Press releasesOffice of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
Data analysis suggests over 60,000 people killed in Syria conflict: Pillay
60,000 killed in Syria: Pillay
02 January 2013
GENEVA (2 January 2013) – An exhaustive analysis carried out by data specialists on behalf of the UN Human Rights Office has led to the compilation of a list of 59,648 individuals reported killed in Syria between 15 March 2011 and 30 November 2012, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Wednesday.
“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,” Pillay said. “The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking.”
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 the 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.
“Although this is the most detailed and wide-ranging analysis of casualty figures so far, this is by no means a definitive figure,” the High Commissioner said. “We have not been able to verify the circumstances of each and every death, partly because of the nature of the conflict and partly because we have not been allowed inside Syria since the unrest began in March 2011. Once there is peace in Syria, further investigations will be necessary to discover precisely how many people have died, and in what circumstances, and who was responsible for all the crimes that have been committed. This analysis provides a very useful basis upon which future investigations can be built to enhance accountability and provide justice and reparations to victims’ families.”
“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,” Pillay said. “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.”
The analysts noted that 60,000 is likely to be an underestimate of the actual number of deaths, given that reports containing insufficient information were excluded from the list, and that a significant number of killings may not have been documented at all by any of the seven sources. The recording and collection of accurate and reliable data has grown increasingly challenging due to the conflict raging in many parts of the country.
The analysis -- which the High Commissioner stressed is “a work in progress, not a final product” -- shows a steady increase in the average number of documented deaths per month since the beginning of the conflict, from around 1,000 per month in the summer of 2011 to an average of more than 5,000 per month since July 2012. The greatest number of reported killings have occurred in Homs (12,560), rural Damascus (10,862) and Idlib (7,686), followed by Aleppo (6,188), Daraa (6,034) and Hama (5,080).
Over 76% of the victims documented so far are male, while 7.5% are female, according to the analysis. The gender of the victim is not clear in 16.4 percent of cases. The analysis was not able to differentiate clearly between combatants and non-combatants.
“While many details remain unclear, there can be no justification for the massive scale of the killing highlighted by this analysis,” the High Commissioner said. “Unless there is a quick resolution to the conflict, I fear thousands more will die or suffer terrible injuries as a result of those who harbour the obstinate belief that something can be achieved by more bloodshed, more torture and more mindless destruction. Those people carrying out these serious crimes should understand that they will one day be brought to justice. The case against them will only be strengthened by adding more crimes to those already committed.”
“The failure of the international community, in particular the Security Council, to take concrete actions to stop the blood-letting, shames us all,” Pillay said. “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.”
The High Commissioner also called for serious preparations to restore law and order when the conflict comes to a halt. “We must not compound the existing disaster by failing to prepare for the inevitable – and very dangerous – instability that will occur when the conflict ends,” she said. “Serious planning needs to get under way immediately, not just to provide humanitarian aid to all those who need it, but to protect all Syrian citizens from extra-judicial reprisals and acts of revenge and discrimination. Investment in a massive stabilization effort will cost far less than decades of instability and lawlessness such as those that have afflicted Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and several other states where the transition from dictatorship and conflict to democracy was given insufficient support.”
* The seven datasets used in the analysis were those provided by the Violations Documentation Centre, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, the Syrian Revolution General Council, the Syria Shuhada Website, the March 15 Group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Government of Syria. Not all datasets cover the entire period covered by the analysis. The analysis was carried out, on behalf of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, by Benetech, a a non-profit technology company with extensive experience in statistical analysis of data relating to human rights violations.