UN: more than 300,000 civilians dead in Syria war

Aleppo ruins

More than 306,000 civilian were killed in Syria between March 2011 and March 2021, according to new estimatesĀ released June 28 by the United Nations Human Rights Council. According to the latest findings, civilians represent an overwhelming majority of the estimated 350,209 total deaths identified since the start of the civil conflict.

In a statement, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet condemned the violence and emphasized the severity of the situation, saying:

The conflict-related casualty figures in this report 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 belongedā€¦ And let me be clear: these are the people killed as a direct result of war operations. This does not include the many, many more civilians who died due to the loss of access to healthcare, to food, to clean water and other essential human rights, which remain to be assessed.

According to the report, these numbers indicate that more than 1% of Syria’s pre-war population has been killed as a result of the conflict. This is compounded by estimates from the World Bank that more than half the country’s pre-war population has been displaced. According to the World Bank, prior to the war “extreme poverty in Syria ($1.90 2011 PPP [purchasing power parity] per day) was virtually inexistent. It is now affecting more than 50 percent of the population.”

From Jurist, June 28. Used with permission.

Note: Other sources have placed the figure for total deaths in the Syrian war as high as 500,000. Not included in the new figures are those detained and “exterminated” by regime forces, which may be as many as 100,000. The Assad regime is now credibly accused of genocide.

See our last reportĀ on the dilemmas of arriving at a body count in Syria

Photo of Aleppo ruins from UNHCR

  1. Who is to blame for the 300,000 civilian deaths in Syria?

    In terms of assigning blame for civilian casualties, the above-cited UN report notes that “between 2012 and 2016, various armed groups and later United Nations designated terrorist groups gained control over increasing numbers of cities and towns with significant populations. The Government imposed sieges and bombarded areas of suspected opposition activity, including densely populated civilian areas.”

    It especially stresses the 2015 “commencement of Russian military intervention, particularly with increased airstrikes in support of the Government.”

    The report offers the following breakdown:

    According to available data, 39.3 per cent of deaths (137,529) were allegedly caused by actions by the Government and its allies, 35.7 per cent (125,098) by non-State armed groups, which include anti-government groups (5.3 per cent, 18,519), Islamic factions (24.9 per cent, 87,039) and Islamic State (5.1 per cent, 17,868). 0.8 per cent of deaths (2,859) were allegedly caused by the coalition forces, and for 24.2 per cent (84,595) of the documented conflict-related deaths, the actors were recorded as unknown.Ā 

    So, regime forces were responsible for the majority of attributable civilian deaths, 39% of total deaths, with “anti-government groups” (excludingĀ Islamic factions* and theĀ Islamic State) for a slim minority of such deaths, some 5%. ISIS itslf was responsible for only some 5%. This is in line with what we have noted before.

    * “Islamic factions” presumably means “designated terrorist groups” such as the Nusra Front.