Russia was responsible for 45% of all reported civilian casualties of explosive violence globally in 2022, new data from the London-based charity Action on Armed Violence has shown.
Overall, 2022 saw a 73% increase in incidents of global explosive weapon use and an 83% spike in civilian casualties compared to 2021.
This increase was enormously down to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. It also was caused by smaller flare-ups of violence between Armenia and Azerbaijan; increased volatility between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan; and ongoing conflicts and armed struggles in Ethiopia, Myanmar, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
In total, AOAV – which records global incidents of explosive violence from reputable English language media sources – listed 4,324 incidents of explosive weapon use around the globe in 2022.
These attacks caused 31,162 total casualties, of whom 67% (20,776) were civilians. This represents a 73% increase in recorded incidents of explosive weapon use from the 2,500 incidents recorded in 2021, and a corresponding 83% increase from the 11,343 reported civilian casualties in 2021.
Of note, in 2021, civilians accounted for 58% of total recorded casualties.
Over the past decade, from 2012 to 2021, civilians accounted for 73% of total recorded casualties, so 2022 was a return to an old and terrible norm. The full report will be released later this year.
2022 saw a major spike in ground-launched attacks and a measurable drop in Improvised Explosive attacks, such as car bombs and suicide bombers.
Ground-launched attacks increased by 187%, from 792 to 2,272 recorded incidents, while such weapons accounted for 52% (10,868) of civilian casualties, a 218% increase from 3,411 in 2021. For context, from 2012 to 2021, ground-launched weapons accounted for 28% (8,125) of all global recorded incidents and caused 21% (52,389) of all global civilian casualties.
Air-launched attacks rose by 17% between 2021 and 2022, from 441 to 517 recorded incidents. Such weapons caused 18% (3,824) of civilian casualties in 2022, a 56% increase from 2,451 in 2021. From 2012 to 2021, air-launched weapons accounted for 26% (7,594) of all explosive violence incidents reported worldwide, and caused 24% (60,910) of civilian casualties.
Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) caused 21% (4,283) of civilian casualties in 2022 compared to 4,727 in 2021, a 9% decrease. From 2012 to 2021, IEDs accounted for 40% (11,651) of recorded incidents and caused 50% (127,192) of reported civilian casualties – so 2022 saw a major drop in IED usage.
Users of explosive violence
2022 was defined by State actor use of violence – led by Russia.
Explosive weapon use attributed to state actors rose by 228% in 2022, from 807 recorded incidents in 2021 to 2,644 over the past year, while incidents attributed to non-state actors remained consistent, decreasing by 3% from 1,370 incidents in 2021 to 1,334 in 2022. Of note, Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks decreased by 13% between 2021 and 2022, from 1,033 recorded incidents to 897.
Russia was by far the most injurious perpetrator of explosive violence in 2022. AOAV recorded 1,684 incidents of Russian explosive weapon use last year, 64% of all recorded state-perpetrated explosive violence in 2022. Additionally, Russian explosive weapon use reportedly caused 9,410 civilian casualties last year, 45% of all civilian casualties reported in 2022.
Turkey came a very distant second, with 247 recorded incidents and 459 reported civilian casualties, and Myanmar’s military government was the reported perpetrator of 203 incidents and 742 civilian casualties. Saudi Arabia reportedly caused 507 civilian casualties across 47 incidents, and Ethiopia caused 436 reported civilian casualties across 19 incidents.
In 2021, Israel was the reported perpetrator of the majority of incidents of explosive violence, 165, followed by Syria (153 incidents) and Turkey (84). Israel was also the reported perpetrator of the majority of civilian casualties, 1,503, followed by Syria (660 civilian casualties), and Ethiopia (508). Saudi Arabia reportedly caused 278 civilian casualties across 40 incidents in 2021, and Myanmar’s military government caused 267 across 45.
War shifted even more into towns and cities in 2022.
Incidents of explosive weapons used in populated areas increased by 108% between 2021 and 2022, from 1,436 recorded incidents to 2,986, and civilian casualties from such rose by 86% (from 10,518 to 19,599). 90% (21,707) of people harmed in towns and cities in 2022 were civilians.
Overall, explosive weapon use in towns and cities accounted for 69% of incidents recorded in 2022, but caused 94% of all reported civilian casualties. In total, incidents of state actors using explosive weapons in populated areas rose by 311% in 2022, from 518 to 2,129 recorded incidents. On the other hand, AOAV recorded 668 incidents of non-state actors using explosive weapons in populated areas in 2022, compared to 731 in 2021 – a 9% decrease.
