Syria: Counting the dead


A Lebanese man carries a sign calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down during a rally in support of Syria's ongoing anti-regime uprising in downtown Beirut on September 8, 2011. Some believe more than 3,000 have been killed in the uprising so far.



As the pro-democracy protests in Syria are poised to enter their sixth month, calculating an accurate figure for the death toll from the regime’s crackdown is proving difficult.

According to the UN’s human rights agency, UNHR, the number of people killed, both protestors and security forces, during the uprising is at least 2,600.

"With regard to Syria, let me note that, according to reliable sources on the ground, the number of those killed since the onset of the unrest in mid-March 2011 in that country, has now reached at least 2,600," the UN human rights chief Navi Pillay told the UN Human Rights Council.

While most rights organizations set the numbers of dead roughly in the same ballpark, accuracy is difficult. “Our biggest challenge is communication. When the regime is cracking down on a city, town or neighborhood they switch off the mobile networks and in many cases the landlines,” Wissam Tarif of rights group Avaaz said.

“Those killed under torture are also very difficult to count. We get to know about them mostly after they bury them. That makes proper documentation more difficult.”

According to Avaaz, which will be publishing a comprehensive report on death tolls on Thursday, the number of killed are 3,004 people, including 278 army conscripts, seven defected shabiha (government thugs) and four officers.

The report has been painstakingly researched by researchers from the Syrian rights group INSAN in cooperation with Avaaz.

The recording of casualties in Syria has been investigated by six researchers, a team of 54 well trained volunteers and seven medical personnel all inside Syria and four research coordinators operating outside the country.

This number corresponds with the findings of the Washington-based Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies in Syria: “More than 3,000 people have been killed, the majority of them civilians, have been killed in 112 Syrian towns and cities," said Radwan Ziadeh, the head of the rights group.

He added that the numbers included 123 children under 18.

Tarif from Avaaz said the group has the names of 2,356 people who are unaccounted for in addition to the death toll of 3004.

However, Bouthaina Shaaban, an adviser to President Bashar al-Assad, said a total of 1,400 people have died in the unrest: 700 opposition activists and 700 members of the security forces.