Accurate count impossible, local human rights group counts 606,000

The United Nations human rights chief said Friday that her office has documented the deaths of 350,209 people — civilians and combatants — in Syria’s civil war over the last decade, while admitting the real number for those killed in the conflict is almost certainly far higher.

Michelle Bachelet said the figures, dating between March 2011 and March 2021, were tallied based on information that identified people by name as well as by date and location of death. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has long cited difficulties in obtaining a clear picture of the rights situation in Syria, and stopped updating the death toll from Syria’s civil war in early 2014 — at a count of 191,369.

The new figure provided by the U.N. rights office is far lower than an estimate from the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, which in June put the estimated death toll in the war at more than 606,000 — including some 495,000 documented deaths.

The office has traditionally provided conservative figures for death tolls from a number of crises around the world, a testament to its strict methodology in tallying fallouts from violence.

“We assess this figure of 350,209 as statistically sound, based as it is on rigorous work,” Bachelet told the Human Rights Council, the U.N.’s top human rights body. “But it is not — and should not be seen as — a complete number of conflict-related killings in Syria during this period. It indicates a minimum verifiable number, and is certainly an under-count of the actual number of killings.”

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