More countries and more civilians were impacted by explosive violence in 2022, with Ukraine seeing ten times more explosive violence than the next leading countries of harm
AOAV recorded at least one death or injury from explosive weapon use in 61 countries in 2022, compared to 57 in 2021.
The 10 worst affected countries for civilian casualties of explosive violence were Ukraine (10,381 civilian casualties), Afghanistan (1,312), Syria (1,309), Somalia (1,222), Ethiopia (1,138), Myanmar (983), Iraq (889), Yemen (872), Pakistan (706), and India (271).
Over the past decade, the 10 worst affected countries and territories for civilian casualties of explosive violence were Syria (78, 423 civilian casualties), Iraq (51,221), Afghanistan (28, 675), Pakistan (17,887), Yemen (16,569), Nigeria (9,189), Somalia (6,951), Gaza (6,281), Libya (3,979), and Turkey (3,428).
AOAV recorded 1,853 incidents of explosive weapon use in Ukraine in 2022, a 1,585% increase compared to the 110 incidents recorded in 2021. Those incidents resulted in 10,381 reported civilian casualties in 2022, or a 36,975% increase from the 28 civilian casualties reported in 2021. 97% (9,828) of people harmed in Ukrainian towns and cities were civilians. This is likely under-reporting as we only get our data from single-reported incidents as reported in reputable media, and cannot include collective assessments.
Ground-launched weapons accounted for 81% (1,494) of recorded incidents of explosive violence in Ukraine, and caused 76% (7,481) of reported civilian casualties, while air-launched weapons accounted for 6% (104) of incidents and 15% (1,541) of civilian casualties.
While 2022 saw an 80% decrease in incidents of explosive violence in Afghanistan compared to 2021, from 458 recorded incidents to 90, and a corresponding 57% decrease in reported civilian casualties (AOAV recorded 3,051 civilian casualties in Afghanistan in 2021, and 1,312 in 2022), IEDs continue to be a leading cause of civilian harm in the country. They accounted for 64% (294) of recorded incidents and 77% (2,347) of reported civilian casualties in 2021, and 76% (68) of incidents and 85% (1,119) of civilian casualties in 2022. 94% (1,292) of people harmed by explosive weapons in towns and cities in 2022 were civilians.
The Taliban have so far failed to deliver on the promise of bringing stability to the country and adequately protecting minority groups and the right to education. It is consequently likely IEDs will continue to be the predominant cause of civilian harm in Afghanistan in 2023, and Sunni muslims and educational facilities will continue to be at particular risk.
In 2022, AOAV recorded 652 incidents of explosive weapon use in Syria, compared to 709 in 2021, and 1,309 civilian casualties (down from 2,016 in 2021). This downward trend has been observable since 2017, when 1,750 incidents were recorded and 13,062 civilian casualties reported.
Ground-launched weapons accounted for 47% (304) of recorded incidents of explosive violence in Syria in 2022, and caused 55% (715) of reported civilian casualties, while IEDs accounted for 23% (148) of incidents and 12% (151) of civilian casualties. Air-launched weapons, which accounted for 19% (129) of recorded incidents, caused 23% (296) of civilian casualties. When explosive weapons were used in towns and cities, 80% (1,202) of people harmed were civilians.
In 2022, the Somali government intensified their fight against Al Shabaab, mobilising the broader population and leaning on US air support. Based on data recorded by AOAV in 2022, Al Shabaab and other armed groups responded by intensifying their own attacks on civilian and military infrastructure.
AOAV recorded 89 incidents of explosive weapon use in Somalia in 2021, compared to 95 in 2022 – a 7% increase. Correspondingly, the 1,222 reported civilian casualties recorded by AOAV in 2022 represent a 128% increase from the 537 civilian casualties recorded in 2021. 90% (1,205) of people harmed by explosive weapons in towns and cities in 2022 were civilians. At the time of writing, there has been no military breakthrough or suggestion of a diplomatic solution, leading AOAV to understand the situation will continue as is or escalate in the coming year.
Of note, incidents of IED attacks in Somalia decreased by 17% between 2021 and 2022, from 66 to 55 recorded incidents, but civilian casualties of IED attacks increased from 425 to 1,091, or by 158%. IED attacks consequently became more targeted and injurious in 2022 compared to 2021. Additionally, incidents of reported mine explosions, which are likely to also include directly-emplaced IEDs, increased by 650% between 2021 and 2022, from two to 15 recorded incidents, and caused 50 civilian casualties in 2022 compared to 14 in 2021. As the military conflict continues and both sides remain resistant to a diplomatic solution, the use of IEDs to target civilians and civilian infrastructure is likely to continue.
