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Who is causing the most harm? – Assessing the effectiveness of the Arms Trade Treaty, Part 2

Here, this report will utilise the data from AOAV’s explosive monitor to understand the initial civilian harm impact through the prism of deaths and injuries from explosive weapons. Case studies have been selected from among the worst affected to examine different scenarios and types of impacts the ATT can have. The case studies will also provide further consideration of the reverberating effects of explosive weapon use in these contexts, through the use of UNIDIR’s EWIPA indicators, where there is data available.

Read the full report here

Civilian harm

AOAV have been monitoring civilian harm since October 2010, utilising English language news media.[i]  This report will look at data spanning the last decade, 2012-2021, to understand where has seen the highest levels of civilian harm. Given the aim of this report, the focus will be on manufactured explosive weapons and the harm caused.[ii]

The above graphs indicate the harm captured over this period and where saw the highest levels of civilian casualties from manufactured explosive weapons, with the caveat that this by no means captures all explosive violence that occurs and there may be areas with less English-language news media coverage.[iii]Importantly, it is crucial to observe that the most civilian harm occurs when these weapons are used in populated areas, such as those in towns and cities.[iv] A consistent pattern of harm that AOAV has monitored across the last decade is that when explosive weapons are used in populated areas civilians, on average, account for nine in every ten deaths and injuries. This is a predictable pattern of harm.

In any case, the countries that have seen the highest levels of civilian harm are those this report will focus on to understand the ATT’s impact. From among those listed above AOAV has selected four case study countries.

Case study summaries

Based on an initial assessment of immediate civilian casualties from the use of manufactured explosive weapons in populated areas four case studies were decided upon:

  • Myanmar military’s explosive weapon use in Myanmar
  • Saudi Arabia’s explosive weapon use in Yemen
  • Harm from grenades in the Philippines
  • Taliban use of manufactured explosive weapons in Afghanistan

The civilian harm caused by the actors or weapons in each of these case studies has been further assessed using UNIDIR’s EWIPA indicators to understand the wider impact, followed by an assessment of where their weapons came from and what such weapon transfers or diversions suggest about the effectiveness of the ATT. The full case studies can be found at the end of this report (sections 11.1 – 11.4), while this section covers some of the key findings of the case studies.

Myanmar military

Civilians and civilian infrastructure have frequently been targeted by Myanmar’s military junta and their use of explosive weapons, particularly since the coup in February 2021. It is worth noting that the harm continued to worsen in 2022.

Key findings on EWIPA:

  • Populated areas have been frequently targeted by the Myanmar military, resulting in 476 civilian casualties between 2012 and 2021, 246 occurred in 2021. By October 2022, there had already been 577 civilian casualties from Myanmar’s explosive weapon use in populated areas.[v]
  • More than 525 buildings in populated areas were recorded as damaged or destroyed in 2020 and 2021, including homes, churches, schools and commercial premises, as a result of explosive weapon use.[vi]
  • More than 600,000 have been displaced since the coup.[vii]
  • There have been at least 56 attacks on health facilities and personnel using ‘heavy weapons’[viii] or ‘individual weapons’[ix] between 2020 and 2021.[x]
  • There were at least nine attacks on education facilities by military forces in 2021, including four airstrikes.[xi]

Despite this harm, at least two ATT states parties, China and Serbia, have provided arms transfers since the military coup, including explosive weapons and systems capable of launching explosives, despite violations of IHL by the Myanmar junta.[xii]

Though, of the 44 states that have arms embargoes against transfers to Myanmar, 41 are ATT States Parties, two are signatories and one has not signed or ratified the ATT.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia and the Saudi-led coalition have been responsible for thousands of civilian casualties across Yemen since 2015, with populated areas frequently hit by their use of explosive weapons.

Key findings on EWIPA:

  • AOAV recorded more than 10,000 civilian casualties from manufactured weapons by Saudi Arabia and the Saudi-led coalition between 2015 and 2021. 86% of civilian casualties occurred in populated areas.
  • A study in 2020 found that 1,241km of road was thought to be heavily damaged in conflict-impacted governorates and 62 bridges damaged or destroyed by airstrikes.[xiii]
  • WHO recorded 175 attacks on healthcare between March 2015 and 2021, including 67 from ‘heavy weapons’.[xiv]
  • Mwatana for Human Rights, documented 35 coalition airstrikes on 32 health facilities between 2015 and 2018 – killing 31 and injuring 56, including healthcare workers. Most of these attacks caused significant damage to the facilities they hit.[xv]
  • By 2022 only half of Yemen’s health facilities were operational, with 11% fully or partially damaged.[xvi]

Among the biggest suppliers of arms to Saudi Arabia, and other Saudi-led coalition states, are ATT States Parties and signatories, including the US, France, and the UK, despite significant evidence of IHL violations by the Saudi-led coalition.

