Syria’s death toll soars to nearly 93,000
At least 92,901 people have lost their lives in Syria’s bloody civil war. And the pace of killing is quickening, with death toll nearly five times what it was in 2011. The latest count of the fallen, released this morning in Geneva by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, marks a dramatic increase ...
At least 92,901 people have lost their lives in Syria’s bloody civil war. And the pace of killing is quickening, with death toll nearly five times what it was in 2011.
The latest count of the fallen, released this morning in Geneva by U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, marks a dramatic increase in the rate of killing since January, when the United Nations estimated that nearly 60,000 people had died in a conflict that is resulting in the deaths thousands each month and shows no sign of abating.
"The constant flow of killings continues at shockingly high levels – with more than 5,000 killings documented every month since last July, including a total of just under 27,000 new killings since December," Pillay said. "Unfortunately, as the study indicates, this is most likely a minimum casualty figure. The true number of those killed is potentially much higher."
The release of the new figures comes at the Obama administration is facing persistent pressure to help the rebels withstand an increasingly effective counteroffensive. Former President Bill Clinton told Senator John McCain in a closed door press event, which was later leaked, that President Obama should offer more decisive support for the Syrian rebels, saying the American public needs to be able "see down the road" and "to win."
"Nobody is asking for American soldiers in Syria," Clinton said. "The only question is now that the Russians, the Iranians and the Hezbollah are in there head over heels, 90 miles to nothing, should we try to do something to try to slow their gains and rebalance the power so that these rebel groups have a decent chance, if they’re supported by a majority of the people, to prevail?"
The U.N. figures were compiled with the help of a West Coast non-profit, the Human Rights Data Analysis Group. that crunches data to unlock patterns of mass killing around the world. Applying a data mining technique called an "alternating decision tree," the data analysis group’s team, led by Megan Price, compiled basic fatality figures — such as victims’ ages, time and place of death — from eight separate data sets, including those maintained by the Syrian government and opposition groups, including the oft-cited Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The data analysis group’s statisticians pored through a combined list of 263,055 reported fatalities compiled by the eight groups and including a name of a person and the date and location of their purported deaths. Fatalities from each list was compared with the others to ensure there was no duplication. More than 150,000 names were subtracted from the total figure because they had been included in multiple lists. The team estimates that the final count is likely an underestimate. Their judgment is based on the fact that they had to exclude as many 37,988 reported killings "containing insufficient information," according to Price.
"The analysis shows a dramtic increase in the average monthly number of documented killing since the beginning of the conflict, from around 1,000 per month in the summer of 2011 to an average of 5,000 per month since July 2012." Between July and October 2012, a particulary bloody stage in the conflict, more than 6000 a month were killed.
The U.N. has repeatedly accused the Syrian government of responsibility for the vast majority of killings, but the armed opposition have continued to use increasingly lethal means in their insurgency. Pillay accused the government of conducting the daily shelling of key towns and villages with strategic missiles and cluster and thermobaric bombs. The rebels, the UN said. have also "shelled residential areas, albeit using less firepower, and there have been multiple bombings resulting in casualties in the heart of cities, especially Damascus."
"This extremely high rate of killing, month after month, reflects the drastically deteriorating pattern of the conflict over the past year," Pillay said. "Civilians are bearing the brunt of widespread violent and often indiscriminate attacks which are devastating whole swaths of major towns and cities, as well as outlying villages."
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Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch
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