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Briefing note: Explosive weapons use in Yemen, 2014-2023

On January 11th, the Royal Air Force joined coalition forces launching air strikes across Yemen, in retaliation against Houthi forces for their attacks targetting ships in the Red Sea. The Houthis have confirmed they will retaliate and continue their attacks, which they claim are in support of Palestinians as Operation Swords of Iron unfolds.

Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) presents a briefing note on the impact of air strikes in Yemen over the past ten years (2014-2023).

Executive Summary:

Over the past ten years, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) has recorded 1,607 incidents of explosive weapons use in Yemen, and 17,197 civilian casualties (7,276 killed).

Air strikes by state actors represent the majority of those incidents, 43% (693), as well as the majority of civilian casualties, 61% (10,450). State-perpetrated air strikes also account for the majority, 70% (5,101), of civilian fatalities.

1,422 children were reported among the civilians harmed in Yemen over the past decade, 59% (845) of whom were killed or injured by state-perpetrated air strikes.

Explosive violence in Yemen, 2014-2023

Between 2014 and 2023, AOAV has recorded 1,607 incidents of explosive weapons use in Yemen. These incidents resulted in 25,026 total casualties, 69% (17,197) of whom were reported as civilians, including at least 1,422 children. Of these civilian casualties, 42% (7,276) were killed.

Air strikes by state actors were the most injurious weapons used in Yemen over the past decade, with 693 incidents resulting in 10,450 civilian casualties (5,101 killed). State-perpetrated air strikes consequently represent 43% of all incidents recorded in Yemen between 2014 and 2023, as well as 61% of total civilian casualties and 70% of total civilian fatalities. 59% (845) of children killed or injured in Yemen in that time were harmed by state-perpetrated air strikes.

The Saudi-led coalition was reportedly responsible for 38% (614) of total incidents in Yemen in the past ten years, as well as 58% (10,058) of civilian casualties and 68% (4,946) of civilian fatalities. Civilians account for 76% of all 13,221 casualties attributed to the Saudi-led coalition in that time. 

In particular, the 582 air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition recorded by AOAV between 2014 and 2023 caused 9,897 civilian casualties, of whom 4,873 were killed. 805 children were reportedly among those killed and injured by Saudi-led coalition air strikes in that time.

Over the same time period, ground-launched explosive weapons caused 25% (4,348) of civilian casualties, and 18% (1,280) of civilian fatalities, while Improvised Explosive Devices represent 11% (1,919) of total civilian casualties and 9% (665) of total civilian fatalities.

Overall, state actors were the reported perpetrators of 67% (11,605) of civilian casualties in Yemen between 2014 and 2023, and 74% (5,413) of civilian fatalities.

Dr. Iain Overton, AOAV’s Executive Director, expressed deep concern about the escalating situation in Yemen, emphasising the potential repercussions of military action.

“Yemen, already torn asunder by years of brutal war, faces a grim prospect,” Overton warned. “Any military campaign, even with the most precise targeting, carries an inherent risk of civilian casualties. These strikes, likely well-intended to curb Houthi aggression, could inadvertently harm those who have already suffered immensely.”

Overton further cautioned about the UK’s involvement, saying, “The UK’s decision to participate in this action could draw the country into another costly, protracted conflict in a region where the long-term strategic objectives are, at best, murky. Without a clear, sustainable plan for post-conflict stability, we risk repeating past mistakes. It’s vital that we consider not only the immediate military objectives but also the long-term implications of our involvement in Yemen. The history of Western interventions in this region is fraught with unintended consequences, and we must tread cautiously to avoid exacerbating an already dire humanitarian crisis.”

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.