New UN death toll: At least 350,000 people killed in Syria’s war

The UN human rights office says the death toll is ‘certainly an under-count’ due to a strict methodology used.

A Syrian Civil Defence member carries a wounded child in the besieged town of Hamoria, Eastern Ghouta [File: Bassam Khabieh/Reuters]

At least 350,209 people have been killed in Syria’s 10-year war, the United Nations human rights office has said, calling the tally an “undercount” as it released its first report since 2014 on the conflict’s death toll.

The figure announced on Friday included civilians and fighters and was based on strict methodology requiring the full name of the deceased, as well as an established date and location of death, the office said.

“On this basis, we have compiled a list of 350,209 identified individuals killed in the conflict in Syria between March 2011 to March 2021,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet told the Human Rights Council.

One in every 13 victims was a woman or a child, she said.

“It indicates a minimum verifiable number, and is certainly an under-count of the actual number of killings,” she added.

Bachelet said the previous update by her office, in August 2014, reported that at least 191,369 people had been killed in the war.

Her office was working on a statistical model to provide a more complete picture, which could also help establish accountability for some killings, she said.

The largest number of documented killings, 51,731, was recorded in the Aleppo governorate, long held by the opposition, which became a flashpoint in the conflict.

In the report, Bachalet also called for the creation of an independent mechanism for tackling the issue of missing people.

“Given the vast number of missing persons in Syria, I restate my call for the creation of an independent mechanism, with a strong international mandate, to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people; identify human remains; and provide support to relatives,” she said.

The conflict, which started as a mass uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule in March 2011, quickly morphed into a full-fledged war. It sparked the world’s biggest refugee crisis, with Syria’s neighbours hosting 5.6 million people and European countries more than one million.

Al-Assad has recovered most of Syria, but significant areas remain outside his control: Turkish forces are deployed in much of the north and northwest – the last significant bastion of anti-al-Assad rebels – and United States forces are stationed in the Kurdish-controlled east and northeast.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that 500,000 people have been killed in the war and that it is examining a further 200,000 cases.

“It is very difficult to give a statistic that is close to reality,” Rami Abdurrahman, director of the British-based group, told Reuters news agency. “There are a lot of names and there has to be documentation to make sure.”

Karen Koning AbuZayd, a member of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria investigating war crimes, told the council on Thursday that incidents of unlawful and incommunicado detention by government forces remain “unabated”.

“This is no time for anyone to think that Syria is a country fit for its refugees to return. The war on Syrian civilians continues,” she said.

Bachalet also addressed the current situation in Syria, saying “the daily lives of the Syrian people remain scarred by unimaginable suffering”.

“There is still no end to the violence they endure: just last month, civilians in and around Daraa were exposed to intense fighting and indiscriminate shelling by Government forces and armed opposition groups,” she said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies