Virginie Nguyen Hoang/AP/Press Association Images

Death toll in Syria surpasses 60,000

The new figure comes from the United Nations’ “exhaustive analysis”.

THE UNITED NATIONS believes that more than 60,000 people have been killed in the conflict that has ravaged Syria for the past 22 months.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said it compiled a list of 59,648 individuals killed between 15 March 2011 and 30 November 2012 following “exhaustive analysis” by data specialists.

“Given there has been no let-up in the conflict since the end of November, we can assume that more than 60,000 people have been killed by the beginning of 2013,” Navi Pillay said. “The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and it is truly shocking.”

Previous estimates from activist and human rights groups had put the death toll at about 45,000.

The preliminary analysis, which took five months to complete, was conducted using a combined list of 147,349 reported killings, fully identified by the first and last name of the victim, as well as the date and location of the death. Any reported killing that did not include at least these four elements was excluded from the list, which was compiled using datasets from seven different sources, including Bashar Assad’s government.

Each reported death was compared to all the other reported deaths in order to identify duplicates. The analysis used manual classifications and a data mining technique called an ‘alternating decision tree’ to identify the duplicate records. After duplicates were removed, the combined dataset was reduced to 59,648 unique records of conflict-related deaths as of 30 November 2012.

Pillay said the figure was “by no means definitive” because other verification processes need to be carried out and her office has not been allowed into the country. She added that once there is peace, then further investigations will be required to see who was responsible for the crimes that have been committed.

“This massive loss of life could have been avoided if the Syrian government had chosen to take a different path than one of ruthless suppression of what were initially peaceful and legitimate protests by unarmed civilians,” she continued.

“As the situation has continued to degenerate, increasing numbers have also been killed by anti-government armed groups, and there has been a proliferation of serious crimes including war crimes, and – most probably – crimes against humanity, by both sides.

“Cities, towns and villages have been, and are continuing to be, devastated by aerial attacks, shelling, tank fire, bomb attacks and street-to-street fighting. In addition, the increasingly sectarian nature of the conflict, highlighted in the recent update by the independent international Commission of Inquiry on Syria, means a swift end to the conflict will be all the more difficult to accomplish.”

With violence raging around them, some Syrians are trying to maintain a normal life. Here, a girl attends class in a recently reopened school. Some schools are using mosques or improvised rooms so teaching can resume. (AP Photo/Virginie Nguyen Hoang)

The analysts who compiled the data noted that the 60,000 figure is likely to be an underestimate given that reports containing insufficient information were excluded from the list. The High Commissioner stressed that the document is “a work in progress, not a final product”.

The figures show that the number of documented deaths has grown month-on-month. In the summer of 2011, the average monthly death toll was 1,000. Since July 2012, the corresponding figure is closer to 5,000.

The bloodiest areas have been Homs, with 12,560 reported deaths, and rural Damascus, with more than 10,000 reported killings.

Over three quarters of those listed as deceased were male, while 7.5 per cent were women. The gender of the victim was unclear in 16.4 per cent and the analysis was not able to clearly differentiate between combatants and non-combatants.

In light of the significant death toll and continuing violence, the international community’s failure to take action to stop the fighting is shameful, according to Pillay.

“For almost two years now, my staff and the staff of the independent Commission of Inquiry have been interviewing Syrians inside and outside the country, listening to their stories and gathering evidence. We have been repeatedly asked: ‘Where is the international community? Why aren’t you acting to stop this slaughter?’ We have no satisfactory answer to those questions.

“Collectively, we have fiddled at the edges while Syria burns.”

MORE: Syria’s war worsening ‘by the day’, says UN envoy

IN PICTURES: a year of fighting in Syria

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