UN estimate of Syria death toll highlights discrepancies in casualty reporting
The 60,000 deaths in Syria reported by the United Nations last week is a big jump from the 40,000- 45,000 deaths that most other organizations report.
A new United Nations-sponsored report that estimates more than 60,000 people have died in Syria’s political violence has touched off a new dispute that underscores how little is truly known about the toll from a civil war just weeks from beginning its third year.Skip to next paragraph
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One Syrian activist who provided some of the numbers for the study says he believes the new numbers are inflated, while another says he believes they underrepresent the dead.
“They are being used as propaganda,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, who believes the new numbers overstate the number of dead. “The UN is not a human rights organization, it is a political one.”
Rahman said he believed the report, made public Wednesday, was being used to pressure countries into working harder to reach a political deal to stop the fighting.
Rahman’s criticism is notable. His organization’s numbers, gathered from informants on the ground in Syria, are the most widely quoted source for information on the daily violence inside Syria. His is also the only organization that attempts to record casualties from all sides of the conflict – rebels, the government and civilians. To date, he’s logged about 46,000 deaths since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad began in March 2011.
Megan Price, a senior statistician for Benetech, the California firm that compiled the report for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Rahman had shared his concerns with the report’s authors. "We have nothing but the utmost respect for the groups doing this very hard work,” Price said, adding that Rahman’s concerns about the accuracy of some of the data used in the study “are valid."
But she also said she still agreed with the report’s general conclusion that the data used to compile the report, gathered from six organizations and the Syrian government, almost certainly missed a number of deaths that have yet to be counted. “The statistics presented in this report should be considered minimum bounds,” the report said.
“Based on our experience in other countries, and really just thinking about the way that violence occurs, there will inevitably be violence that is not recorded, especially if it leaves behind only the perpetrators or witnesses who don’t feel safe enough to report or they don’t have any reason to,” she said.
That view was endorsed by Radwan Ziadeh, the director of the Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies, which is part of another group that tracks casualties, the Syrian Network for Human Rights. The network, which only records deaths of rebel fighters and civilians, has reported the deaths of 42,343 people since March 18, 2011.