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Global decrease in civilian harm from explosive weapons in first half of 2018, but some countries see marked rise in violence

Despite there being an overall decrease in the global number of civilian casualties from explosive violence in the first six months of 2018, compared to the same period last year, there has been significant rise in civilian casualties in some of the hardest hit countries, new figures reveal.

Data from Action on Armed Violence (AOAV)’s global analysis of explosive weapon harm shows that there was a 15% spike in Syria of civilians killed or injured by explosive weapons (from 6,416 civilian casualties in the first half of 2017 to 7,351 in 2018), a 27% rise in Afghanistan (1,581 to 2,002), a 32% increase in Yemen (703 to 926), a 91% increase in Nigeria (363 to 692), a 81% increase in India (118 to 213) and a 1441% increase in Libya (22 to 339).

Civilians in Eastern Ghouta. 27 February 2018. Qasioun News Agency.

In the main, such increases, noted from monitoring global English language media reports, were the result of rising use of explosive weapons by states.

In Syria, the first six months of 2018 was marked by the substantial increase in violence in the Eastern Ghouta area by regime forces and allies – which saw even greater levels than those seen in Raqqa last year. Almost 2,000 civilian casualties from explosive violence were recorded in Eastern Ghouta in February alone and over 1,000 in March. The casualties from explosive violence in Idlib have also contributed to this rise.

In Yemen, the increase in civilian casualties from Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in 2018 is responsible for much of the harm, with a 37% increase in civilian casualties from airstrikes (with 778 civilian casualties in the first half of 2018, compared to 567 during the same period in 2017). Whilst in India, cross-border shelling by Pakistan into India-administered Kashmir led to the increase in civilian casualties. Pakistan saw similar numbers of civilian casualties on the border but a decrease in other forms of explosive violence in Pakistan meant that, as a whole, the country did not see a rise in civilian harm.

Other countries witnessing substantial increases in civilian harm were largely down to non-state actors involved in terror attacks. In Afghanistan, 2018’s 27% increase is mostly accounted for by a rise in attacks using improvised explosive devices (IEDs), particularly by ISIS affiliated groups in the country. The number of casualties from attacks claimed by ISIS in Afghanistan rose by 345% in the first half of 2018, compared to the same period last year (with 136 civilian casualties in 2017 and 605 in 2018). Most occurred in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul.

In Nigeria, and surrounding countries, the rise in civilian casualties suggests a resurgence in Boko Haram activity. Though still far from the numbers seen from such violence in the 2015, AOAV recorded a 787% increase in civilian casualties from explosive violence by non-state actors in Nigeria compared to 2017, with most attacks taking place in the Borno region. All 692 civilian casualties from explosive violence in Nigeria in the first half of 2018 were caused by non-states actors, whilst 78 were recorded in the same period last year.

In Libya, a rise in civilian harm from IEDs is mostly to blame for the 1,441% increase in civilian casualties, with 276 civilian casualties from IEDs recorded in the first half of 2018, compared to 2 in the same period in 2017. However, shelling between the Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Derna Protection Force (DPF) in Derna has also contributed to the rise.

Other countries that have been largely free from explosive violence in recent years have also seen a spike in attacks. Ethiopia and Zimbabwe are of particular note, where last month grenade attacks at political rallies left large numbers of casualties.

While the overall trend of civilian harm from explosive violence is positive – there was a decrease of 21% in civilians killed or injured from explosive violence, with 14,065 in the first half of 2018, compared to 17,745 during the same period in 2017 – the increases in certain countries is of continuing concern.

As Iain Overton, Executive Director of AOAV says, ‘ISIS’s defeat in many parts of the world and a drop-off of air strikes by some nations, may have led to a reduction in civilian harm in some areas, but both state and non-state actors use of explosive violence continues to pose a threat to many around the world.  Urgent action should be undertaken to ensure that these flash points of violence do not escalate further.’

AOAV condemns the use of violence against civilians and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. AOAV encourages all armed actors to stop using explosive weapons with wide-area affects where there is likely to be a high concentration of civilians.