Yemen (September), the use of inaccurate mortar systems on the Syria-Jordan border (September), and the use of BM-21 ‘Grad’ multiple rockets in eastern Ukraine (August).

Field research for this report was carried out in Jordan and Ukraine by AOAV’s Director of Policy and Investigations, Iain Overton, and in Yemen by investigative reporter Iona Craig.

AOAV scrutinised each of these incidents by interviewing victims and witnesses to the attack, searching for potential military targets in the vicinity, and recording photographic, film and GPS data from the site of the attack. AOAV is a founding member of the International Network on Explosive Weapons (INEW). We urge States and all users of explosive weapons to:

Acknowledge that the use of explosive weapons in populated areas tends to cause severe harm to individuals and communities and furthers suffering by damaging vital infrastructure;
Strive to avoid such harm and suffering in any situation, review and strengthen national policies and practices on use of explosive weapons and gather and make available relevant data;
Work for full realisation of the rights of victims and survivors;
Develop stronger international standards, including certain prohibitions and restrictions on the on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.