In May 2021, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) recorded 3,071 deaths and injuries from 360 incidents of explosive violence around the world, as reported in English-language media. Civilians accounted for 84% (2,570) of the deaths and injuries recorded.
When explosive violence was used in populated areas, 96% of all casualties were civilians, compared to 23% in other areas.
Improvised explosive weapons (IEDs) accounted for 28% of civilian casualties in May 2021, while manufactured explosive weapons accounted for 69%. Of the main launch method types, air-launched explosive weapons for 50% of civilian casualties, ground-launched explosive weapons were responsible for 13%, IEDs for 28%, and mines for 3%. The remaining 6% of civilian casualties were caused by weapons with unclear or unspecified launch types.
At least one death or injury from explosive violence was recorded in 21 countries and territories last month. The five worst impacted countries were Palestine (Gaza), Afghanistan, Israel, Syria, and Myanmar – in terms of civilian casualties.
Palestine, specifically Gaza, was the worst affected country due to the trade of explosive violence with Israel between the 10th and the 21st of May. During these clashes, AOAV recorded 1,474 civilian casualties (including 394 children and 277 women); 233 of the civilians were killed. Most of these civilian casualties were caused by Israeli airstrikes on Gaza, during the period 10th – 21st of May. The deadliest strike was carried out on Sunday 16th May, when, without warning its residents, the Israeli Air Force carried out a strike on a residential building in the city; 44 civilians died and 77 were injured, 11 of the casualties were children. Beyond these initial casualties, this burst of violence destroyed hundreds of homes – displacing thousands, damaged critical civilian infrastructure including over 10 hospitals and health facilities, and severely disrupted the supply of food and clean water. This will likely play a part in many more deaths in the months and year to come.
It should be stated that the figures relating to Gaza most certainly underestimate the true casualty rate, but due to the methodology of AOAV’s monitor, we were unable to capture all the reported casualties.
Afghanistan was the second worst-affected country in regard to civilian casualties, with 226 civilians killed and 467 injured by explosive violence. The use of explosive weapons against civilians continues to rise significantly in Afghanistan: a 40% increase in civilian casualties when compared to April, a 243% increase when compared to March, and a 378% increase compared to February. This devastating upward trend in civilian casualties is widely reported to coincide with the approach and onset of the NATO military withdrawal from the country. Many experts predict that the levels of violence will continue throughout the summer. Additionally, there has been a rise in the number of attacks that seemingly targeting the Hazara ethnic group, predominantly Shia Muslims, including an attack on a school in western Kabul, which killed 90 civilians and injured 240 – most of whom were school girls; this was the deadliest attack in Afghanistan this year.
Israel was the third worst affected country in regard to civilian casualties, with 10 killed and 86 injured – of the casualties, 2 children were killed and 2 more were injured. As with Gaza, this spike of civilian casualties was due to the 12-day flare in violence, which saw over 4,000 rockets fired from Gaza – primarily by Hamas – aimed at southern Israel. As well as causing dozens of casualties, rockets damaged and destroyed many residential buildings and forced hundreds of Israeli civilians from their homes. This is, by far, the highest level of explosive violence Israeli and Gazan civilians have witnessed since 2014.
Syria, the fourth worst impacted country in regard to civilian casualties, experienced the same number of civilian casualties as the previous month. AOAV recorded 94 civilian casualties from explosive weapons in May (25 killed and 69 injured) – a large majority of these casualties were caused by IEDs (48%) and air strikes (31%) – the remaining 21% were caused by mines and ground-launched weapons. The most severe incident of explosive violence, in terms of civilian casualties, took place on 3 May, when an alleged Russian or Iranian airstrike targeted a weapons depot near the Al-Furousiya camp for displaced people, in Idlib province. Four civilians were killed, including two children and a woman, and 11 others were wounded, including five children and three women. Aleppo and Idlib provinces remain the most dangerous provinces for civilians, accounting for 60 of the 94 civilian casualties, as well as the highest rates of armed-actor casualties.
In Myanmar, the number of casualties from explosive violence remains high as clashes between the military and ‘civilian resistance forces’ continue. In May, 81 people were killed or injured by explosive weapons, 81% (66) of those casualties were civilians. Most incidents took place in populated areas and were perpetrated by Myanmar state forces, using ground-launched weapons, primarily shelling, grenade, and mortar attacks. Airstrikes are also being used by the State, and caused exclusively civilian casualties, 13 in total, 3 of which were fatal. May saw the numbers of civilian casualties decrease slightly when compared to the previous month, but as the conflict continues and the military control deepens, it is likely to increase the difficulty of gathering reliable and accurate information on casualties. It therefore likely that the actual civilian casualty figure for Myanmar is higher.
AOAV condemns the use of violence against civilians and the use of explosive weapons in populated areas. All actors should stop using explosive weapons with wide-area affects where there is likely to be a high concentration of civilians.
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