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Explosive violence in June 2021

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In June 2021, Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) recorded 1,654 deaths and injuries from 207 incidents of explosive violence around the world, as reported in English-language media. Civilians accounted for 65% (1,080) of the deaths and injuries recorded.

When explosive violence was used in populated areas, 93% of all casualties were civilians, compared to 7% in other areas.

Improvised explosive weapons (IEDs) accounted for 40% of civilian casualties in June 2021, while manufactured explosive weapons accounted for 54%. Of the main launch method types, air-launched explosive weapons accounted for 30% of civilian casualties, ground-launched explosive weapons were responsible for 23%, IEDs for 40%, and mines for 1%. The remaining 7% of civilian casualties were caused by weapons with unclear, unspecified, or multiple launch types.

At least one death or injury from explosive violence was recorded in 21 countries and territories in June. The five worst impacted countries were Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Syria, Yemen and Iraq – in terms of civilian casualties.

Afghanistan was the country worst-affected by explosive weapon use in June, in terms of civilian casualties. Across 55 incidents, 362 civilian casualties were recorded — 59% of the total number of casualties (612) from explosive weapons use. 67% of the incidents were IED detonations, causing 64% (231) of the total civilian casualties. Twenty of the 55 incidents of explosive weapon use took place in populated areas, and of the total casualties from these incidents (244), 87% (213) were civilians. Though Afghanistan remains the country worst affected by explosive violence, the number of civilian casualties in June is 47% less than the number of civilian casualties in May.

Ethiopia was the second worst-affected country in regard to civilian casualties in June, however, all 244 civilian casualties of explosive weapon use in Ethiopia this month were the result of one incident: On 22 June, an airstrike by the Ethiopian state airforce struck a market in Togoga, Tigray, killing 64 civilians and wounding at least 180 others. The airstrike took place around 1pm, when many families, women, and children were in the market. Ambulances were reportedly blocked by Ethiopian soldiers from reaching the scene and/or returning to the hospital in Mekele, causing the death toll to rise. This was, by far, the most lethal and injurious incident of explosive weapon use recorded in Ethiopia in the last decade. It was also the first recorded state airstrike this year.

In Syria, the third worst-affected country, there were 211 civilian casualties of explosive weapon use, across 78 recorded incidents (58 killed, 153 injured, and 33 casualties were reportedly children). Ground-launched weapons, such as artillery shelling, mortars, rockets, and grenades accounted for 34 of the 78 incidents and 134 civilian casualties. There were 35 incidents of the use of IEDs and mines, causing 57 civilian casualties combined. There were eight recorded incidents of the use of air-launched weapons, two by the Iraeli air force and two by the United States air force, one confirmed Russian airstrike, and three by unknown perpetrators. One airstrike by the USA caused four civilian casualties – the only civilian casualties of air-launched weapons recorded this month. The Syrian state was responsible for at least 19 incidents of explosive weapon use and 53 civilian casualties, though this is likely an underestimation as explosive weapon attacks are often unclaimed by the perpetrators and can be difficult to determine. 62% (48) of incidents took place in populated areas, where 92% (194) of the total civilian casualties occured. Aleppo and Idlib provinces remain the most dangerous areas for civilians, combined accounting for 80% (168) of the total civilian casualties (211). The worst incident this month occured on 12 June when al-Shifaa hospital in rebel-held city Afrin, Aleppo, was shelled by artillery fire originating in an area of northern Aleppo where militias loyal to the Syrian regime are deployed. Seventeen civilians were killed by the shelling on al-Shifaa hospital, and 23 were injured. Casualties included a number of healthcare workers, women, and children. The number of civilian casualties in Syria in June has more than doubled that of May, and the proportion of civilian casualties to total casualties has increased to 57% in June, from 44% in May.

Yemen was the fourth worst-affected country in regard to civilian casualties. There were five incidents of explosive weapon use recorded, two fewer than in May, but more than triple the number of civilian casualties, with 83 civilian casualties recorded this month, compared to 26 in May. These casualties were attributed to the use of ground-launched weapons, IEDs, and the use of multiple types of explosive weapons. Houthi rebels were responsible for three of the five incidents and 83% (69) of the civilian casualties. All incidents of explosive weapon use occurred in populated areas. The worst incident took place on 10 June, when Iran-backed Houthis launched two ballistic missiles and two drones rigged with explosives into residential areas and a marketplace in Marib city centre, killing eight civilians and injuring 27. June has seen the highest level of civilian casualties from the use of explosive weapons in Yemen this year so far.

Iraq was the fifth worst-affected country for civilian casualties, and across 26 incidents of explosive weapons use, there were 80 civilian casualties (15 killed and 65 injured). There were 27 armed-actor casualties, 15 injured and 12 killed. IEDs accounted for 21 of the 26 incidents, and 92% (70) of civilian casualties. Fourteen of the 26 incidents of explosive weapon use occurred in populated areas and in those incidents, civilians made up 82% of the casualties. The worst incident took place on 3 June in al-Kadhimiya, northern Baghdad, when an IED was detonated in a restaurant, killing 4 civilians and injuring 36. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, which happened in a highly protected Shia shrine area. The number of civilian casualties in Iraq increased notably, from 19 in May to 80 in June, though the number of incidents has only increased by 4, up from 22 incidents in May. The number of armed actor casualties decreased, from 43 in May to 27 in June.

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.