More than 306,000 civilians killed in Syrian conflict during first decade, says UN

A daily average of 83 died violently between March 2011 and March 2021, data shows

During the first decade of the Syrian conflict more than 306,000 civilians were killed, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has said. Following “rigorous assessment and statistical analysis” of available data, the rights office estimated a daily average of 83 died violently between March 2011 and March 2021.

This amounts to 1.5 per cent of Syria’s total pre-war population, prompting serious concerns over the failure of all combatants to respect humanitarian laws protecting civilians.

In its 12-page report, entitled Civilians Under Attack in Syria, the office described how a war involving regional and international actors was precipitated by a government crackdown in 2011 on demonstrations calling for democratic reforms. Protests elsewhere during the Arab Spring ousted veteran leaders in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen but not Syrian president Bashar al-Assad who continues to govern 70 per cent of Syria.

“This is the highest estimate yet of conflict-related civilians deaths in Syria,” the office said. The basis of the figure was 143,350 civilian fatalities documented by civil society bodies and UN monitoring sources giving full names, ages, gender, locations, causes, perpetrators, weapons and dates of death. Statistical projections were made for an additional 163,537 fatalities where there were “missing elements of information”.

These figures “are not simply a set of abstract numbers, but represent individual human beings. The impact of the killing of each of these 306,887 civilians would have had a profound, reverberating impact on the family and community to which they belonged,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said.

The total figure does not include combatant fatalities or civilians who died due to loss of healthcare, food and clean water essential for sustaining life. Previous estimates ranged between 350,000-500,000 civilian and combatant deaths combined.

The war has displaced internally or driven outside the country 13.5 million Syrians, two-thirds of the population of 18 million, while 11 million living in Syria continue to need international aid to survive. War-ravaged and internationally sanctioned Syrians top the list of the world’s 10 most food insecure people, according to the UN.

Separately, al-Jazeera reported that the UN said over 18 months at least 100 people, mainly women, have been murdered at al-Hol camp run by US-backed Kurdish forces in northeast Syria. Although al-Hol was established as a temporary facility for families associated with Islamic State (also known as Isis), 56,000, 80 per cent of whom are women and children, remain.

While Syrians and Iraqis are the majority, 12,000 inmates are from Europe and other countries which have refused repatriation.

UN resident co-ordinator in Syria Imran Riza said, “it’s a very harsh place and it’s become an increasingly unsafe place” due to “gender-based violence [and] no-go areas” controlled by extremists.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times