However, the number of ATT States Parties that exported weapons to Saudi Arabia has decreased in recent years, with at least nine ATT States Parties introducing bans or other restrictions on arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

Grenades in the Philippines

This case study doesn’t focus on a particular actor, but instead on the harm from the proliferation of light weapons like grenades among the population and their use by non-state actors. It examines the impact of the process in the Philippines to ratify the ATT and its impact on weapons proliferation and violence.

Key findings on EWIPA:

  • At least 772 civilian casualties were recorded from grenade attacks between 2012 and 2021. Further casualties have been caused by mortars and RPGs.
  • AOAV recorded at least three incidents of explosive violence using manufactured explosive weapons targeting healthcare facilities and four grenade incidents targeting schools. Further incidents are recorded by other organisations, where casualties were not caused.
  • Of the 842 civilian casualties recorded from manufactured explosive weapon use in the Philippines, the vast majority, 753 (or 89%), were injured. At least 81 of the casualties (dead and injured) were children; the injured among them may require health interventions throughout their life. Injuries are one of the leading causes of lost disability-adjusted life years in the Philippines.[xvii]

As part of efforts to ratify the ATT, the Philippines have received support and assistance focused on implementing the ATT and strengthening national capacity, including security and stockpile management to prevent the illicit trade in arms.

The Philippines ratified the ATT in 2022 and the number of grenade incidents has been consistently falling in recent years. In 2021, AOAV recorded 12 casualties (10 civilian and 2 armed actors) caused by 4 grenade incidents; a fall of 95% from 238 casualties (214 civilians and 28 armed actors) in 2012. There are a variety of reasons why this might be and this is explored in more detail in the full case study.

The Taliban

This case study examined the diversion risks associated with the transfer of arms to Afghanistan, with a focus on the capture and use of these arms by the Taliban.

·   At least 66 incidents of base/security post capture and/or weapon seizures occurred in just one year, 2020, for which AOAV collected data from the New York Times’ Afghan War Casualty Reports. The seizures of such weaponry are thought to have been a significant factor in the Taliban’s ability to overthrow the government in 2021.

·   The Taliban have also seized manufactured explosive weapons for their IEDs also.

These types of weapons captured by the Taliban have been responsible for significant civilian harm.

Key findings on EWIPA:

  • The Taliban have caused at least 1,329 casualties from their use of manufactured explosive weapons between 2012 and 2021, including 1,085 civilian casualties – they are likely to be responsible for far more from this type of violence.
  • There were at least 60 attacks using ‘heavy weapons’ on healthcare between 2017 and 2021,[xviii] and in 2019 192 health facilities were closed as a result of violence or threat of violence.[xix]
  • There were more than 500 attacks on schools and education personnel by the Taliban between 2015 and 2021, though it is unclear how many of these utilised explosive weapons.[xx]

Despite the risk of diversion, states continued to supply arms to Afghanistan between 2012 and 2021. These states include ATT signatories and States Parties. The vast majority of exports were from the United States, though ATT State Party, Bulgaria, exported more than 1,000 grenade launchers.[xxi] Though, Bulgaria was the only ATT State Party since accession or ratification of the ATT, to have transferred explosive weapons to Afghanistan, according to available data.

Conclusions from the case studies

The case studies presented in this report reveal the significant impacts and challenges faced by countries experiencing high levels of civilian harm from manufactured explosive weapons. The findings indicate that the majority of ATT states have not supplied explosive weapons to the actors examined, with notable exceptions. Markedly, ATT states are often quicker to impose embargoes or similar measures to prevent the transfer of arms, and the ATT has played a crucial role in the development of regulations and processes that can help curb diversion and the illicit flow of arms.

While the case studies provide a specific context, the report offers a broader understanding of the ATT’s impact on explosive weapon harm and highlights additional challenges to its effectiveness.

Navigate the report:

Assessing the effectiveness of the Arms Trade Treaty – Executive Summary

Part 1: Nation-by-nation review analysis

Part 2: Who is causing the most harm?

Part 3: Who is providing arms?

