The Corner


That’s the number of people killed the Syrian civil war from when the conflict began in the spring of 2011 through November 30, according to a new study, highlighted in a statement yesterday by the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay. She explained, “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. The number of casualties is much higher than we expected, and is truly shocking.”

Prior informal U.N. estimates had pegged the deaths at about 40,000 total, and rebel groups had suggested the number might be 45 or 50,000, but this is much more detailed survey which identifies the number of actual documented deaths, and seems unlikely to be a large overestimate. It’s not a statistical sample or estimate; rather, the authors of the report combined seven databases of recorded deaths from the various human-rights groups that have been monitoring the conflict, and then used computer software to eliminate duplicates and narrow down the list to only unique examples. Only “identifiable victims” were used, meaning those which “include the victim’s name, plus date and location of death.” There were a total of 147,349 such records, which was narrowed down to 59,648 reported unique deaths — it’s possible duplicates remain in the database, but it’s unlikely to be many.

Armin Rosen at The Atlantic has more on the study — among other things, he explains:

The age of up to three-fourths of recorded victims is missing. Yet a heavy proportion of victims for which age could be determined were between 20 and 30 years old. Meanwhile, only 7.5 percent of the identified victims were female; all of the more than 2,500 dead reported by the Syrian government are men. The dataset tends heavily towards males of traditional fighting age. Either this means that a large percentage of the people killed in the Syria conflict are combatants, or that the current documentation actually under-counts the number of civilian dead.

The PDF of the report is here, for those interested.

It’s also important to note, as Rosen does, that this number represented documented deaths as a result of the violent conflict, and isn’t “excess mortality,” a number which is often used to describe the human costs of civil conflict, and includes the deaths attributed to starvation, exposure, disease, etc. (the oft-cited number of deaths for the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 4 or 5 million, is such a number). It’s unclear what that number would look like for Syria, but getting humanitarian aid to internally displaced persons in the country and to refugees in Jordan and Turkey has been a huge problem, and not one that’s received much attention from Western powers — a variety of proposals for “humanitarian corridors” have been put forth to no avail, and the U.S. has stuck to relatively insignificant commitments of humanitarian aid via the U.N.’s World Food Program.

Regarding the new study, a reporter asked the following at the State Department’s daily press briefing yesterday: “The 60,000 people number just released this morning, we know that you have a redline for chemical weapons. Do you have any redline for this number of casualties, whether hundred thousand, 500,000, million?” The press secretary responded, “You know where we are on Syria. We’ve talked about this at length. We are all watching this bloodshed, which is now into its second year, with revulsion and loathing. And it is the Assad regime that bears responsibility. They could end it and stop it at a moment’s notice and spare their own people. They bear responsibility.”

I think we all knew that. This is, one might note, the administration which tapped a variety of diplomatic figures known for their support for humanitarian interventionism, and which actually bothered to create an Atrocities Prevention Board.

Patrick BrennanPatrick Brennan is a writer and policy analyst based in Washington, D.C. He was Director of Digital Content for Marco Rubio's presidential campaign, writing op-eds, policy content, and leading the ...

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