Incidents of explosive violence rose by 120% in 2022, from 15 incidents recorded in 2021 to 33 this past year. Reported civilian casualties rose from 531 in 2021 to 1,138 in 2022, a 114% increase. When explosive weapons were used in towns and cities in Ethiopia, 99% (1,108) of people harmed were civilians.
Air-launched attacks accounted for 70% (23) of recorded incidents in Ethiopia in 2022, and caused 67% (765) of reported civilian casualties, while ground-launched weapons accounted for 27% (9) of incidents and 32% (362) of civilian casualties, and IEDs, which accounted for 3% (1) of incidents, caused 1% (11) of civilian casualties.
In 2022, AOAV recorded 551 incidents of explosive weapon use, a 430% increase compared to the 104 incidents recorded in 2021. Similarly, 2022 witnessed 983 civilian casualties, a 178% increase from the 353 civilian casualties reported in 2021. 57% (930) of people harmed in populated areas in 2022 were civilians.
The military coup in February 2021 devolved into a non-international armed conflict affecting the majority of the country. Established Ethnic Armed Organisations (EAOs) intensified attacks against the new military government, and civilian defence forces were formed to resist the junta, some loosely allied under the shadow National Unity Government. The military’s response has been to target villages in air strikes and ground-attacks, resulting in an escalating humanitarian crisis.
Ground-launched weapons accounted for 32% (179) of recorded incidents of explosive weapon use in Myanmar in 2022, and 56% (553) of reported civilian casualties. IEDs accounted for 20% (112) of incidents, and 12% (114) of civilian casualties, while air-launched weapons accounted for 9% (52) of incidents and 21% (202) of civilian casualties.
In Iraq, incidents of explosive weapon use decreased by 5% in 2022, from 268 incidents recorded in 2021 to 254 this past year, but civilian casualties rose by 43% from 620 to 889. When explosive weapons were used in towns and cities, 92% (801) of casualties were civilians.
IEDs accounted for 54% (136) of incidents recorded in 2022, and caused 18% (156) of civilian casualties – a 69% decrease from 508 civilian casualties caused by 187 incidents of IEDs attacks recorded in 2021. In 2021, IEDs accounted for 70% of incidents and 82% of civilian casualties in Iraq. In both 2021 and 2022, 28 incidents of ground-launched attacks were reported, accounting for 11% of incidents in 2022 and 10% in 2021, but civilian casualties of ground-launched weapons rose by 723% from 61 in 2021 to 502 in 2022. In 2021, ground-launched weapons caused 10% of civilian casualties, compared to 56% in 2022. Air-launched weapons accounted for 32% (81) of incidents and 24% (216) of civilian casualties in 2022.
In 2022, AOAV recorded 126 incidents of explosive weapon use in Pakistan, a 26% increase from 100 recorded in 2021. Reported civilian casualties of explosive violence in Pakistan increased by 59% in 2022, from 445 to 706. 80% (652) of people harmed in populated areas in 2022 were civilians.
IEDs accounted for 52% (65) of recorded incidents and 74% (521) of reported civilian casualties of explosive violence in Pakistan in 2022, while ground-launched weapons accounted for 45% (57) of recorded incidents and caused 25% (173) of civilian casualties. Civilian casualties of IEDs in Pakistan rose by 69% in 2022, from 308 civilian casualties of IEDs reported in 2021.
“Last year saw two milestones,” said Iain Overton, Executive Director of the London-based charity Action on Armed Violence that oversaw the data collection, “the first was a political commitment at the United Nations that sought to address the harm of explosive weapon use in towns and cities, the second was the mass escalation of violence by the Russian state against civilians using explosive weapons in towns and cities.”
“The Russian explosive attacks, causing ten times more harm than any other conflict around the world, were specifically aimed at the Ukrainian civilian population,” Overton said.
“When they fired their rockets at towns and cities, over 97% of those killed or injured were reported to be civilians. As many nations in the rest of the world sought to come together to promote peace, Russia was sowing destruction.”
AOAV’s casualty figures represent the lowest of estimations in terms of the number of people killed and injured by explosive weapon use. In an effort to quantify the explicit harm caused by specific explosive weapons, AOAV solely records incident-specific casualty figures, as reported in English-language media.
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 effects where there is likely to be a high concentration of civilians.
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