The United Nations human rights office has called the tally of at least 350,209 deaths between March 2011 to March 2021 during Syria’s war, an “undercount” in its first report since 2014.
Alarmingly, 1 in every 13 victims have been a woman or a child, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has told the Human Rights Council. Bachelet said that the previous update by her office, in August 2014, reported at least 191,369 killings.
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. Other heavy death tolls were recorded in Rural Damascus (47,483), Homs, (40,986), Idlib (33,271), Hama (31,993), and Tartus (31,369).
🇸🇾#Syria: UN Human Rights Chief updates @UN_HRC on the extent of conflict-related casualties in Syria from 2011 – 2021. @MBachelet urges us all to listen to the voices of survivors & victims, and to the stories of those who have now fallen silent for ever: https://t.co/rm7GxDbZiO pic.twitter.com/CgIkRWxXtO
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) September 24, 2021
While the UN reports 350,000 deaths, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that 500,000 people have been killed in the warfare and is examining 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”.
Bachelet’s office is working on a statistical model to provide a more complete picture, which could help establish accountability for some killings. “My Office has begun processing information on the actors alleged to have caused a number of deaths, together with the civilian and non-civilian status of victims, as well as the cause of death by types of weaponry”, she stated.
In the report, she 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.” This one must have “a strong international mandate to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing people; identify human remains, and provide support to relatives,” Bachelet added.
This new figure announced on Friday 24 included civilians and fighters and was based on strict methodology requiring the full name of the deceased, and an established date and location of demise.
How did it get so far?
Syria’s bloodshed begun after a mass uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s rule in March 2011 during the so-called Arab Spring that immersed the region into mass demonstrations and caused the toppling of Tunisia’s President Ben Ali and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak. Other countries like Syria, Yemen, and Libya fell into brutal wars.
The al-Assad regime responded with a brutal crackdown against protesters, drawing condemnation from international leaders and human rights groups.
In August 2011, a council for the Syrian opposition formed in Istanbul, and opposition militias began to launch attacks on the government. Despite this opposition, al-Assad has been able to hold onto power since he has retained the support of critical military units of Syria’s Alawite minority.
Additionally, the international community has not been able to military intervene like it did in Libya. Russia and China have vetoed UN Security Council resolutions meant to pressure the Assad regime and have vowed to oppose any measure that would lead to Assad’s removal from power. The escalation of violence has been fed by funding and arms donations from several rival countries interested in the outcome of the conflict.
All of this has culminated in the current ongoing devastating civil battle of 10 years and the world’s biggest refugee crisis, with Syria’s neighbours hosting 5.6 million people and European countries more than one million.
As of the time of this writing, 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, according to Al Jazeera), and United States forces are stationed in the Kurdish-controlled east and northeast.
Today, the daily lives of the Syrian people are full of unimaginable suffering with a deep economic crisis and struggling to contain COVID-19. To this, we must add the extensive destruction of infrastructure, the psychological impact of the war, and numerous deaths of innocent people.
The end of this internationalized conflict is nowhere to be seen soon. As Bachelet puts it “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“. Just last month, civilians in and around Daraa were exposed to intense fighting and indiscriminate shelling by Government forces and armed opposition groups.