Part 4: Thematic examination

Part 5: Conclusion

Part 6: Recommendations 

Part 7: Case studies – Myanmar’s military

Part 8: Case studies – Saudi Arabia in Yemen

Part 9: Case studies – Non-state armed groups in the Philippines

Part 10: Case studies – the Taliban

Part 11: Case studies – China before and after ATT accession

Part 12: Case studies – the United Kingdom, from key ATT architect to key violator?

[i] The full methodology can be read here:

[ii] To examine incidents purely using manufactured explosives, incidents were filtered by launch method, removing all incidents with IED recorded as the launch method, as well as by explosive weapon type, to remove all incidents where the weapon was recorded as a non-specific IED, car bomb, or roadside bomb, and finally, further incidents where improvised weapons were used alongside manufactured explosives in the same incident were removed as it was unclear which weapons caused the casualties.

[iii] For more insight into the limitations of English-language news media reporting please see, Overton, I., M. Jones, and L Day,’ Press significantly under-reported explosive violence in Syria, AOAV study shows’, AOAV, 06 Oct 2020, (accessed 07 Jan 2023) or, Overton, I., and J. Dathan, ‘The challenges of conflict reporting – when injuries from explosive weapons don’t make the news’, 29 Jul 2019, (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[iv] AOAV’s Explosive Violence Monitor states that: Incidents are designated as occurring in populated areas likely to contain concentrations of civilians if: a) It is stated in the source (e.g. a busy street, a crowded market); b) If an incident occurs in or near a pre-defined location which is likely to contain concentrations of civilians e.g. commercial premises, entertainment venues, hospitals, hotels, encampments (containing IDPs, refugees, nomads), markets, places of worship, public gatherings, public buildings, public transport, schools, town centres, urban residential neighbourhoods, villages/ compounds. This definition of a populated area is based on Protocol III of the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) which defines concentrations of civilians as: “any concentrations of civilians, be it permanent or temporary, such as in inhabited parts of cities, or inhabited towns or villages, or as in camps or columns of refugees or evacuees, or groups of nomads.”

[v] According to Action on Armed Violence’s Explosive Weapon Monitor Project data.

[vi] According to data collected from Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED); Raleigh, Clionadh, Andrew Linke, Håvard Hegre and Joakim Karlsen. (2010). “Introducing ACLED-Armed Conflict Location and Event Data.” Journal of Peace Research 47(5) 651- 660.

[vii] UNHCR, ‘Myanmar UNHCR displacement overview’, 09 May 2022,  (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[viii] Heavy weapons includes attacks where more than one person uses firearms, tanks, missiles, bombs, or mortars.

[ix] Individual weapons includes attacks using knives, bricks, clubs, guns, grenades and IEDs.

[x] Data collected from WHO, ‘SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM FOR ATTACKS ON HEALTH CARE (SSA)’, (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[xi] Data available from Insecurity Insight’s HDX profile  (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[xii] Human Rights Council, ‘Enabling Atrocities: UN Member States’ Arms Transfers to the Myanmar Military, Conference room paper of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar’, (Forty-ninth session, 28 February-1 April 2022) 22 February 2022, A/HRC/49/CRP.1 (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[xiii] Humanity and Inclusion, ‘Death Sentence to Civilians: The Long-Term Impact of Explosive Weapons in Populated Areas in Yemen’, May 2020, (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[xiv] Data collected from WHO, ‘SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM FOR ATTACKS ON HEALTH CARE (SSA)’, (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[xv] Physicians for Human Rights, ‘“I ripped the IV out of my arm and started running”: Attacks on Health Care in Yemen’, 18 March 2020,  (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[xvi] OCHA, 2022, ‘Humanitarian Needs Overview: Yemen’.

[xvii] Data collected from the WHO ‘The Global Health Observatory: Global health estimates: Leading causes of DALYs’, (accessed 07 Jan 2023), and WHO, 2018. ‘The Philippines Health System Review’, Health Systems in Transition, Vol. 8, No.2.

[xviii] Data collected from WHO, ‘SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM FOR ATTACKS ON HEALTH CARE (SSA)’,  (accessed 07 Jan 2023)

[xix] WHO, ‘Afghanistan: Attacks on Health Care in 2019 as of December 31, 2019’, 2022.

[xx] Data collected from the Secretary-General reports on ‘Children and armed conflict’ from the years 2015 to 2021.

[xxi] Data collected from the United Nations Register of Conventional Arms, available at: (accessed 07 Jan 2023)