Dust covers clothes at a site hit by what activists said was an airstrike by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the Duma neighbourhood of Damascus January 7, 2014. REUTERS photo
The United Nations’ human rights office has stopped updating the death toll from Syria’s civil war, confirming on Jan. 7 that it can no longer verify the sources of information that led to its last count of at least 100,000 in late July 2013.
Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. Office of the high commissioner for human rights, blamed the failure to provide new figures on the organization’s own lack of access on the ground in Syria and its inability to verify “source material” from others.
“It was always a very difficult figure,” Colville said in answer to a question by The Associated Press. “It was always very close to the edge in terms of how much we could guarantee the source material was accurate. And it reached a point where we felt we could no longer cross that line. So for the time being, we’re not updating those figures.”
Colville said the total number of dead the U.N. had estimated was based on an exhaustive effort to verify six different figures supplied by a variety of nongovernmental organizations in the region. “Over time, they’ve diminished in number,” he said. “For the past year or so, it’s been down to two or a maximum of three, and we simply didn’t feel that it was possible for us to continue in the same way.”
But Colville said the U.N. could not endorse anyone else’s count, including the widely quoted figures from the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, whose latest tally in late December 2013 is more than 130,000 killed in violence in Syria since March 2011.
The observatory put the number of women and children killed in the conflict so far at 11,709. It said the death toll among rebels fighting the Bashar al-Assad government was at least 29,083. Deaths among the Syrian armed forces and fighters supporting al-Assad were at least 52,290, including 262 fighters from the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and 286 from other non-Syrian Shiite groups.