World looks away from Syrian civil war’s 191,000 deaths

A man walks between destroyed buildings after heavy shelling by regime forces in Aleppo, Syria on August 28, 2014. (Photo by Karam Almasri/NurPhoto/Sipa USA)

When the Syrian government crossed the proverbial red line by attacking civilians with chemical weapons in August 2013, Americans took note. Debates over whether to attack Syria took place in Washington DC, in newspapers, on television and many homes across the country. An attack never happened and by October the press coverage returned to its low hum.

Meanwhile, the number of people who have died and been displaced by the war continues to grow. Some 191,369 were killed between March 2011 and May 2014, says new data by the UN Human Rights Office. It is the most comprehensive piece of data on the conflict and it likely underestimates the number of deaths during that period. The nearly 200,000 deaths are based on analyzing and checking victim names, locations and date of death.

That means that each and every one of the 191,369 counted dead were fully verified. That number is not an estimate nor a projection. At least that many people have died because of the civil ware, which means thousands more are likely uncounted. Some 100,000 of these deaths occurred in the past fourteen months of the conflict.

While thousands of people are dying each month in Syria, media attention has yet to come close to where it was when it spiked a year ago.

credit: ODI

Eva Svoboda of the London-based think tank the Overseas Development Institute compared the media interest in Syria against both the number of deaths and the number of refugees over the past year. Both numbers are at dire levels, but the story of the conflict in Syria and its human toll struggles to compete with other things happening in the world.

“One year on from the chemical attack and nothing has changed for the better. The world was rightly outraged by the chemical attack and the deaths of estimated 500 to 1,500 people. But 70,000 more people have died since then. Have we lost our compassion for the everyday victims of war?” asks Svoboda.

Similar sentiments were expressed by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay upon the release of the data on deaths in Syria, last week.

“It is scandalous that the predicament of the injured, displaced, the detained, and the relatives of all those who have been killed or are missing is no longer attracting much attention, despite the enormity of their suffering,” Pillay said.

“It is a real indictment of the age we live in that not only has this been allowed to continue so long, with no end in sight, but it is also now impacting horrendously on hundreds of thousands of other people across the border in northern Iraq, and the violence has also spilled over into Lebanon.”

The majority of people killed have been men, found the UN. Of those counted, 85.1% were men. Though a small percentage of the overall total, more than 2,000 children under the age of ten were killed. The UN expects that the real number of kids killed is higher. Pillay used the figures to apply more pressure on international leaders to take action.

“There are serious allegations that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed time and time again with total impunity, yet the Security Council has failed to refer the case of Syria to the International Criminal Court, where it clearly belongs,” she said


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]