The last comprehensive number widely accepted internationally — 470,000 dead — was issued by the Syrian Center for Policy Research in 2016. The group, which was based in Damascus until that year, was long seen as one of the most reliable local sources because it was not affiliated with the government or aligned with any opposition group.
But now, just getting a death certificate is problematic in Syria, let alone a collective tally of the dead, said Panos Moumtzis, a United Nations assistant secretary general and regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syrian conflict. And civilians make up the largest portion of the death toll.
Since there are 18 different authorities issuing documentation, in addition to the government in Syria, Mr. Moumtzis said, many civilians fear that having a death certificate issued by the “wrong authority” could jeopardize their relatives.
“Even in death, they worry that one day if they go to declare it they will be in trouble for it,” Mr. Moumtzis said, further complicating tracking.
Some monitoring groups are still keeping count from afar, but their numbers vary, are estimates at best, and have not been verified by international groups. These monitors work with networks of contacts in Syria and collect reports on social media and from the news to compile casualty estimates.
The most prominent of these groups, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said last month that at least 511,000 people had been killed in the war since March 2011. Many organizations rely on this tally as the best current assessment. The group said in March that it had identified more than 350,000 of those killed by name; the remainder were cases in which it knew deaths had occurred but did not know the victims’ names. [Continue reading…]
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