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An Anatomy of a Mortar Attack: Conclusion and Recommendations

“US Soldiers Provide Mortar Fire Support to Operations in Afghanistan” by Defence Images. CC BY-NC 2.0.

Conclusion

Even when trained military personnel operate mortar systems, there is no guarantee that their effects will be limited to military targets. The inaccuracy of their delivery and unreliability of the size of the blast radius makes their effects particularly unpredictable when used in populated areas, destroying housing and key infrastructure. 

But the shelling of Abobo was fundamentally different. The ICC found evidence of the direct targeting of the civilian population – this could not be explained as an unintended hit or ‘collateral damage’, as so often is the case. The effects were devastating and evidence of harm, though difficult to quantify, can be detected in almost every indicator. 

The events of the 17 March attack provide a strong indicator of the first level impacts which occur when mortars are used in populated areas, but they are less likely to provide wide-reaching conclusions for second and third level impacts of attacks. In the context of an internecine conflict awash with small arms, light and heavy weapons, such as the post-electoral violence in the Côte d’Ivoire, disaggregating the third level effects of a single incident of weapon use, is subject to considerable guesswork.   

UNIDIR highlights that resilience is a key variable in the nature and impact of the reverberating effects which stem from explosive violence. Abobo does not have the resilience mechanisms in place to mediate the longer-term effects. A decade later, Abobo remains the poorest commune in Abidjan – a testament to the sad truth, that places which suffer from explosive violence are often poor and uncared for – and they remain so, years and even decades after the blasts.

Recommendations

  • The use of mortars within 30km of populated areas should be unilaterally prohibited. This weapon type’s inherent inaccuracy means it cannot discriminate between legitimate and civilian targets, and should not be used in areas where civilians are present.
  • UNIDIR should look to add to its EWIPA indicators to make provisions for the potentially devastating economic and psychological impacts brought about by the use of explosive weapons. There should also be an awareness of how incidents of explosive violence typically require an increase of psychological support to manage greater demand on services. 
  • Further study should be undertaken to explore the ways in which EWIPA indicators can be utilised alongside other matrices pertaining to conflict, security, economic development and state capability in order to better negate the range of variables which affect long-term impacts resulting from the use of explosive violence. 
  • States, international organisations and non-governmental organisations collecting and collating data on attacks on healthcare and education should – where possible – disaggregate their findings to highlight specific explosive weapon types. This will allow for greater research into the patterns of harm brought about by different explosive weapons.  
  • States should become signatories to the proposed political declaration that seeks to address the humanitarian harm arising from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas.
Previous chapters in this report:
Chapter 1: Global Trends
Chapter 2: Case Study – Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire
Chapter 3: SDG 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
Chapter 4: SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities
Chapter 5: SDG 3 – Good Health and Well-Being
Chapter 6: SDG 4 – Quality Education
Chapter 7: Other Considerations

More in this series: An Anatomy of an Explosive Weapon Attack